When Français is not your first, second or third

Great food if you can decipher the Français...
Great food if you can decipher the Français...

“Voulez-vous quelque chose… Blah blah blah”… “Blah Blah blah”. “Blah?”

I stare at them blankly. My eyes begin to glaze and I can feel my brain slowing down to a crawl. All of a sudden, my hearts starts to race and the frustration building up over a course of a couple of weeks finally pours out.


That got their attention. After a while, you tire of trying to understand a foreign language and just want to scream out. In my case, the scream manifested into a Vanakam. That surprised them. Almost as much as it surprised me. 30% of the population in La Reunion is made up of brown people. By brown, I mean Indian. Not Indians from Cowboy flicks but the sort of home grown Indian folks you stumbled into in KL. Only difference is these Indians speak French. No matter how hard I try my English on them which by the way is the real Indian Mother tongue (in a global fashion that is), I usually receive frowns followed rapidly by a stream of French even French people would have a hard time understanding. My bonafide French project manager certified that fact.

So, I said Vanakam. At first, they stared at each other in confusion. There were two of them. One tall enough to look at me in the eyes while the other was slightly more petite but both were unmistakably brown. Of course by brown, I mean Indian. A few seconds later, they smiled at each other signaling the end of the shock and replied something that sounded like “Ninga Tamil yah” which I think was “You are Tamil?”. Now it was my turn to widen the eyes. They speak Tamil after all. Hallelujah!

After days of trying to communicate with the locals in French and failing miserably, I finally found a foothold in communication. For once, I can actually use my Tamil. A language long buried in the annals of my childhood and lazy afternoons with my grandmother. At long last! I can order what I want without struggling to think of the words. Finally! I can ask people how many sisters they have without accidentally offending them. God! I can even start making jokes again. I found a common language. I am finally in!

“Yehperdi ninga tamil… Blah blah blah”… “Blah Blah blah”. “Blah?”

I stare at them blankly. My eyes begin to glaze again. A school scene where I was laughed out of my extracurricular Tamil class when trying to recite a poem flashes in my head. The horrible truth dawns on me. My Tamil comprehension is probably about the same level as my French is. My hearts starts to race again…

“Apa Khabar!”

When the Produce Section is out to get You

From a produce section near you...
From a produce section near you...

My mum always nags me about eating more fruits. I like to follow her advice but the truth is I am scared of the produce section. You never know what the protocol is over there. What to weight, how to weight and where to weight?! Questions with no easy answers. Seems like every country I go to have its own produce laws. There are no standards in this wild frontier of the supermarket.

The queue was longer than the line for a hush puppy warehouse sale. People were impatiently waiting for their turn to pay. I was a bit apprehensive. I bought some fruits. Yeap, I man up this time and went into the produce section. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel something is going to go wrong. Then, it was my turn.

She started beeping my stuff… And on cue, stopped at my grapes. I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. It didn’t help that it was in Arabic. Then French. But based on her sign language, I think my worst fears were being realized. The grapes were not priced! I ignored the killer stares from the family behind me, grabbed the grapes and ran to the dreaded produce section. Along the way, I had to dodge 5 carts, 3 unruly brats and a really slow moving couple who should be spending more time in the produce section than the chocolate shelves.

Finally with minimal bruising, I turned the corner to the weighing counter. It was empty. As I was about to use the scales, this kid cuts in. She couldn’t have been more than 6 with a pony tail trying to reign in a messy hairdo, tiny freckles and a height that couldn’t reach to the top of the scales. She then turns and narrows her eyes at me. She was a quarter of my size but I don’t mind admitting I was scared. I help her by putting her lettuce on the scales. It gets weighted and priced. She pulls her lettuce bag down, sticks out her tongue at me and runs off. God, I hate the produce section!

The line is now 2 miles long. Every eyes turns to me as I run to the head of the queue. The hostility made the air stuffy. I didn’t care though. I got my grapes weighted, priced and I return triumphant like a conquering hero. I looked at the cashier and held up my grapes with confidence reserved only for Bond. Our eyes meet. She was holding up something too. My confidence plummeted.

Oh shit! I forgot the strawberries.