My Bad Sri Lankan Habits

I used to be quite the control freak. I was one of those people who got into a panic if they were going to be more than five minutes late for a work meeting or even drinks with friends. I meticulously planned my holidays and weekends and usually had an empty in-tray when I left the office on a Friday evening in London (otherwise I would dream about work). If I had invited people over to my flat, I had the place spotless, the wine chilled (or aired) and was ready to receive them hours early.

Fortunately, I’m happy to say that living in Sri Lanka has mellowed me out considerably. This country has ripped the reins of control from my hands,  taught me to relax and stop trying to be perfect (hari hari – kamak nee  – ok ok no problem). It’s also opened me up to so many possibilities. Everyday, I feel curious about something new.

However, I’ve found myself acquiring some disturbing “Sri Lankan” habits.

  • I have little regard for the time. After many frustrating episodes of arriving on time, only to find no one else there or ready, I’ve given up being punctual. These days, ten minutes turns into half and hour, and half an hour stretches into one hour. If I am late for something, I blame it on some event which could not be avoided! It’s quite liberating. However, it’s not good when I’m meeting friends and family from home, who consider 1 o’clock to mean 1 o’clock, and keep them waiting.
  • I stare at people. On a number of occasions recently, I’ve caught myself unabashedly looking at people. Anyone who interests me, I don’t hesitate to openly check them out. I guess I feel like I’ve been stared at so much in Sri Lanka, it’s fine for me to do likewise. Isn’t staring a normal part of human behaviour here anyway?
  • I wobble my head. It would be difficult to find a foreigner who hasn’t been confused by the comical Sri Lankan head wobble.  It took me a while to figure out but it kind of means “ok, as long as nothing gets in the way” – see “hari hari kamak nee” above) I’ve now started to enjoy this gesture. Not only do I happily wobble my head at people, I also sometimes think that there’s nothing that could be more appropriate. Why speak when you can wobble and it means so much more?
  • I put the phone down before saying” Bye”. Why waste money when the conversation has come to a natural end. This used to infuriate me… but the locals mean absolutely no malice.
  • I have told people they are gaining weight. This is not an insult in Sri Lanka. Being “chubby” is seen as healthy and can also be a sign of wealth. I try to avoid telling my English, Dutch and other friends this because I’ll get punched.
  • I speak Singlish to the locals. This is a wonderful mix of Singhalese and English which is completely grammatically incorrect and sounds stupid to everybody who does not live here. Examples are:
  1. I go and come soon ( See you later)
  2. I am paining (I have an ailment which hurts a little)
  3. I have animals in my table/door/head (I have wood lice/head lice)
  4. Too much blah blah (all words and no action)
  5. Can you drop me? (will you be so kind as to give me a lift?)
  6. Where do you stay? (where do you live?)
  7. I also come (I will join you)
  8. He is too much drinking (He’s drunk)
  9. A big problem happen just now (there has been an accident/incident)
  10. I will get down from the bus here… (I will get off the bus here…)
  11. I did just now wash the clothes (I have just done the laundry) – you get the idea 🙂
  • I think nothing about washing myself (and my dog) and brushing my teeth in public. You can’t go anywhere in Sri Lanka without seeing an old bloke in a sarong brushing his teeth by the roadside. Just as often you will catch a glimpse of  ladies washing themselves, kids, clothes and pets by a public well (albeit  covered in a sarong or old sari material). Most often than not (bar a few perverts who will instantly get a bamboo massage) this is normal and nobody bats an eyelid.
Bathing in public

Bathing in public

  • I avoid disclosing information. When I first met my partner, I used to get annoyed with him for being evasive with people or not giving them complete information (including me!!). Usually, it was to do with our relationship. Being quite ignorant of Sri Lankan ways back then, I was a little offended. I’ve fast realised that this is actually the easiest thing to do in this country. Being open and honest in Sri Lanka is not worth the hassle sometimes. Now I find myself perfecting the art of giving away as little information as possible — but just enough information to make the other person think that they’ve found out something interesting about me.
  • I don’t sleep with my feet facing the ocean or a Buddha statue. It’s considered bad luck and rude respectively (this isn’t really a bad habit – just peculiar).
  • I have nibbled a maggi cube during an Arrack drinking session. Enough said on that one. Too much salt is not good – try it though, it’s damn tasty.

I also tell beggars I have no money when my wallet is bulging. I know this is horrid but you just don’t know the genuine poor from the opportunists any more these days. I’ve been caught out before.

I’m also ashamed to admit that I’ve thrown rubbish on the ground. It usually only happens when I’m in one of my “I’m tired of Sri Lanka, and why should I do the right thing when no one else bothers” moods. I don’t do it often.



Filed under Sri Lankan life

19 responses to “My Bad Sri Lankan Habits

  1. I could so relate to all in this. Far too well articulated for someone living in Sri Lanka, so fortunately, some habits have not yet been eroded.

  2. Sherylee

    Don’t you just love it!!!!

  3. Brett

    Brilliant. And funny. Clever observation of Sri Lanka – and yourself. Curiously, do you also dry your mats on the road, answer yes to questions regardless of the answer and yell out for your older sister across the whole village? What about never having ‘change money’ or refusing to part with it even if you do? Do you sometimes find yourself just standing on the side of Galle Road looking back and forward – for hours and hours? Ahhhhh, congratulations on your irreversible Sri Lankanhood.

    • Thanks Brett! Yes to all of the above except for shouting out for my older sister 😉 I find the Galle Road rather interesting actually especially on poya days when whole enormous Sri Lankan families often travel to temples far from their villages on landmasters or hire buses and have parties on them!

  4. Anne Morton

    I do all of them except chewing the stock cube and dropping litter! I once lectured a group of Sri Lankans about littering, collected all the rubbish together and made a grand gesture of putting it in a litter bin. Of course being Sri Lanka there was no bottom to the bin and it all ended up back on the pavement where it started. You can imagine the response. And these days I ask for an ‘up and down ticket’ instead of a return.

    • Ha ha – what’s the terminology for a one-way ticket? An “up ticket”? 😉 I must admit that in the 9 years I’ve been coming to Sri Lanka there has been a massive improvement (as in reduction) in the amount of rubbish on the streets!

  5. clare williams

    love it hun…keep it up. Also “Wha’ happen?” “Accident happen” seems quite common. Also “Too much drinking…too much blah blah”. Also “Also”!. Also “my brother/sister” when the person in question is in no way related – by blood. So so many more…loved “up & down, down & up” for return van trip to Arugam Bay. “having” also – as in “Water having” “vodka having” etc…Oh! What else?? You’ve got me on a mission! “Singalinglish” is my pet name for it. I get the piss ripped out of me for my wobbly head when I return home from S.Lanka…but you’re so right – sometimes it’s the aptest response – for so many situations! x

    • “Too much blah blah” definitely!! I use that almost daily. Only yesterday there was a huge meeting in Aluthgama about rebuilding the vegetable market including ministers, policemen, monks, wealthy local people but no of course vegetable sellers (I mean it’s only about their livelihoods!). Nearly every person I asked who was listening to the meetings answered “too much blah blah”!! 🙂

  6. Asanthika

    Good post! I love your arrack maggie cube thing!!! My friend and I used to dip and lick MSG from a container at Funky Bar during arrack cocktail times – DELICIOUSNESS! 🙂

  7. Asanthika

    Ps and regarding the rubbish, I honestly think SL is the cleanest country in the subcontinent and this year I barely saw any rubbish at all! Pretty impressive improvement 🙂

    • Mark Sheen

      This is right but are you really happy just being cleaner than your neighbors? Should you at least not compare with similar literacy countries? I love and loath Sri Lanka because of these things.

      • Hi Mark. Thanks for reading.

        Please elaborate a little here. I can’t remember mentioning being cleaner than my neighbours (or are you talking about neighbours as in India – if so, unfortunately I cannot compare because I haven’t been!) and I believe Sri Lanka has the top literacy rates in South Asia. You’ve lost me a bit with your comment. These are my subjective observations only and can be taken with a pinch of salt.

  8. I am someone who is always punctual and I don’t think I could lose that ever.

    While there were ancient calendars there were never any clocks until the Europeans arrived, hence my theory that the concept of time was never deeply ingrained. No history of candle clocks, water clocks or even a sundial. The concept of time only existed as daytime and night time.

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