Tag Archives: India

Hello, Hello!



The focus of my blog is the English language, but the gestures we use are a strong form of communication in addition to the words we speak. As Americans we need to understand that gestures we take for granted may have very different and sometimes offensive meanings in other cultures. I know many of my readers live in other countries, and you, too, need to be aware that everyday gestures in your society might be interpreted differently around the world.

I was recently in Japan and quickly learned to slightly bow my head when acknowledging others. In Asia, kissing or touching strangers is a no-no, while in America we very often shake hands or even—OMG!—kiss: a quick peck on the cheek or the good-old-American air kiss.

In Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, greet others by pressing your palms together and bowing. Be prepared in Tibet: you may well be greeted by others sticking their tongues out at you.

In New Zealand, if you meet Maoris, you might be greeted with a nose rub on the forehead. In Rio de Janeiro, three cheek kisses are obligatory, but in São Paulo, one kiss will do the trick. Same country, different custom.

French kissing in France is variously interpreted, and not as it is in the U.S: When visiting Nantes, expect four kisses, but only two in Toulouse, and a measly one in Brest. Be sure to make a quiet smooching sound, but do not let your lips touch another’s cheek.

Among strangers, a handshake is common in most of Northern Europe, while in Russia you might be brought to your knees by a more-than-firm handshake. In India, handshakes between men are quite the opposite: make them limp, and never shake hands with a member of the opposite sex. To greet an elder male in India, bend down and touch his feet.

Now you know.


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To start with the pronunciation, it’s “eh PIT o me.” I once heard a famous wine expert describe a particular wine as the “EP i tome” of its kind. Just another day when I yelled at the radio and did an impressive eye roll.

As to its meaning, if you read that “the Taj Mahal is the epitome of a gorgeous building,” it doesn’t mean it is the most beautiful building in the world. How could anyone know that objectively? You are stating that the Taj Mahal is representative of, typical of, an architectural masterpiece.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

That odd combination of words is the title of an extraordinary book I just finished reading; the author’s name is Katherine Boo. She divides her time between the US and India and spent five years interviewing the inhabitants of a Mumbai slum situated on the edge of a sewage lake and very near the shiny new airport. Obviously, the contrast between the slumdwellers’ lives and the wealth also existent in India is implicit, often explicit.

Boo focuses on five people specifically, showing in vivid prose how they manage to survive—or don’t. It is a gut-wrenching account written in beautiful language, and well worth reading.

The book is categorized as narrative non-fiction; Boo includes very specific dialog, which gives the book the feeling of fiction. As I read it, I wished it had been fiction and not an incisive factual account of the impoverished lives of these determined and desperately poor people.

In case you are wondering, as I was, what the title refers to, near this slum is a wall advertising floor tiles; the words “Beautiful Forever,” written repeatedly, comprise the slogan for the tiles these people will never be able to own. Nothing about the lives of the Indians living here is beautiful—but everything is unforgettable. 

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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