The Value of Self-Importance; or Hating, Then Loving, Canadians

govinda's udaipurWe walked down a hill, past seated bulls flopping their tails, to a street that looked familiar, and up to where we were yesterday, near Govinda’s on Palace Road. I felt good from having showered and shaved, albeit sweaty. Jan told me about a friend of his who had a straight-blade shave by a guy who lifted his head back with his fingers in his nostrils, and he smelled shit on his fingers, which has dissuaded Jan from going for a straight-razor shave here in India, which is totally understandable, although I told him no one has ever put their fingers in my nose, instead, raising the head rest and indicating that I should lean my head back. Maybe that guy had a really big nose that hung down and the Indian barber had to put his fingers in his nose in order to get those hairs on his upper lip that grow near his nostrils… Anyway, we had discussed finding the ideal cafe– rooftop, wi-fi, Italian espresso machine, air conditioned, and on the palace road we thought maybe we’d found it when we saw the sign for air-conditioned, wi-fi, and espresso. Inside though, no one spoke English, it wasn’t air conditioned, and the idiots working there gave me the password for wi-fi that didn’t work, and when I thought I glimpsed the coffee machine, it clearly wasn’t Italian, and even though they had a guitar which Jan played bluesily, everything was far too overpriced and I wasn’t into paying 60 rupees for shitty Nescafe coffee, especially when Govinda’s was right across the street. So we didn’t order the two coffees the idiots suggested after I’d told them the wi-fi didn’t work, maybe you can help me, gesturing toward my computer, and their standing there like morons, and we left, thanking them for nothing, for their attempt at sitting us down, and remembering how we should have followed our guts when we first arrived and the idiot mother of them all said no when we asked if we could sit down. And there she was again at the well on the street asking no? when she saw us, and my saying no and her pointing to Govinda’s which is where we should have been smart enough to go first off.

We sat down, I ordered an americano, Jan got the chicken sandwich I had yesterday and a vanilla shake, and they even had wi-fi here and although it didn’t work the owner tried messing with the IP address and it didn’t work on his iPhone either, but at least he tried, Jesus. And then two fat white women walked in with American accents and I whispered to Jan that they were American. And fat and all, they ignored my eye contact when I looked at them, until finally I couldn’t take it any more and asked them where they were from and they said, Canada, which annoyed me, both that they were Canadian and spoke with my accent, which I realized is slightly different, more singsongy and uncertain in everything they say, and also by the fact that I thought they were American and they deceived me. Moreover, one of the fatties, the prettier of the two, lives here working for an NGO. You should have heard her say it.

Oh you’re so munificent! An NGO! Dedicating your time to the poor in Udaipur, while your fat Canadian friend takes a week to visit and sweat off some weight here while you work hard, wanting your wi-fi, fat and Canadian and big, big like Americans from the midwest, nearly six feet tall and weighing close to 200 pounds, with the fat and weakness of a teenage boy, and me all mistaken, but gladly so because their not being American makes my country look less fat to the Indians and other tourists who assume they’re Americans when they open their mouths.

Couple that with the fact that Canadians, like Australians, are too close to home, too much like Americans (who I also don’t particularly like hanging out with or meeting abroad, especially if they’re flashy with money or like to self-aggrandize or subconsciously compare themselves and compete with me in terms of background, education, and general where I’m going in life attitude) and despite being influenced and swayed by our sphere of culture, especially our northerly neighbors, manage to resent us as propaganda pushers and cultural dictators, while never really offering any particularly Canadian or Australian avant-garde or intellectual leader. For example, name one Nobel Prize winning Canadian or Australian– not Saul Bellow, because let’s face it, he moved to the U.S. to make it big. And it’s not like they have a choice, living in a country with a population the size of Texas and California, respectively, but to be so antsy and angsty about being anti-American and forming judgments about Americans, which as I’ve said, I most of the time support, but jeez, at least take the time to individualize and get to know someone before you lump them as Bush-supporters or public-health care combatants, and try to understand that the scale of our country does make a difference in federal policy. When I meet a particular Canadian or Australian, I push my prejudices and initial dislikes aside in order to better feel their energy, intellect and personality.

And sure these Canadians are probably really good people, but their nonchalance, their involvement with themselves, makes them somehow grotesque. Not to say that I’m so worldly and uninvolved with myself that I’m unlike them– no– I probably seem just the same, but their self-importance, her pride in how she said NGO, like by knowing the acronym I would immediately become closer to her status, it made me feel slightly self-conscious, like she was judging me in that way so many Americans do, like that Connecticut Jew with her grating accent I met in Delhi, who I hated, who thought she was so smart and successful simply because she had a travel agency sending rich Americans to Rajasthan, when deep inside I could see her trying to impress me, trying to draw me into conversation and giving her admiration and approval, I hate that. That sense of self-importance.

And yet I love these Canadians too, working hard for an NGO, wishing me to enjoy the rest of my trip, eh, and to take care, because they mean well, they’re well-educated and magnanimous, resilient in working here in Udaipur in the heat for a good cause. I love them for being like me and unlike me too. And even that older woman who didn’t know what we wanted when we walked into her restaurant and her hard-working sons, yes I love them too, despite their lack of English, their idle stances and foolhardy offers to get us coffee. Funny though, how I can quickly start to hate them and convince myself that I love them, to love with all the energy emitting from around my skull, letting my shoulders drop and the tension rush out through my fingertips, yes I love them because they’re like me, they too have the same desires and cravings for pleasures and ambivalence to routine and capacity for love. They are just like me, except raised with different standards and senses of morality and a general willingness to explore and live in the world for the sake of life, not necessarily for themselves, which is what maybe (most probably, judging from the snippets of self-involved conversation I heard) those Canadians do, live selfishly for the sake of money and their egos, to impress upon people their sense of goodness or education or whatever else they value about themselves to hide and cover their self-consciousness about the girth of their arms or the size of their asses, or other character flaws and deficiencies unapparent to the naked eye or pressing conversationalist, but for life— for sunny afternoons after having innocent, genuine, really good sex, for making the kind of eye contact across a room that makes you say who is that, for reading a really difficult novel, or for sympathizing with a friend’s pain, for Bach’s perseverance four hundred years later, or seeing a new best sunset, or for any number of things and experiences outside themselves (yet also necessarily within based on their very perceptions of these examples of love) instead of being so entirely absorbed in their hard and dried egos as to misunderstand or forget or little more than glimpse what makes life really worth living.

Self Important Epilogue

Jan was lying on the bed last night, shirt off, staring at the ceiling. “Do you ever save your book?”
“What do you mean?”
“If something happened to your computer, do you have your book saved?”
“Oh. Kind of. I mean, I use Google Docs, but no, like all the stuff I have on my computer from the past six months is not saved.”
“You should save it.”
“I know.”
“Wouldn’t you feel bad if something happened to it?”
“Yeah, I mean, I’d probably convince myself that it was meant to happen or something silly like that to justify fate, but then, yeah, I’d probably be pretty upset. I should save it tomorrow.”
“You should.”
“Yeah. I will. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“Promise me,” he said, in the tone of a lover going away for too long.
“I promise.”

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.


      1. I finally did. And poor Golu, I told him when I get rich I’d send him a couple thousand rupees for new front teeth. I have his facebook, so I’m sure he’ll be all right until then.

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