Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What People Talk About

I hate having a cold.

This very dependable body suddenly starts to dread the simplest activity, like getting up from bed. And all food tastes like paper. Here am I, Ramadan over, waiting to delve into the culinary delights that is Chinese food, and I can't tell the difference between Kung Pao Chicken and water.

Speaking of cold, which thankfully came after the Eid celebrations were over, I realized something. Visiting many people and friends over Eid, it struck me that the topics of conversations amongst elders are very different for Bengalis in Canada and back in Bangladesh.

Here the weather is a favourite topic of conversation. I was waiting in a checkout line at Walmart, and the cashier, who just got in, was rubbing her hands. She turned to me and grinned.

"Cold, eh?"

"Yup." I replied. "Quite nippy today."

"Sure." She was scanning my purchases. "But not as cold as last year though. Last November was worse."

"But definitely colder than the year before that." I recalled helpfully.

An old gent behind me cut in on our conversation. "This is nothing. In '75 it was so cold the cows had frozen milk in their udders."

It took me five minutes to get the image out of my mind.

For some reason whenever I talk about weather old gents keep bumping into the conversation with animal talk. During this summer through a heat wave I was waiting at a mechanic's place getting an oil change and talking about how hot it was. Another gent butted in, "Oh in '69 it was so hot chickens were laying boiled eggs."

Bangladeshis, on the other hand, talk about everything else other than the weather. This is how it will go if you run into an old friend of your father's on the bus.

"So son, how are you? How's your dad? Your mom? Your sister? She is doing her exams, right? How did she do? So did you get a job yet? Oh you did. So what do you do? How's your boss? What about your dad? Is he looking for a Canadian job? What courses is he interested in? So your uncle got a cataract operation, right? How is he doing? Which hospital is he in? So you got a cold. Is your nose running? ... "

And so on.

It is considered a sign of politeness and affection to ask about each and every personal detail of the other person. They say it brings people closer as they know of each other and their problems.

However, transport the same Bangladeshi people to Canada, and a couple of years later if they meet again they will talk about a) how hot/cold the weather is or b) how good/bad our sports teams are doing.

Why? It's not that we have suddenly become ruder by Bangladeshi standards.

In Canada people like their privacy, but other issues with immigrants could be - you don't ask about the other guy's job because he may be working odd jobs or is unemployed. You don't ask about his kids as they may not be doing so well at school. You cannot tell him about your promotion lest he thinks you are showing him up. And you cannot tell him about your health problems as you don't want that spread across the community.

We have adapted to this lifestyle. We don't like to talk about our personal life anymore. So we talk about the weather instead. Has it made us more impersonal, colder? I don't know.

I hate having a cold.


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