Off the Boat! by Sameer Parekh
I left India and boarded a plane for the first time in my life. This was my first flight, thus lots of surprises were waiting for me. The plane took off at 23:00 hrs and than after a few minutes the lights were turned off as it was night time. I was so excited to sit in the aircraft and started discovering the surroundings. The movie started on a big screen, it was mute, I saw the full movie for 2 hours in mute mode, because I thought that they don’t play sound as in cinema during the night as it disturbs the passengers, thus everybody was supposed to just read subtitles.
In 1999 I landed in Geneva to do my higher studies. There were lots of surprises waiting for me since I come from an Asian background. Here are few of the glimpses.
I checked out from the airport and I was wondering, “What is this Genev(E)? Did I arrive in a wrong place which is not in Switzerland?” I did not know what language was spoken here thus I started reading the instructions. I read it twice, thrice than realised that I was not understanding these instructions despite reading them three times. I did not know that there was a language called French which is also written with same alphabets as English.
Food: Often I visited Migros for the groceries and I saw broccoli for first time, and I wondered that the Swiss quality is so fresh that the cauliflowers are lush green! I bought zucchinis thinking that they were cucumbers and enjoyed it for long time putting it in my sandwiches, until one day I saw in the same line of display that cauliflower and broccoli, zuccini/cucumber were placed besides each other and found out that broccoli was a new vegetable.
At the restaurant I said I do not eat beef, they offered me veal and the explanation I got from the chef that it is not a cow, it is a calf. So I asked for a vegetarian meal, they provided me fish, telling that fish is considered vegetarian and I can eat it. I had to go back home and sleep hungry.
Once me and a friend from Australia, we rented a car and we parked the car in Montreux where it was written CARS and we got a parking ticket since CARS meant BUS in French!
I invited my girlfriend at home for dinner: as red candles are considered romantic in Europe I bought the cheapest candles from Migros and lit the whole apartment with those candles. My girlfriend told me later on that these red candles were meant to be used in a cemetery!
I always missed the trains for few months. When the train time was 10:18 Hrs, based on my Asian background, I always arrived 5-10 minutes later considering that the train arrives at that time and would stay for 15-20 minutes till it departed. I went back to the ticket window to ask why the train did not arrive? The lady smiled at me and just asked me one question, “Mister, where do you come from?”
I am still wondering why the déchetterie is closed on Sundays in Prangins: am I supposed to take a day off on weekdays to go to throw the recycling waste?