Wednesday, July 16, 2014

DC ou le RDC?

Over the years of being in international development, and being just generally nosy, I have met people of many races, religions, ethnic origins, classes, language groups, etc. living in or from a country not generally associated with their background. When I make this claim, I am not merely speaking from the average American standard of understanding of foreign lands:

"Wait, if you're from Switzerland, why do you speak Italian? Why don't you speak Swiss?"

I'm saying by even an informed standpoint, I know people who grew up in country that is often not associated with their background, such as Jewish people in Mexico, Russian people in Argentina, or Indians in Norway. In particular, I have met a few white Belgians who grew up in the DR Congo, or as it's said in French, Le RDC. In fact, the night before I took my vacation within a vacation to Corsica, I met a white Belgian RDC-er in Paris.

I got the studio in which I stayed in Ajaccio through AirBNB. I guess whatever language one's browser or home location is set to determines the default language in which the results load. So, even though I was searching for places in Corsica while I was in Paris, the results showed up in English. One in particular looked great - nice place, air conditioning (a rarity in France), super close to the beach and to restaurants. There were also great reviews for the host, who had written a description in perfect English.

Alas, part of the reason I came to France was to practice the language (as I say while writing this in English), so I communicated only in French to the host to make arrangements for my arrival. When she - a white woman in her mid-30s - came to let me in the building, she offered to help me carry my bag up to the fifth floor. Balancing the monstrosity of a bag that I claimed had "only the essentials" was a bit cumbersome for two people, so I thanked her for her effort before hoisting the boulder onto my shoulder to carry it the remainder of the way by myself.

In the midst of my sweating, grunting, and occasional "Oh putain, merde!" (I like to curse in the local language, as I find it to be more polite), we tried to make conversation. Between my exhaustion from the Paris Roissy airport, the 25 kilo bag, and the stairs, I didn't say much in excess of my authentic cursing efforts.

She asked where I am from, and I replied "Je suis New Yorkaise." Though born and raised New Yorkers would dispute such wording, I own this description every time I go to France, as I have found the words "Je suis New Yorkaise" synonymous with "Give me respect" in nearly every corner of the world.

I looked back briefly and saw my AirBNB host smile and say, "Ah! Je...DC." I missed the words in between. Most French people deduce after a few sentences that I am not French, but in fact an ambiguously dressed Indian-American. However, I do pride myself on a really good French accent - enough to fool even the Frenchiest of the French for at least a few minutes. So when I heard this woman and half of her sentence, I had to wonder if I had just met the queen of Frenchy deception? Someone who was capable of trumping my relatively amateur level of Frenchy deception? Was this woman a native of the American neighbor of Washington? My seconds of hesitation threw the host off-guard, so she decided to keep explaining things about the apartment to me in French. She left me a few minutes later to stir in my confusion and recall that I was now a twenty second walk away from the beach. Yay, beach!

After a fine day of dodging tourists to avoid the fact that I was indeed a tourist myself, I made my way back to the AirBNB studio before realizing that a very important World Cup match was on that night. The previous night, I had made a mad dash to the grocery store to get the necessities (Nutella, prosciutto, carbonated water), after which I watched the two matches of the night at a local bar. Its ambiance was as good as any, though the importance of this match was too great to waste on a hit-or-miss venue.

Since the AirBNB host was the only person in Corsica I had really spoken to, I figured I should ask her. I went to pick up my phone, then stopped. We had never sorted out her mysterious point of origin.

"Oh shit. Did she say she's from DC or the RDC?" I asked myself.

On any other night, who cares?  People are who they are, I don't care where they are from. But that night, I did. Why? Well, you see, this most important match was between two teams of comparable caliber:

USA versus Belgium

Like Tim Howard, I circled around my phone for a solid half-hour, saying curse words (this time in English) for intimidation purposes and as an involuntary reaction resulting from a disorder that neuroscientists are only beginning to understand.* I jumped, I dove, I charged, I tried to anticipate any sudden moves, crosses to the center, or overage charges my telecom company unfairly delivered.

Finally, I decided to make a strategic change to the lineup, and had the courage to text the host:

"Tina, est-ce que vous avez dit que vous venez de DC ou le RDC ?"
("Tina, did you say you are from DC or the DR Congo?")

Her response?

"Salut!  Non non j'ai dit qu j'├ętais d'ici :) Tout se passe bien? Dites moi si ca vous dit d'aller boire un verre!"

(Hi! No no, I said I was from here. :) Everything going ok? Let me know if you'd like to grab a drink!")

So we did, and it was great. As an unbiased, totally cool French woman, she, her boyfriend and I watched the game at a bar that was instantly transformed into a pro-America venue with my "New Yorkaise" presence. If you ever make your way to Corsica, find this couple. They are guaranteed to be a highlight of your stay, no matter where you are from.

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*I don't actually have Tourette Syndrome. The stupid things I say are completely voluntary.

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