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A Samurai at the Ambassador’s cocktail party

This is quite interesting to attend this type of events at the Swiss Ambassador, in honor of the visit of a big shot of a big company. An experience to have, but not necessarily to repeat (especially after you have shone like me that night)...

First of all because at least half of the people are from the company in question, which is of little interest to you since you have no short term project to reconvert in agriculture.

Then because if you thought you could make Swiss buddies there you are a fool: there are exactly six Swiss in all the assistance... And they are not the friendliest people, they have this kind of arrogance of those who have “lived” India, while you, poor wannabe... This is how one of them asked me how long I had been here. Spontaneously I replied 2 months. You would have seen the complicit looks these guys exchanged... I preferred not to pick up. Oh well, just a bit. But I didn’t really get the admiration look I expected, more the kind of look you give to crazy people!

And above all you must be careful with what you say. Don’t do like me what. For example, when his ‘Excellency’ came to shake my hand, I was obviously not well aware of the protocol:

  • Him: Hello
  • Me: Hello
  • Him: And you are?
  • Me: Emilie
  • Him: From?
  • Me (he starts to be a little indiscreet that one!): France
  • Him: No, I mean, from which company?
  • Me: Oooops

By the way the answer to this question – answer that I really like because it always makes me laugh inside –  which is “I sell for breastpumps” does not have the most beautiful effect at the Ambassador’s party. And to go even further, since people don’t understand what the hell I am talking about, I have to fake squeak my boobs to explain. You see! So finally I positioned myself as a General Manager in the high-tech medical equipment company.

You can also avoid making the following comments:

“Ah bah if the head of legal of my company was visiting India, he would not be get to a reception like that!”

Or to imitate the German Swiss accent aloud (it sounds pretty much like this: “rrrrrggrrrrrrgrrrr”).

Or “Ah you work for this company! Yes I know them well, it’s the competitor of this one! ».

Or “If we get arrested, the Ambassador will come save us!” (especially when the Ambassador in question is right behind you)

India,swiss embassy,ambassador's cocktail partyWhen you manage to say so many non-senses without drinking, it is recommended to avoid jumping on the (Indian) wine glasses that pass back and forth. Same for the chocolate cake – it is less bad to look like an ogre than a drunk (and the risk to discredit yourself completely is less), but it’s still not very classy... (I tried to play the discreet but the cake was too good!)

I think I put on quite a (Samurai) show that night!


A departure high in colours...

It’s Monday night. I haven’t eaten the whole day, too busy “closing” things at work (actually you never close anything but nevermind...). Luckily (smartly?) I have packed the bags the past weekend – it’s crazy how complicated it can get to travel with a baby, starting with checking whether winter clothes fit and finishing with folding the portable cot!

Now it’s 7:30 PM, Baby Samurai is asleep, the nanny on the train, the husband in the taxi, and I’m putting a final touch to packing (with a special focus on food). And suddenly I hear the baby call for me. And as soon as I lift him up he vomits on me profusely. His first vomit ever in 16 months, we are both stunned... Unable to take a step without walking on puke, I have no idea what to do. So I first clean him up, put him back to sleep, wash the floor then myself and get back to the luggage. I lost my appetite. And then he pukes again. I wash him again, he seems to feel better, and I am still running around in my underwear. I’ll take a shower at the last minute, you never know.

It’s 10 PM. I have to shampoo the cat. Some would argue that the time may not be perfect but I have to help the poor animal to get rid of his special guest (some kind of ringworm) and I could not find any other time!

10:30. The taxi is downstairs. I grab Baby Samurai to put some clothes and he barfs again, all over me, again. One more shower and we’re off!

And he empties his stomach again in the car, what nightmare! The 8-hour flight to Europe promises to be very long...

india,gurgaon,toll booth,jats,protest,taxiI notice that we are on a flyover, on the highway and there is traffic which is very unusual at this time of the day (or rather night) and also there are lines of trucks parked on the side. What the hell is going on? Suddenly two men bang the car, intimate my driver to lower his window, pluck his mouth/cheeks, strangle him with his seat belt. All this while I’m screaming to leave him alone, my baby is sick and I have a flight to catch; they ignore me superbly and eject the driver from the car, taking him away. And then nothing. After five minutes I call my husband and then I just blow a fuse. Total panic. I have in the background the horrifying stories of colleagues of friends gunned up at Gurgaon tollbooth – stories I never pay attention to but they obviously enter by one ear and don’t leave by the other. So fuck it. I get out of the taxi, covered in vomit, baby in my arms and start yelling on the truck drivers, demanding that my driver is given back to me. They seem to have no idea what is happening, well done in pretending they are not part of this hold-up!

A car stops, and then another, and another. A man in each vehicle. All come out and ask me “What is wrong Madam?” “What is going on?” Half sobbing half screaming I explain that my driver has been abducted. And they find him immediately, kept captive in a van just behind our car. He takes his seat and we hit the road again. No thank you for the rescue! And I have get the end of the story. What were these trucks doing there? Why this jam in the middle of the night? Why did these two men in civilian attire assaulted my driver?*

I arrive at the counter of the airline, stinking and still dripping with tears. I must look awful and out of place, especially at the business counter. And guess what? While things could hardly get worse, I can’t find my passport. Well actually I do. And then? Lufthansa just upgrade my husband. They could not have chosen a better time to do it I swear...And baby slept almost all through!

* I just found out, about two weeks after the event that there is a possibility that the trucks were parked there to wait for the opening of the toll between Gurgaon and Delhi which takes place at midnight. And that this racket is institutionalized for taxi drivers who do not pay the toll. So maybe I wasn’t after all in the heart of coup being fomenting a or a revolution or any other uprising – which have become quite common these days with the Jats protesting regularly (see this article). Pfff... I lost it for no reason!


Moving to Gurgaon

My job change, effective on March 1st, led to further upheavals. Like moving to… Gurgaon! And this is not nothing... To tell you, I even almost did not go to the interview when I saw that the job was there. Gurgaon.
Gurgaon is on the outskirts of Delhi. Already living in Delhi is not easy when you come from Mumbai: the freezing cold winter, sweltering summer, power cuts, lack of neighborhood life – others would add pollution and insecurity but I have not experienced any of them personally during my year there.
But the suburbs... Especially for a girl born and brought up in Paris... It’s a bit of a stretch...

But hey, you have to put a little water in your wine. And as my husband was game, we packed our suitcases! A few weeks before the big day, we went on a small expedition looking for a place. During which I discovered that Gurgaon was not a suburb as a Parisian would understand it. It is a city by itself.
It’s a new and ‘young’ town that came out of the ground ten years ago. It has managed to attract multinational corporations, malls and bars that brew their own beer (there are dozens of them).
But hey, it's still paradise either. First of all, there are these towers of flats which are really upscale with their swimming pools, sport grounds etc., but remind me of hives. Also you have to take your car to run any errand. And especially this mushroom sprung in the desert so cuts (water and electricity) are common.

That said, Gurgaon offers friendly enough housing options, for instance villas with private pool in a complex, which ensures safety and continuity of water and electricity supply and offers play areas for children and sport grounds. We have seen worse! Gurgaon thus became much sexier after visiting one of these villas!

A few weeks later we moved in...
And we immediately got into the difficulties of managing house staff. Especially in a society where watchmen-cleaning ladies-cooks-drivers-etc. are organized into a mafia and take advantage of the “isolation” to impose their will.
We are far from Mumbai! First maids. Here one cleans the floor, another one comes to dust, another one to cook. Beyond the cost, it becomes a lot to manage... Especially when you always have had one person to do everything! Fortunately, when you want you can, and we found a way. Beside this whole cleaning lady thing, there was the nanny thing. Being a little prejudiced, I brought my nanny Mumbai! I had tried to find a local one before moving, but whoever I asked only warned me, against nanny agencies, against leaving a baby alone with a nanny. I didn’t hesitate long… (in Mumbai there are a lot of Christian (hence English speaking) ladies who do a great job but this ‘species’ does not exist in Delhi and the best option seems to hire a Nepali girl).
Then the driver. When you ask for a contact, you are again warned: “first, before hiring him, you need to check his police record and register him with the police”, “it’s hard to find someone you trust”. Moreover, as recently as last week a driver burgled the house of his mega-millionaires employers. So, I saved myself the headache for later and I’m driving. And you should know that in Gurgaon, people drive like PIGS. If you think that Indians in general have an archaic driving behaviour, you have not seen anything until you’ve come to Gurgaon. Pigs I tell you.

Then there are all these little joys of moving in: running after the carpenter to barricade the pool, after the air conditioning guy, the plumber to fix the leaking toilets or insulate a wall. Even if you don’t pay them until the job is finished, they just take weeks before coming back to finish the job and get their money! This is madness…