G**ndu, ‘M**d*rch*d, ‘Mera l***da Ch**s’ – the beautiful girl from the International club came and said to me. It took me a moment to decipher given the accent, and all I could say was, what! She giggled. (I am starting to like it, the French giggle)
It is midnight, I am sitting in the compact tent amidst a lot of trees – tall, dense and green, in the camp located in the outskirts of Lille. The mobile flashlight is not really ideal for writing, but there are times when you just can’t control the urge to get away from the crowd, be with just yourself and vent out your thoughts, especially if you have been with a lot of people throughout the day. I am at this camp organized by the International club of my exchange university. Though they charged a hefty sum of 50 euros, I decided to go for it, to have some interaction with the people from other countries. With time, I have realized that I am not really the most social person around and take my own time to know people and make friends. In the bus, I was mostly busy savoring the beautiful view of the French country side. The roads were impeccably clean, painted with symbols, crossing each other at multiple points.
After an hour of travel, during which we were divided into teams, we reached the camp site. The leader from the International club told us to pick up stuff (tents, food, drinks) from the bus, take them to the site, and form groups of 4 for sharing the tent. The only interaction till now was with a guy from Italy, who was sitting in the seat behind mine in the bus. As we started putting up tents, I remembered with a strong sense of déjà vu, our XLRI Adventure camp, which had laid the foundation of so many strong bonds. The tents here were much easier to set up though – just open from one side and they kind of jumped and set themselves up!
This activity led to interaction with a number of guys – from Philippines, Mexico, Italy, and Lithuania among others. Interestingly, here too, girls and guys mostly occupied different tents.We met our team members then. My team had a girl from the USA, one from Germany, a guy from Philippines, one from France and one from Morocco. We introduced ourselves and discussed who really wanted to do bungee jumping, since the winning team was to get free passes for the same. We had to keep a team name too, and we came up with ‘Dream team’ after some discussion.
The games started thereafter. They were mostly the fun types – duck crawl race, sack race. The one particularly funny was the one involving oranges. We had to put an orange between our neck and chest and transfer it to the next team mate without using hands. This obviously involved a lot of funny situations, since the oranges would often slide down the chest and then we had to bring it up. Of course, everyone did it sportingly, with jokes about how much they enjoyed the ‘oranges’. The teams had then to pose and give a funny and sexy picture of them. Ideas were thrown around like guys showing their muscles and girls their b**bs, or everyone stripping naked, but eventually we settled on much milder cars and babes pose, with a gender twist. Guys trying to ooze oomph lying over the car while girls strutting their stuff (car). Meanwhile we had some good interaction in our team. But the initial bonding somehow was more between the geographically proximate groups – Asians, Europeans, Americans. The next game was a quiz on the French culture, which was obviously mastered by the European people. Before I could tell my origin, most people could guess that I was from India. This obviously felt great. In fact I met 2 girls, who had gone to India on for exchange program, both in Mumbai , one of them being the girl who showered me with the hindi abuses. That was only bit of language she learnt there (and obviously, Namaste!). Even that felt good there though.
I should save the phone battery, since there are still some 20 hours before I reach back to my place. Also my legs hurt from all the games, and my body craves for some sleep now.
Thank God, I had these two sheets of paper in my pocket. Though the purpose for which they were there is not even distantly as romantic as writing this on a wooden table and chair amidst tall trees on the side of a lake. For the morning chores, I saw everyone taking with them their paper roll, which I didn’t have. So I tore these two sheets of paper from the IESEG notepad and took with me. But there was a roll in there already. So these sheets are being put to some better use. Anyway, this amusement park is at best, only amusing and nothing more than that.
Then we had another game in which one had to run to a point, go round about it 15 times, and then run back. It sounded simple, but running after 15 rounds just became impossible with all sense of direction lost, and I ended up with bruised knees and elbows. The last game was perhaps the most awaited one – the beer race – drinking your beer the fastest. Anyway, almost everyone was craving for alcohol, as the club people had said no alcohol before 7 : 30. Though it wasn’t really followed, and by the time it was 5, beer was flowing freely – they had unlimited supply of it. Most discussions revolved round it. People are generally the same everywhere, maybe one layer beneath the exterior, especially the guys. Discussions about which girl is the hottest (and err…who has the hottest) started pretty soon. Everyone spoke English in a different accent, and it took some time initially to register. But things are really a bit different in India, this was evident. Most of the table discussions revolved around beer, hangovers, beer games, girlfriends, and of course every other word in the conversation being the f word.( Though that is becoming the scene in India too, with different versions of the word)
Yeah, so the game was to finish 8 glasses of beer by a team of 4 persons, sequentially – 2 glasses per person one after the other. I did not register. But after a few rounds, a girl who looked Chinese came and requested to participate as their team needed one participant. I told her I was no good at drinking beer so they would lose. But she insisted, that it was just for fun, so I relented. It tasted horrible. So bad that I just paused a breath, and finished the glasses in one sip, and we won! She got crazily happy, and me, just surprised!
The girl was from Hong Kong, as I found out in later conversations. Her name I couldn’t pronounce correctly. She was one of those – giggling, talking, chirpy types pausing only when she couldn’t remember the English words for what she wanted to say. She is here for year, and came only a week ago. Geography certainly affects culture. Both of us being Asians, we found a lot of common grounds to talk. Dinner was arranged at 7:30, while it was still sunny and we both wondered how late it became dark here, almost by 9 unlike in our countries. They had beef for dinner which I didn’t have( tried pork, couldn’t finish that either due to stomach ache though it could be due to the beer also), and it took a lot of effort to explain to her why I didn’t have beef. More so since I myself am not convinced by the logic. I believe killing a chicken is equally wrong as killing a cow. Turning veg has been my long held desire, but I just cannot resist the tempting smell and sight of chicken. Her friends understood, citing instances that in their country also some people did not eat cows. She also missed her home, her food – rice, noodles and wondered how the French ate bread all the time!
I looked for washroom, and was shown the open space by a guy. Wow, this felt like home. Though the next morning, I found there was a washroom around.
After dinner, there was this competition, which I really didn’t want to participate given the condition of my legs, but the leader entered my name forcibly and paired me with that girl. The game was, well, to do ramp walk and strike 3 sexy poses with the girl! She went giggly at the mention and said- we don’t really do sexy poses in my town, in her labored English. I empathized with her. But she wanted to do bungee jumping way too much to be inhibited and we went ahead. The first being a somewhat Bollywood dance, second being a free style where I just stood and she did the gig, and in third, getting a bit gutsy we pretended to kiss, while the crowd cheered, ‘real kiss!’ We didn’t win this one, though got sufficient applause. We talked for a while then, discussing the stereotypes- Jackie Chan (No, she wasn’t a fan and had not heard of the Myth or Mallika Sherawat) , Rice and noodles (she missed both of them), Chopsticks (Yes she used them even for eating rice and offered to start chopsticks lessons), Bollywood (She had seen 3 idiots, and said that Bollywood movies were becoming more and more popular), Indians eating with their hands ( I said, we also use spoons and forks now), French and smoking and so on.
There was a night club nearby and the entire camp went there at about 10. It was very cool, with hand-bands, bouncers et al. Drinks were on the house by the International club. After a few moments of inhibition, almost everyone let go off their hesitation, and I suddenly missed my XLRI nights strongly. There were counterparts of every kind of characters – the crazy drinking types, the shy type who’d take some time and then jump on the floor, the really shy types who wouldn’t dance, and the love birds who’d stick together. Since here almost everyone was new to each other, there wasn’t much of the sticking together part. One girl, Indian, from one of the well-known colleges of Delhi, got a bit too excited and started pulling the Italian guy towards her, sticking her mouth into his. The guy looked happily surprised. She then proceeded to rubbing herself on him (at the right places), and then doing certain animal poses. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one amazed at this, as the club people came with their camera and she happily obliged in those poses!
The morning was lazy, with most people hungover. There was bread, beer, fruits for breakfast. After packing our tents we came to this nearby amusement park, which is more of a joke as the board says something like kids amusement park. There is a lake, boating and the bungee jumping, which is a sham as it is not the real thing, but the one which we have outside every mall in India. There was arrangement for lunch in the restaurant. The ‘heavy’ lunch was of French fries, beef, and well what else but bread. I wish my mom and grandfather were here who have always accused me of eating too much bread. There certainly would not like the French. ‘Anyone else who doesn’t eat ‘meat’?’ they asked when I told I couldn’t have beef, and got fish for us.
As I munched upon the French fries, I looked up to see the girl smiling on me with an ‘I-told-you-so’ look. I was casually eating the fries with my hands, while everyone else dealt with them with their knives and forks. Well, I never really disbelieved in the stereotypes.