Monday, October 25, 2004

I am just a messenger

This is a friend's mail:


Okay, here it is. Its probably a bit long, so you might want to edit it. And I
would rather that you did not use my name on the website (anonymity is bliss,
specially in as small a place as Tampere).
This is in Ilves Night Club, in the middle of a not-so-cold-just-yet October
night where I was hanging out with friends.

After two very quick beers, I was feeling a bit heady.I needed a break, so I
walked off to a corner by myself. Not long after, I noticed two gypsy women,
very conspicuous with their flowing traditional costumes. I also happened to
notice that they seemed to be talking about me. The talking turned into some
gesticulation and wide-eyed staring at me. And this continued for a while. I
gestured to them, an expression along the lines of "is there a problem?". By
now, I was utterly confused about being subjected to disconcerting stares and
felt very much like an animal in a zoo.

To my relief, the women decided to walk off in another direction, though they
did not stop staring at me every once in a while. I think I was still worried
(and probably more confused than anything else). Sure enough, in about a minute
they were back again.

This time, there was an actual conversation (fortunately by now I know enough
Finnish to have a not-unsubstantial conversation).

Woman1: "Puhutko suomea?" or something like that (Trans: Do you speak Finnish)
Me: "Vähän." (Trans: a little)
Woman2: "Mistä maasta sä oot?" (Trans: which country are you from?)
Me: "Intiasta." (Trans: from India)

At this point, woman2 nods vigorously to woman1 to express "I told you so".

By now, it is dawning on me now that the women are quite excited about meeting
and talking to a real-life Indian (Gypsies are thought to have originated from
India, something not so well known in Finland). But what happened next really,
really confused me.

Woman1: (after further appraising me) "Olet komea mies" (Trans: You are a
handsome man)
Woman2: (giggling) "tosi komea mies" (Trans: Really handsome)

And then, both of them run away. Leaving me confused and relieved. But on
further analysis (which lasted through the night), I figured there could be two
reasons for what happened:

- Skin color (my skin color is not all fair and not all dark, it leaves a lot
of Finns confused: "this guy can't be Mediterranean"). Which would be weird,
because it would be a form of inverse racism.
- Historical context. Perhaps for historical reasons, Gypsies have some
attachment to things Indian (I lay no claim to understanding their culture, I
have only seen one Gypsy movie, with English subtitles, and it was a nice
one). In this case, I regret I wasn't able to ask them more about why they
thought so.

Either way, it made for a sleepless night.

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