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.

“Vanakam!”

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!”

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