Adab and Namaste!
My nephew Atul used to go to the UK to work as a doctor. He would go for a small duration, and every time he went to a new place. The English spoken in each area was so different that he sometimes wondered if he knew English at all! It took him a couple of days to get used to the pronunciations. In today’s world when your whole family may live world over but for that we all must understand the nuiances of human behaviour. We should not be judgmental about other people’s ways, rituals, methods and their way of life in general. Those who assimilate faster where they go can then say, “The World is my Oyster”!
The nature of humans, their behaviour, their way of handling life is different. We have similar differences in India too! Like Marathi spoken in Pune, Satara, Kolhapur have their distinct flavours and dialects. Aurangabad and Nagpur have their own variants. It all depends on the culture prevalent in that area. Aurangabad was more connected to Hyderabad and Nagpur is still more attached to Madhya Pradesh though both are in Maharashtra.
I was wondering why this happens, and there are reasons. Many times, the culture depends on the construct of the language spoken in that area. English is by far the most flexible language and has absorbed many words from other languages, mainly from Indian languages. It makes the language more vibrant, and people can express what they want more clearly.
French usually give a vague answer to queries, and they may start with a reply which may seem negative. The reason for this is that the French language has 70000 words compared to 500000 words in English. So answers in English can be more precise, where French replies are vague. The first and most important NO in French is the one that means ‘je ne sais pas’ – the ‘I have no idea’ NO. It is estimated that nearly 75% of the NOS encountered are to conceal a lack of knowledge. It likely comes from the terror of ridicule for being wrong. The word non in French has its roots in the French obsession for protests. “The French Revolution was about the irrevocable right of all citizens to refuse, and ‘non’ has a quality of ‘revanche des petits contre les grands’ [revenge of the underclasses] that seems to satisfy the inner peasant or proletarian in every French person, of any class.
The unique Indian gesture that often leaves visitors to the country flummoxed is the Indian nod. One thing all travellers to India talk about – apart from the dreaded Delhi Belly, of course – is the great Indian head nod. It’s not exactly a nod (up and down from the neck, meant to indicate ‘yes’) – or a shake (straight side to side to convey ‘no’). It’s a smooth movement that involves tilting the head from side to side vertically, either gently or fiercely. Does it mean a definite, yes? Is that a kind no? A maybe? A sign of uncertainty? Annoyance perhaps? It is difficult to say without knowledge of the context. It is almost always a ‘yes’, or at least indicates agreement. “There is also an element of being friendly or being respectful, and it is difficult to say which unless you know the situation.” Indians are brought up to be pliant and polite, especially to guests and to elders, and do not like to say ‘no’ directly. Indians mumble incoherently; smile sheepishly, and nod vaguely, all to put off making a firm commitment. Indeed, the head nod is a gesture meant to convey ambiguity and does so effectively.
Finnish people have different ways. Finns think if there’s no important topic to discuss, there’s no conversation at all. One of their national sayings is ‘Silence is gold, talking is silver’. But read the next surprising aspect of the Finnish people. With two million saunas in the country, which are enjoyed fully nude (generally gender-segregated, although that rule tends to be thrown out in the company of friends), the Finnish seem to have no problem with getting up close and personal. But when clothes are on, the bets are off. Probably they don’t look at each other much while wearing clothes and hence don’t recognise them!
Germans and their language have different ways of expressing things. Many new words get created by combining more than one word. Schadenfreude means pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. Schadenfreude puts together schaden (harm) and freude (pleasure) – but this is common. Compound words often can’t be directly translated into other languages, so jokes made with compound words simply won’t be funny to non-German speakers. For example, look at this joke below.
“Why can’t you pick up your watch if you’ve dropped it? Because no Urheberrecht.”
It is explained that Urheberrecht means ‘copyright’ – but German has another very similarly pronounced compound word – Uhreberrecht – which has a literal meaning of ‘watch-pickup-right’. When spoken aloud, it’s the dual implication that results in a comical effect. In English, there are no such similar-sounding words, so English speaking people simply won’t understand the joke.
The German comedian Christian Schulte-Loh explains it well. Fully aware of the stereotype the Germans are labelled with, he writes in his new book, Zum Lachen auf die Insel (To England with Laughs), that Germans are too honest to be polite and the English are too polite, to be honest.
Why people behave in a certain way? Why people react in a certain way? One thing we must realise is that people world over are the same as everywhere else. The way we feel that the actions of other people as funny, other people also feel the same way about us. It is a popular notion in India to call a stingy person, Marwari! There is a reason. The Marwari people initially lived in Rajasthan in the desert region. It was the shortage of water and everything that made people care about using all resources. Now the Marwaris live all over India, they are a monied community, but their fundamental nature of minimum wastage has not changed.
I have seen that people in the Aurangabad area have a different way of communicating. People typically say namaskar whenever they meet. But in Aurangabad, I have seen people doing Adab, and their gesture is made in the way as is done in Muslim culture. Why is this so? Aurangabad is in Maharashtra. But the reason is that till ’60 s of the last century, there was no bridge on the river Godavari at Pravara Sangam. Bus from Pune would go up to the river, people crossed the river in a boat and took another bus from there to Aurangabad. Hence Aurangabad had more connection with Hyderabad, which has Muslim culture. By the way, one interesting observation. People from Aurangabad become परेशान when they are troubled! A word typically used there.
People travel a lot these days, in India as well as abroad. I always tell friends to keep their mind open and accept what you find different in new places. Enjoy local food at those places. Go and see local plays and dances. The more we see these new things, the more we realise that people are the same all over the world!
वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् is the apt term in Sanskrit, meaning the whole world is a family!