It’s been seven years since I am in Belgian capital. And I must admit that people here are not like weather here. They are warm. They have given me ample reason to be in love with this place. They helped me integrate well. They respected the fact that I am a foreigner who is trying to become a part of their nation (not giving up my Indian passport :)) They appreciated my efforts to learn and speak their language, my efforts are still on though. I have noticed how people here are more receptive when they realise that we as aliens to their culture and language are putting in that “extra” amount of effort. It’s not that they are not welcoming otherwise but I have seen in many instances that when I am trying to communicate in French they go a step further to help me showing their way of appreciation for my trials. There were days when I couldn’t utter a single word in French for obvious reasons but still they respected me as an individual. And my efforts to speak in the local language is my way of showing respect to the citizens of the country where I reside (now and for near future). Therefore mutual respect is very important for peaceful co-existence.
But just as few hiccups will always be there in an otherwise beautiful story to mar it’s beauty (fortunately only one in my case) this incident happened last week when I was in son’s school. I am a bit surprised if not completely shocked as this is probably first of its kind in seven years of my stay in Brussels. I was talking to one of the staff members of school and I was talking in English as both of us were comfortable with that language (here the staff member respected my comfort level and she is good in English too) suddenly an elderly man interrupted us asking me if I stay in Belgium or not? I said “yes of course”. Then in a stern voice and a fake smile on face he said “then you must speak French, why are you talking in English?” For few seconds I didn’t know what shall I say. Then I replied him “I do speak French, it’s just that I have been speaking to her in English since beginning and she has no problem with that. I speak French to others who don’t speak English at all, I do respect their comfort in communication”. He was not convinced but he left wishing me good day, of course in French :). So I immediately asked the person whom I was talking to “is it rude not to talk in French in Belgium?” She, with her genuine smile and calm composure replied me “it was he who was rude, and it is all about the comfort. If two people can converse in one language and they are comfortable in that they can carry on. You were doing just that, don’t worry about what that man said” and tried to console me. Even after reaching home his words made a loud noise in my head. Am I lagging behind in my efforts to integrate well? I questioned myself. The next day when I met my friends at bus stop, a conversation started and it was in French for they don’t speak English at all. Whatever they say I try to listen really carefully, catch the words and reply accordingly and my replies more often than not fit their queries. And they understand it too! Bingo! I got my answer, don’t pay attention to such banter, keep trying.
Well, we Indians are good in integration, wherever we go, whichever country we reside in we respect the people and their culture and integrate to become integral part of that environment. I am really proud of this fact.
But I have an issue on my mind and this corresponds to my fellow Indians staying back home. We as a country are a perfect example of unity in diversity. But that’s a picture that meets eye. And I am talking about the cracks that are not visible to the naked eye. We are talking about integration and respect but it is really saddening to know that we are not practicing what we preach at home (only). For instance (North) Indians feel they are superior to (South) Indians and vice versa. People from North Eastern states of India are not even treated at par with other citizens of the country. They are always jeered with tags of “Chinese”, “Nepalese”,” Tibetan” etc. because of their facial features, jokes are being cracked upon a particular community and so on. I am not establishing that everyone follows the suit but it’s a fact that flock is really big.
My only question is: Respect & Integration, are aspects of our international agenda while integrity at home is a myth – is it true? Please clarify.