Small Talk On Wheels

Most backpackers’ first intercultural small talk probably takes place during a train ride. The bench seats are facing each other and normally it will not take long for your curious fellow passengers to start a conversation with you.


“What is your good name, Madame?”

It irritates me to be called Madame, it makes me feel old! Sometimes I am even called Sir, which is even more weird.

Have I been unknowingly growing a moustache???

I think that many Indians think that “Sir” is equivalent to their genderless suffix “Ji” which is used to address somebody in a polite manner. Some of our western “good” names though are pretty funny for the Indian ear. If your name for instance is Laura (which means penis in Hindi) you might like to optionally change it to an Indian version like Lakshmi or something like this.


The next question will probably be:

“Your country, Madam?”


“Germany! Ahhhhh, AMERICAAAAA!”

Here you can choose to simply nod or give a small lesson in geography instead.

Some people though have a pretty broad knowledge; a police officer asked a friend of mine from here he was. When he answered “France”, the officer replied grinning underneath his thick moustache:

“Ahhh, you have this sexy president!”


Another standard question is:

“Are you married?”

Answer option 1:

“No” – this answer will lead to bewildered faces and further questions, like “Why not?” and “How old are you?”; in rare occasions I got a thumbs up reaction from beaming elderly women.

Answer option 2:

“Yes” (which might be true or not, it’s up to you) – Now you have gained a lot more respect! You will probably be asked where your partner is if you are traveling alone. Then you have the opportunity to create the imaginary husband or wife of your dreams who is unfortunately very busy and can not accompany you on this journey. People love stories, so why not give them one? It’s not that I enjoy telling a fib, but if you get asked the same questions over and over, you just get creative.


Next question:

“You have children?”

Answer option 1:

“No” – worried faces, followed by question “Why not?”

Answer option 2:

“Yes”, one boy, one girl, they are with their grandmother” – no more questions.

Occasionally I tried to look very concentrated while reading a book to keep people from asking; that plan never worked out and sooner or later I found myself joining the quiz.


The questions vary a bit depending in which class you travel. In 2nd AC class one guy did’t even want to know my good name or my country. His first question was directly:

“Madame, what is your qualification?

Was that a job interview?

I was pretty surprised and didn’t know what to answer. I think eventually I said something impressive with not much sense like polyglot administration assistant and the questioning stopped there.

Once a friend of mine, who works on an organic farm back in the US was asked the same thing and as she answered

“Oh, I’m a farmer”

the guy was horrified and shook his head in disbelief:

“No, Madame! Please don’t say that!”

Incredible, but even in the west some people work using their hands!