My journey to become Canadian started 20 odd years ago. I was told Canadians are very nice people. The same person told me, in Canada there are people from all over the world. So, before I reached Canada, I decided to find out about the different forms of greeting people.
At a young age, I was exposed to the Indian form of greeting, Namaste. As a person of Indian origin, this is how we greet and respect our elders. How did it come about? No one knows. ‘Respect your elders, or else’ was the general policy.
But I believe this is how Namaste came about. We have swarms of mosquitoes in India and so one goes about killing them. At the same time we had to respect the elders. So when we see an elder person we go about clapping our hands in front of them and bowing down. Imagine, if the mosquitoes were not there, the population of India may now be double!
Let’s shake hands on that
Learning to shake hands was an interesting experience. The British introduced the handshake to Indians 400 years ago. This was how communication between the two groups of people started. There was a big crowd of Indians waiting at the docks to welcome the first English boat. A tall Englishman jumped out of the boat and headed straight to the head of the village. The village head was standing there killing mosquitoes. When the Englishman extended his hand, the village head jumped back and asked, “What are you doing, Sir?” He thought the Englishman was going to grab him below the belt. This was also the first form of miscommunication between the two countries.
To gain experience I had to shake many hands. The handshake I shudder to think about is the cold and clammy one. It’s like a sponge. You hold it, squeeze it and out comes the sweat. Then there is the floppy handshake. It flops into your hand and stays there. You can play with it, mould it like clay, and hand it back to its rightful owner.
On my way to Canada, I worked in the Middle East for a few years. At one of the parties, I got to meet the local Arabs. Their form of greeting is a combination of a hug and a kiss. They grab you by the shoulder and scratch their cheek on yours making an audible sound, like a kiss. That evening my lips were sealed, but my cheeks were getting blisters. Towards the end of the evening, this man with a full beard grabbed me and proceeded with the greetings. Once. Twice. Thrice. I stopped. I thought the greeting was over, but he came back a fourth time. Thankfully our noses got in the way. I was this close to being kissed by a total stranger, and that too a man.
When I landed in Toronto, I realized one will never become a true Canadian if one doesn’t hug. So I went on a hugging spree. When I mastered the hug, I thought I’ve become Canadian. 100% maple leaf; but no; I had to get my accent right.
Getting my accent right!
The other day I was at the pub with a few of my drinking buddies. I am not one to waste time, so I downed my first pint in record time. Soon conversation flowed to another friend of ours who was not there that night. I said, “I am really glad Graham got that job”.
There was a pause in the conversation.
A dear friend of mine leaned across the table and said, “You mean, Graaam.”
I said, “Yes. Yes. Graham.”
She corrected me again, “It’s Graaam, Madhav. The ‘h’ is silent.”
The liquid gold I was gulping down was not helping matters either.
After this incident, I called the cab, gave them the address and told them I would be there at the patio. I had to repeat it three times before the dispatcher got it. My dear friend came to my rescue again, “It’s a patio, Madhav.”
As you see, I am still working on my accent, that elusive 1%. I am now skilled at kissing, shaking hands, and hugging. But I don’t get much of an opportunity to practice my ethnic greeting. If you find mosquitoes bothering you, give me a call. I will teach you the art of Namaste.