I’m sitting and reading on Varkala Beach in the far south of India. A group of five Indian boys in their late teens are swimming and horsing around nearby. One of them comes up to me and starts talking, and eventually all five of them are gathered around me. Below is a truncated account of our exchange.
Boy 1: Hello! What is your country?
Me: Hi. I’m from the US.
Boy 1: US?
Boy 2: America!
Boy 1: Oh, America. What state?
Boy 1: California! Do you know [inset the name of a pro wrestler that I have never heard of]?
Me: No, sorry. Where are you guys from?
Boy 1: How old are you?
Me: How old do you think I am?
Boy 1: [Short pause.] 25.
Me: Nope, I’m 29.
Boy 2: You are a handsome man.
Me: Uh, thank you.
Boy 4: You are here alone?
Boy 4: You don’t have any friends?
Me: I have friends but none here.
Boy 3: Are you married?
Boy 2: Do you have a girlfriend?
Boy 1: Do you have affairs?
Me: [Pause, not really knowing what I was just asked.] No.
Boy 2: You have never had a girlfriend?
Me: I have in the past, but I don’t have one now.
Boy 4: What is your favorite food in Kerela?
Me: Well, I like dosas.
Boy 1: Do you like fish?
Me: No, I don’t.
Boy 1: Are you a vegetarian?
Me: Yes, I am.
[At this, several of the boys turn to each other and speak amongst themselves in Malayalam, the local language.]
Boy 3: That is why you are so handsome.
Boy 5: Do you speak Malayalam?
Me: No, I don’t.
Boy 2: Hindi? Tamil?
Boy 5: Where are you from?
[Boy 1 smacks Boy 5 because Boy 1 had already asked that question, and Boy 1 explains that I am from California.]
Boy 5: California! Hollywood! Like Bollywood.
Boy 4: I like films.
Me: What is your favorite?
Me: Those are good choices.
Boy 5: What is your job?
Me: I’m a writer.
Boy 2: You write books?
Boy 2: What are the names of the books?
Boy 3: Are they published in India?
Boy 1: Are you famous?
Boy 2: Are you rich?
Boy 1: If you are not rich, how can you come to India from America?
Me: I’m not rich in America, but… I guess I’m rich here.
Boy 4: How much do you spend here every day? How much for lodging?
Me: About 600 rupees (~$10) a day on lodging, and maybe another 600 a day on food.
Boy 3: Yes, you are rich.
Boy 2: [Points to my Kindle] Is that a smartphone?
Me: No, it’s just for books.
Boy 5: Do you smoke?
Boy 5: Do you drink?
Boy 2: What is your name?
[All of them stare at me, either blankly or with confusion on their faces.]
Me: [Again] Tristan.
Boy 2: Christian.
Me: No, Tristan. With a T.
Boy 4: Are you on social media?
Me: I’m on Facebook.
Boy 3: What is your Facebook name?
Me: Tristan Higbee.
[More blank stares.]
Me: Here, I’ll write it down.
Boy 3: Do you like sport?
Me: I rock climb.
[More blank stares.]
Boy 1: Do you like football or cricket?
Me: Football is OK. I don’t understand cricket, and it looks boring.
Boy 5: Yes, it is boring.
[Boy 1 smacks Boy 5 again.]
Boy 2: India is number one in the world in cricket. In football we are number 134.
[I put my shirt on and start folding my towel.]
Boy 1: You are leaving?
Me: Yeah, I don’t want to get sunburned.
Boy 1: Ok. You are welcome in India! We will add you on Facebook!
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