Tamil encounters of a South Indian traveler


Though a long time resident of Bangalore in India, Tamil is my mother tongue. Over the years of travel, a few interesting experiences:

Context: Cafeteria in Paris, France @ Lunch time

With the lunch tray in hand, am standing in the queue to pay at the counter. From nowhere, I heard a voice “Eppadi irukkirikal” (meaning “how are you”). First time in Paris and only a couple of colleagues whom I had just met, for that minute I was sure something was wrong in my head and am listening non-existent voices. As I recovered from the shock, the smiling lady at the counter introduced herself as having come from Pondicherry, India and hence Tamil speaking! Pondy was a French colony.

Context: Hotel room in Paris, France @ 7pm on a freezing Monday

Pizza craving had set in. Just for some kicks, decided to rehearse French to order. After some time of “livraison domicile s’il vous plait” (meaning “home delivery please”) and more practice, called a local pizza place. The patient order taker on the other side worked through my broken French accent and managed to take my order. Towards the end, he asked for my full name. I was in half the mind to question the need for full name yet just decided to give in. The guy repeated my name and then says “sir tamil ah?!!” (meaning “are you Tamil”) Dumbstruck! Turns out he is of Sri Lankan origin, coming from Tamil-speaking Jaffna, north of SL.

Context: Nasi Kandar restaurant in Shah Alam, Malaysia @ Lunch time

Nasi Kandar is Malaysian dish-rice with variety of curries and sides. Typically, the restaurants are quick self-service restaurants. One afternoon, with 2 Malaysian colleagues we headed to one of these for lunch. After serving our plates and paying at the counter, we took our seats. One of my colleagues, called the waiter and requested for something (can’t exactly recall what it was). After a couple of failed attempts, I pitched in and spoke Tamil to the waiter knowing well most of them were either from Tamil Nadu, India or conversant in Tamil. How many times does a foreigner get to help locals communicate!

Tamil is the official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore, besides India.

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