Breakfast in Belgium, Lunch in Luxembourg, Dinner in France
We drove 6 hours and 600 kilometers just to say that. Coarse vanity. But isn’t that what we live for?
If we are not comparative pleasure seekers what are we? I did this, what did you do? I did not do this, what would you have done?
We breakfasted in Brugge, piled into the tiny car and trundled across three countries. From the land of TinTin to the unconquerable Gaulish land. On the way we passed through the minuscule land of Luxembourg.
How I would have loved to have been born in the country. Geography classes would have been a breeze.
As we were passing through the country (it took us all of 30 minutes of very slow driving to traverse the whole of the country) we noticed some staples.
- All the cars were BMWs and Mini Coopers. An easy 80%.
- The houses were all dreary and straight out of war era with metal like shutters adding to the impression.
- All roads lead to the city center.
The Perks of Being an Arab
After kicking, begging and praying to the parking meter to accept our silver offerings we were at a loss how to park the car without it being towed away. Two unflappable guards with machine guns did nothing to reassure us. They added to the general atmosphere of menace and distrust though I presume they were meant to do the exact opposite.
A word about my appearance. Many times I have been mistaken for an Arab. A clean pate and a full beard is hipster only if you are melanin deficient. The number of times I have been accosted with a “salamu alaikum” is only rivaled by the number of times I have been greeted with an “ola”.
Maybe that was why when I caught the eye of a stocky man he immediately rushed over to us. In french he asked,
Him: Probleme? Me: Wee. Le Parking Meter is tray difficeel.
He reached into his pocket counted out his silvers and dropped them into the parking meter after punching in an intricate pattern on the machine. I was almost waiting for lift off. What kind of nuclear scientist could decode that ritual.
The parking issue (re)solved, we turned to him gratefully trying to pay him back the euros he graciously spent for us.
He held my hand. He came real close to me. This was a fully grown man. With a closed fist he thumped his chest and then mine indicating a brotherhood. “Araba. Araba. Walikum Asalam.”
Many times since whenever I am in a bind I think back to that incident.
Was it is the cohesion of a minority. When there is an othering based on appearances you are on somebody’s side even if you are neutral. Would he have helped me or allowed himself to be reimbursed if I had not been culturally ambiguous. Would the guards have reacted differently.
There is a whole host of such incidents that I have gotten myself into because of the beard. It is like a secret code to unlocking certain conversations. Just like how Indians open up about immigration problems only on the utterances of the magic words H1B, I-140, PERM and Priority Dates.