When Varun and I first decided to go to India to Meet The Parents, I did what any sensible girl would do: I began to binge on Bollywood movies. This was done sheerly for research purposes and to give me an informed understanding of cultural norms. As my appreciation for 7 minute songs, predictable plots and Shahrukh Khan’s acting grew, so did my bits of knowledge of Indian culture. I knew that Diwali was the time for fireworks and welcoming loved ones with diyas (small lamps) and that parents and grandparents get respect I’d never seen in North America.

I boarded the plane with confidence, secretly hoping that there’d be choreographed song and dance when we landed in Delhi.

After a few days and without making any glaring cultural faux-pas, I finally had a chance to play the ace up my sleeve: Touching the Feet of the Elders. Now, if you’ve never seen any Bollywood movies, allow me to explain. Here’s what happens. A child returns from boarding school or from running away with a spouse their parents didn’t approve of and, after a dramatic and slow-motion run toward an embrace, rather than hugging, they stoop down to touch the parent’s feet in respect. Usually, the parent will grab the shoulders of the child mid-stoop to hug them. Like a good Indian Moment, it’s heartfelt and full of respect.

This is the proper way to take the blessing. Note the attentiveness of the children and the elder.

As I said, this was the ace of my sleeve: show the parents I know the culture and respect them as elders.

So. There we were hanging out on the bed, Varun, his sister and I. His Papa came in to give me a gift so I stood up. As I was thanking him, I thought, “Here’s my big moment!”.

So I went for it.

What they don’t show you in movies is the importance of placement when touching feet. Between Varun’s Papa and I was about a corner and a half of bed. As he turned to leave the room I dove across the corner of the bed to touch the back of his feet as he walked out.

Varun and his sister were astonished into hysterical laughter and, Varun’s Papa, once he clued in, demanded an instant replay.

In fact, there were many, many instant replays. So much for smooth.

Whisper Down the Lane

Last week we were at a friend’s house who is also Indian, but who moved to Canada when he was in middle school and therefore has much less of an accent. Varun, J and I were deciding where we should go to hang out when Varun said, “You decide, J, you know the snake in the woods.”

J and I look at each other, baffled.

I turned to Varun and said, “The snake in the woods? What does that mean?”. He replied, “Well, J lives around here so he knows where stuff is”. J looked enlightened and exclaimed,”OH! This neck of the woods! Thisneck of the woods. The snake of the woods! I get it!”.

Actually, servants don’t sound too bad….

The first time Varun told me he had servants, I reacted with arrogant shock. Servants? Who is this guy? Neglecting to think about the socio-economic differences between India and my suburban North American upbringing, I immediately showered him with good old-fashioned judgement. To his credit, he took it in stride and explained to me the poverty, lack of jobs and differences in life in India. After visiting India and learning more, I understand how wrong my vision was of a country filled with Cinderella’s waiting to be freed. Instead, I saw that in a land without dishwashers and washing machines and cities where water sources are sporadic, help is necessary to survive. From the opposite perspective, in a country where 600 million people live in poverty, a decent job is welcomed. As such, Varun’s family treat their servants kindly, provide them vacations and doctor’s, and act a security net in a country where survival is often a daily struggle.

I have to say though, it does get me thinking. I mean, what if someone would cook briyani and chana masala for me and wake me up with a cup of chai? Today, after fighting a losing battle today with my US tax forms, I asked myself, “If I had a servant, what jobs would I give them? Would I want an accountant, or a chaiwala? Choices, choices, choices….

While cooking supper, I asked Varun. He wanted a servant who would clean. I told him to think carefully, because they’d only clean-no cooking, washing, etc. With a coy grin he responded, “Oh yes, but I’d still have you.”

Well then.

I created this poll so that you too can join me in my daydreaming. For bonus points, you can guess what I’d voted.

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