The first time it happened, we were at Qutb Minar in New Delhi.
Scott and I had booked a city tour with our guest house. Along with a fellow guest from London, we had our own driver and a car available to take us all around the city for the day to see all of the famous sites of New Delhi.
As the three of us were chatting and walking around the beautiful remains of Qutb Minar, a well-dressed, Indian businessman came up to us with a group of about ten other people.
“Excuse me, picture?” he asked.
But, instead of him handing us the camera to take a picture of him, we realized he wanted to take a picture with us.
All three of us just looked at each other, puzzled by the request, looking to one another as if to confirm that we understood him correctly. Not wanting to be rude, and being flattered by such a request, we all just shrugged our shoulders and said, “Sure!”
Within seconds, the group of ten people, all of whom I believe were related to this man, crowded around us, eager to get their photos taken with us. One person would take the picture, and then he or she would switch out with another person so that everyone could make sure they had their picture with us.
After all of the pictures were taken, they all wanted to shake our hands. “Where you from?” the Indian businessman asked our travel companion.
“I’m from London,” he replied.
“Oh! Very nice,” he said, with the famous Indian head-wigggle. (Is it a head nod, or it is shaking the head to say “no”? After three weeks in various parts of India, I don’t even think Indians know for sure.)
He turned to Scott and me, and continued, “Where you from?”
“We’re from America,” Scott answered.
“Ohhhhh, America. Big country. Obama,” he said with a smile.
“Where are you from?” I asked, trying to be polite and make conversation.
Apparently, he wasn’t prepared for us to ask him anything. He looked kind of wide-eyed at us for a minute, and turned to one of his family members. The family member translated what I said, and he answered, “Oh, South India.”
“OK!” I laughed.
He looked at us for a few more seconds, and we could see the wheels turning in his head and he was thinking of more things to ask us. Our British travel companion tried to get us all out of the awkward situation by saying, “Well, thanks for stopping by. It was very nice meeting you,” and shaking his hand.
The man looked a little disappointed that he couldn’t think of anything else to ask us; but, he politely smiled, shook all of our hands, did another little head-wiggle, and motioned for his family to keep going.
“What in the heck was that?” I couldn’t help laughing.
“Do they think we’re somebody famous?” our fellow Brit traveler asked.
Of course, being the smart aleck that I am, I said, “Maybe they think we’re the Black Eyed Peas!”
After a few minutes of theorizing what that was all about (thinking we’re celebrities, practicing English, being surprised to see white people there, etc.), we went about our merry way, continuing our day tour of the city.
A few stops later, we ended up at Humayan’s Tomb. Again, a group of Indian guys, probably in their early 20’s, wanted to take a picture of us. We laughed and agreed again, and they snapped away.
Again, later in the day, two teenage guys came up to us to ask to take their picture with us… well, actually this time they just wanted to take turns taking their picture with me. (I can only imagine what the captions say on their Facebook profiles.)
What in the heck was going on?!
Scott and I thought the next day that without the third member of our Black Eyed Peas look-a-like group, people wouldn’t pay attention to us anymore. But, at every site we went to, more people came up to us to take pictures.
Not only that, but at every site we went to, for every one person who asked to take a picture with us, there were at least ten more just taking (at least what they thought were) candid photos of us on their cell phones.
(NOTE TO SELF: Upon spotting a celebrity, don’t try and take a candid cell phone picture. It’s more obvious than just asking to take a picture with him or her.)
Again, we thought once we left New Delhi, maybe the celebrity treatment would die down. But, the more we traveled to the tourist sites in Agra and Jaipur, the more we were asked to pose in other people’s photos, and the more cell phones we saw coming out.
At this point, Scott and I were convinced we had to look like someone famous in India. If you ever watch Bollywood movies or music videos, pay attention to the people in the background; you’ll notice that a good ¾ of them are white. We were convinced that we must look like two of the more famous white actors and actresses in the area.
As we had now become used to, while walking through the fort, a man stopped me and said, “Oh! Could my daughter please take a picture with you? It would mean so much to her.”
Well, who wouldn’t acquiesce to such a heartfelt request! “Of course!” I agreed, drunk on the effects that my new-found star power was having on my ego.
The girl was probably between 10-12 years old. She came up to me shaking and wide-eyed. “Wow!” she cried.
As her dad snapped away, she looked up at me and said, “Oh wow, I want to kiss you!”
Well, chalk that up as a new experience!
Given that I am a whitey from the incredibly mild and dry climate of Southern California, and was subsequently now traveling through India in 95˚F heat with 95% humidity, I was sweating like I was going to win a prize for it at the end. I would have felt horrible if she got grossed out, so I said, “I don’t think you want to; I’m really sweaty.”
Her face fell, and she sadly sighed, “Ohhhhhhh.” I instantly felt bad that I had maybe hurt her feelings… or shattered the myth that white people don’t sweat. I mean, it was like I had just told her that Santa Claus eats reindeer jerky, people. =/
After that, I walked through Amber Fort convinced that I had to look like someone really famous – Hollywood famous. I went through my memories, trying to recall what all celebrities I’d been told I look like in my day.
Sandra Bullock was the most popular comparison in the early 2000’s, but I hadn’t gotten that in a while. Maybe she thought I was Jennifer Love Hewitt. (Anyone who has ever seen my chest knows that isn’t even a remote possibility.) Still, I was convinced that I had to look like someone famous.
When we got back to our car, as we had hired a driver for four days to take us around the Rajasthan area (VERY highly recommended, as I’ll cover in another blog), I determined that I should just stop all of the mystery and ask our driver what the deal was.
As soon as I explained the situation to him, he burst out laughing. “Oh yes, Indian people love taking picture with tourist. When they go on vacation, they take picture with European people to show, ‘See, I’m a tourist, too.’”
He continued, “I drove a very big government man around with his family last week, and he tell me before we go I must make sure to find white people for his daughter to take picture with. It was the one thing she was looking forward to on trip. The more white and more tourist they look, the better.”
Oh, cruel vanity! Oh, shame you have waxed upon my ego! Within minutes, I went from being Jennifer Love Hewitt in my own mind to just another obvious, blindingly white tourist.
PS: Scootz reminded me that I was handed a baby at Gateway of India. (I named it Carlos.) I said I had graduated from celebrity to politician at that point. 😉