My friend Karen recently introduced me to this genius game. The idea is fairly self-explanatory. You look out for the most outrageous (in behavior or dress or both) foreigner you see, and they are your “Foreigner of the Day”. It’s been fantastically funny to observe people in a different culture, the rage that comes out over the high prices or street vendors hassling you or crowded streets. The way people dress because they are in another country is one of my favorite qualifiers for “Foreigner of the Day”. It’s usually a beautifully awkward mix of Indian style with western influence like baggy Indian pants matched with short western t-shirts. My unnamed male friend who wore zebra “Ali Baba” pants with a tank top and matching zebra head band will be in my memory forever.
The game is only fun here because there are so few foreigners that anyone you see stands out. The other day I visited the Botanical Gardens by myself and enjoyed a leisurely walk through the peace and quiet. I took a bus home, and when I climbed on I was greeted with the sight of probably 10 foreigners, dressed as all foreigners here are, like hippies. Before I could check my socially awkward side and regain my composure, I said out loud, “Oh, my soul. So many foreigners!” They just looked at me, and I decided to sit in the front.
But, the road goes both ways, and today, I know, I made the Foreigner of the Day list for hundreds of people. My roommates and I went to a coffee shop up on Park Street to read and write letters. We took a bus up and got down an easy walking distance from our destination, but we decided to take a new mode of transportation there. I will give the credit where it’s due, my roommate Liz saw a bicycle drawn cart and said, “Can we take that?!” I couldn’t see any reason why not except for the fact that they aren’t meant for passengers, so we climbed on. It wasn’t until our bus drove past us and the men on it leaned out the door to laugh at our driver that I realized this might be a little odd.
The five minute walk became a 10 minute ride of basking in the glory of a leisurely ride through the back streets of Kolkata amidst ridicule from those around us. Auto rickshaws that barely stop long enough for you to step out pulled to the side of the road and waited to see us pass again, full of passengers pointing and laughing at us. I know you may think I’m exaggerating for emphasis, but I truly am not. People pointed and laughed. Men leaned out to stare and call out to see if we needed a ride. I don’t know what I can compare these carts to, but I think the best example would be a tractor pulled wagon. Usually intended only for cargo and transport, but sometimes employed in driving people around a hay field where no one can see.
That was us. A wagon ride in the city. Foreigners of the Day.