Monday, September 03, 2007

Incognito in Pondicherry

It's strange to be somewhere where you can understand everything people around you are saying, but they don't know this. Here in Pondicherry, all the tourists around me are French. And they talk freely around me, unsuspecting that I lived in France for four years and speak French pretty fluently. If I had chosen not to move back to the States, then at the time of this writing, I would be in my seventh year as a resident of France. Yet to these tourists, I would still be first and foremost, upon appearances, a Japanese or other East Asian tourist. I wonder what an Asian-French person feels when travelling abroad when they run into white French people everywhere. Is there a secret signal to recognize one another despite appearances? How do I recognize fellow Asian-American tourists before I hear them speak?

I think I would recognize their clothes, or style of dress. Perhaps for the French, if I had a Quechua backpack! Or Decathlon something or other? The brands are the easy signs, but there must be deeper signs of recognition besides. What if I were mute? Aside from language and a common way of interacting with others that one might observe if the person were in a group, which I'm not, how can you identify the person's provenance, which is not necessarily their origin?

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