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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Newcomer gets the nod

You know the side-to-side movement of the head that South Indians do that is a cross between a nod and a shake of the head? I’m from the south and have heard jokes about the South Indian head wobble all my life.

When I left Bangalore to study in Delhi many, many years ago, my new friends used to tease me about it. “You move you head in a funny way!” they’d say.

It was never an issue, because they soon got used to it and anyway, they understood what I was trying to say.

But when we moved to Canada, I realized my old habit was cause for some confusion.

“Hey, Krishna, want to join us for drinks after work?” asked Joe, a colleague, during my first week at work in Toronto.

I nodded enthusiastically, pleased to be included.

Except that after work, when I looked for them, they were nowhere to be seen. I hung around for a bit, and then went home, disappointed at having been left out.

Did someone else in the group not want to hang out with me, I wondered. What if Joe was being nice, but the others were racist?

These thoughts would never cross my mind now, but as a newcomer, I was confess I was rather thin-skinned.

One hears many stories about people’s experiences and one is wary, looking for signals while trying to fit in.

I debated within myself whether I should bring this up with Joe the next day. Should I mention it, tell him I had waited, or should I let it go?

I didn’t want to make a fuss and put him in a spot.

After all, he’d been nice enough to ask me. I decided against talking about it and greeted everyone as usual the next morning.

“You really should have come with us last evening,” said Alex, another colleague. “Given you a chance to get to know us better.”

This was a bit much, I thought. First they leave me behind and then they pretend like it never happened, like I was the one who didn’t want to go.

“Oh, I would’ve come yesterday, but you guys vanished. I waited for a bit and then went home,” I said, trying hard to maintain a light note.

Both Joe and Alex looked surprised.

“Wait, what?” asked Alex. “You waited for us?”

“Yeah, didn’t you indicate you couldn’t come?” asked Joe.

Now it was my turn to be surprised.

“No, I said I’d come,” I said.

We stood looking at each other, trying to figure out where the miscommunication had occurred.

“Okay, let’s replay this,” said Joe. “I asked if you wanted to join us and you shook your head, no.”

“...And I nodded, yes,” I said at the same time.

And then it clicked.

I explained to my apologetic colleagues that it wasn’t their fault – my infamous South Indian head wobble had struck again!

It took me a while, but I mastered the nod and the shake of the head to indicate yes or no. Until I did, however, I made sure I was actually saying it out loud, too.

“Yes, I would love to come/Sorry, I can’t”!

– T. Krishna

What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Jan 31, 2013

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