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:
- I go and come soon ( See you later)
- I am paining (I have an ailment which hurts a little)
- I have animals in my table/door/head (I have wood lice/head lice)
- Too much blah blah (all words and no action)
- Can you drop me? (will you be so kind as to give me a lift?)
- Where do you stay? (where do you live?)
- I also come (I will join you)
- He is too much drinking (He’s drunk)
- A big problem happen just now (there has been an accident/incident)
- I will get down from the bus here… (I will get off the bus here…)
- 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.
- 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.