Archive for October, 2011

Visa Power

If you’re an Indian citizen, like me, and love to travel, like Marco Polo, then you’ll know how difficult it is. Unlike the blonde, attractive students holding American or European passports and smelling like garbage trucks, we can’t just pack our bags and waltz into any country we like at the merest whim. We need visas, and to obtain them, we need to produce documentary evidence of our entire life. It’s a little known fact that an Indian first postulated the existence of Australia, and the only reason he didn’t go discover the hell out of it was because he couldn’t produce photocopies of his last three payslips for the visa application.

Well, anyway, I went through the painful process last month and as a result, I now have a brand new Schengen visa. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, this is a visa that entitles me to visit all the countries in Europe whose heads got together for a drunken night in Luxembourg in 1985 and signed an agreement to make it easier for people visiting their countries.

I know what you’re now thinking – “Why in the world would politicians actually do something that makes our lives easier?” and I agree; it’s a valid question, but one that has an easy answer: there’s nothing else to do in Luxembourg. If you buy the Lonely Planet guide to the country, you’ll find that it has only one page, saying “Visit Luxembourg! Have a drink! Sign an agreement!” This is also the national motto, except it’s in French, or German, or whatever it is they speak there.

Getting back to the subject, obtaining this visa has changed my life drastically. When I earlier used to waste my weekends lazing around, watching sport and arguing with football fans on the internet, I’m now going through an exciting phase where I spend my weekdays looking at flight, train, bus, and ferry prices for weekend jaunts to various exotic European destinations, shortlisting youth (yes, I’m still youth, no matter what you say) hostels based on cleanliness, location and expected cute backpacker girl population and finally not booking any of them in favour of lazing around, watching sport and arguing with football fans on the internet.

These unplanned jaunts are of course, following the one compulsory trip that I needed to book in order to get the visa in the first place. Yes, you have to convince the officials at the embassy you’re applying to that you’re going to visit their country. This is especially difficult at embassies like that of Leichtenstein, because the officials find it hard to believe anyone would want to visit their country, especially after misspelling its name on the faked flight tickets.

So there I was, trying to decide which embassy I wanted to apply to, and having a hard time of it, because it meant that I had to pick a destination first, and Europe isn’t short of them. The art and grandeur of Rome, the troubled history of Berlin, the Bollywood shooting locations of Switzerland, the liberal drug-laws of Amsterdam – all very attractive options. So, it took me a lot of thought before I realized that what I truly wanted to do was get away from civilization for a while. So, I picked Paris.

Hahaha, just kidding, Parisiens! But the popular impression of France, at least here in England, is that it’s filled a bunch of rude, humourless snobs who only ever bathe when their body odour starts affecting bird migration patterns. Even then, they try their best to avoid it. The invention of Eau de Cologne (“Water from the Colon”) was allegedly one such effort.

Now I personally have a love-hate relationship with the country. I studied French in school for six years, not only because I’ve always wanted to learn more about world cultures (especially the ones that have lots of attractive, open-minded women) but also because I believed I could score more marks in it. We had a really good teacher, one Mr. Rajeev, who was terrific fun except when he got angry. He punished us by, get this, conducting the entire class in French. What a joke! As if any of us were learning French in order to be able to actually understand it! Most of the time we’d just nod along knowingly and only answer with stuff we had learnt from (a) the textbook and (b) the sub-titles of the Emmanuelle films.

Him: Avez-vous étudié pour l’examen? (“Have you studied for the exam?”)
Us: Mary porte une jolie robe. (“Marie is wearing a pretty dress.”)
Him: Ce qui? (“What?”)
Us: Le boulanger vend le pain dans la boulangerie. (“The baker sells bread in the bakery.”)
Him: Huh? (“Huh?”)
Us: Chaque acte d’amour doit inclure une troisième personne. (“Each act of love must involve a third person.”)
Him: Qu’est-ce??!!! Où avez-vous lu cela?? Voulez-vous que je vous envoie de la classe? (“What??!!! Where did you read that?? Do you want me to send you out of the classroom?”)
Us: Oui, oui, oui, oui, oui, OUII, OUIII!! (“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YESS, YESSS!!”)

Now if you’re unfamiliar with French, you probably read those lines and thought “What’s the big deal? It sounds simple enough, albeit a bit retarded.”

Ha! That’s the great illusion of French, devised by those canny Frenchmen during all that free time they gained by not bathing. The language is written one way, and pronounced in a completely different way. Here are the basic pronunciation rules:

1) Ignore any letters you find at the end of words.
2) When you encounter a vowel, exchange its sound for that of a different vowel (it doesn’t matter which one).
3) Whenever you encounter an “R”, sniff, cough, and snort all at the same time.
4) All the time, make a face like someone just farted under your nose (this comes naturally in France).
5) When you fail horribly at all the above, go back to your nice and simple English, you big sissy.

So, as you can guess, after six years of such trauma, I quite enjoy a bit of France-bashing every now and then. The English, though, take it to the next level. They abuse the French at every chance, so much so that they even publish detailed newspaper articles about their hatred, like this one right here.

I found this most intriguing, not to mention immensely entertaining. For instance, point no. 8 in the above-linked article: “French dog owners refuse to pick up the 5,840 tonnes of dog-doo dropped on their streets each year.” How in the world did someone actually figure that out? Did they pick up the dog poop everyday and maintain an Excel Spreadsheet tracking the weights? Or did they collect it all, store it in the Louvre, and finally weigh it on December 31st? These questions occupied my mind; the kind of questions, no doubt, that inspired the great travellers of history to venture into the unknown in search of answers. Thus inspired, I booked my tickets to France.

I hope to write about my trip and my findings with regards to the French (extremely annoying) and their dog poop (couldn’t see any. Ultra-efficient collection system?) at some point, but not right now, because the Rugby beckons and there are some cretins on Twitter who need to be corrected.


October 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm 6 comments

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