Can I take one picture?
In some places in India, we are a novelty. White people are an extreme rarity here – even at the most touristy locations, nearly all of the people you see and meet are Indian. Most of the time, you go on not noticing how much you stand out and for the most part, the people around you seem not to notice that you’re incredibly pale. However, the times when people DO notice are some of the most awesome/hilarious moments we’ve experienced in India so far.
The reactions that our whiteness provokes range from “charming and cute” to “so awkward it’s funny”. On the “charming and cute” side, the most common and best way that our otherness manifests itself is in the reaction of children. The kids want to talk to you, and they want to do it in English. They will come running up to you, huge smiles on their faces, with an emphatic “hello!” followed by “what is your name?” and “from which country?” They are delighted when you then ask what their name is and say “nice to meet you, <name>”, at which point you’re probably about to get a handshake from the kid talking to you and all of their nearby friends and family. Afterward, they usually run away, imitating everything we said back to them to them. It’s the best.
In the middle of the spectrum, you get a lot of informational questions from adults. Chief among these are:
- What country are you from? (Sometimes they guess. Usually they guess we’re from the UK or US but we’ve heard Australia, South Africa, Sweden, and Germany. Oh and Russia. A guy on the street actually called out to us “Hello, Russia!” once. One person was so sure we were from the UK that he opened a conversation by asking “how’s the weather in London?”)
- Is this your first time in India?
- How long will you be in India?
- How long will be you be in <my state/my city>?
- Are you enjoying India?
We’ve found that Indians are really proud of their country and are genuinely curious to know if we are growing to love it as much as they do. When we indicate that we’re having a good time and that we’re going to be here for three months, our answers are met with approval. Sometimes, we get lists from people: “From US? Oh well yesterday I met a German, a Russian, a Canadian, a British person, a South African…” and on and on, demonstrating that India attracts visitors from all over the globe. There’s lot of pride in their eyes when they say this. It’s great.
And now we’ve come to the “so awkward it’s funny” category. No less than 20 times (no exaggeration – we have actually lost count), we’ve had couples or groups of people come up to us asking, “Can I take one picture?” They aren’t asking us to do them a favor by using their camera to take a picture of them, and they aren’t asking to just take a picture of us. No, they are asking if we will pose with the group so they can take a picture of us with their group. We’ve been asked by:
- A mid-20s couple out on a date. The man risked death to take the picture of us with his girlfriend, standing in the middle of the road on a bridge in downtown Panjim.
- Several groups of schoolchildren at the Ellora caves.
- A 6 year old kid at the train station.
- A husband and wife who wanted us to pose for a picture with their 2 year old child.
- A huge family who did it like at a wedding: first the mom and dad with us, then bring in the grandparents, then the kids, then the entire family.
- Three teenagers who didn’t even have their own camera, they wanted us to take a picture with the three of them with our camera and then look at it on the LCD screen.
The picture-taking ritual is then followed by the standard questions: “from which country?” and “what is your name?” Sometimes this is followed by a guess as to which state we’re from. New York, DC, and California are the most frequent guesses. One person, after taking his picture with us and finding that we are from the US gave us a HUGE smile and shouted “OBAMA!!!” Then there are handshakes all around, and we are off. Sometimes, another group will see that we are posing for pictures and form a line. A few times there has been no end in sight and we have had to reluctantly tell them that we will only pose for one or two more pictures.
This has happened so often and amuses us so much that we’ve started taking pictures as well – either a picture of one or both of us posing with the group, or a picture of the person taking our picture. Below is a sampling of our pictures, evidence of our utter foreign-ness.