What I love most about being in Paris is that I can’t understand a word of what anyone is saying. So everyone sounds intelligent and educated to me. Besides, how stupid can they be – they SPEAK French!
In England, I can eavesdrop and am constantly reminded of the general pettiness of human race. Because really, all that people ever do is complain and bitch. Like the two ladies who sat next to Sid & I in the Eurostar to Paris. Three hours! For three hours, all they did was bitch about people, including ironically the girl for whose hen’s party they were visiting Paris.
Worse, in England I can detect accents. And it gives me a sense of people’s background and education – if not of their intelligence. I try, I really try not to judge them on the basis of it. But despite my best efforts, if someone sounds like Katie Price aka Jordan, it is likely to be a short acquaintance. Because I have only limited social time and I would rather spend it with people with whom my wavelengths have at least half-a-chance to match.
In India, the instant judgements go much further because I know the society so much better. Accents aren’t the only giveaway to people’s histories there. In India, I can guess a person’s caste, community and culture by his or her very name. Add an address and occupation to that, and a person’s whole life is reasonably mapped out before me without any effort on my part.
Of course, every now and then I am proved wrong. But it is not pleasing to start an acquaintance under the burden of prejudice.
As a student of media, I know that stereotyping people is wrong. We should not slot people on the basis of their colour, ethnicity, culture, community, caste, accent or education. Because over and above all they are individuals, and their shared cultural experiences will always be modified by their own unique personalities. But how do I train my brain to filter out people’s colour, names, accents and addresses and begin every acquaintance with a clean slate. It just refuses to listen to me.
So instead, I live with guilt: the guilt of a good, Labour-supporting liberal.
And occasionally, I escape to Paris where I can always assume the best of everyone.
The Scottish comedia Danny Bhoy on French accents