Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Are we really celebrities?

Growing our adopted global family, Lucknow.  
Yesterday we were sitting on a bench when an Indian woman with a gaggle of friends and children strode up to us, demanded where we were from and asked if she could take a group picture with us.

This happens a lot: once a day at least when we are at tourist spots. And even though we have learned to pick up the pace as the next group of admirers approach, we mostly don't mind. In terms of attention, don't they say it's better to be talked about than not talked about at all?

We had the same on our Africa trip, except no-one had smartphones then so a photo wasn't an option. We thought they just wanted a dab of our Western stardust. In those days this translated into your phone number or email address, not information you're inclined to give. Sadly when this wasn't forthcoming, or after to our shame we had given a false email, it transformed into a request for money. At least nowadays the photo seems enough.

"Left a bit, that's it, give us a pout, love. Beautiful!"
Without exception this trip's selfie requests have been friendly and well-meaning, if sometimes abrupt because the person making the request is nervous. When it's a group of boys, I sense it's almost always the result of a bet!

So why are they doing it? I used to think it was just a minor form of celebrity worship. In the same way that if you saw [celebrity of your choice] on a nearby bench you might jokily request a selfie. That is if you were less a timorous Brit and more a robust Indian.

Normal Western behaviour,  Burma 
But this theory breaks down a little if you look at Jo and me, well me mostly. For sure we have the trappings of the rich West - the white skin, the camera, the ineptitude at waggling the head - but in every other department we fall down. We have street urchin hair, our clothes are gently disintegrating,  shoes are uniformly dust-coloured, and it's not as if we bear any resemblance to Posh and Becks or demonstrate any talent for sport or stage.

I'm developing a better theory. In Sri Lanka I got down with the locals and bought myself a traditional wraparound longji (as photo) . When I arrived in Burma I continued to wear it. They wear longjis there too, so it seemed OK. But it transpired over time that mine was seen as ridiculously garish compared to the local version and moreover I was tying it at the side, as women do, instead of at the front, as men do. So imagine a man walking down the high street wearing a purple polka-dot dress. That was me.

I only found this out because the locals couldn't stifle their laughter. Thankfully two nice people explained the situation after they had caught breath.

But it's made me reconsider the whole celebrity thing. What other cultural faux pas are we committing? Do my sideburns mean I'm up for something unmentionable? Is Jo's hairclip the icon of the Allahabad Monster Raving Loony Party? Should we never sit together on a bench? Individually these things might be small but as an aggregate... we probably look like complete clowns.

We got our own back on these friendly rogues in Kolkata 
So I propose this: we aren't Brangelina. We're Laurel and Hardy. We are touring India and giving everyone a good laugh. And the bolder locals can put the evidence on their mantelpiece.


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