Friday, May 11, 2007

Sri Lankanisms - Number 5

So far in this series I have covered the more obvious Sri Lankanisms I can think of. Words like "chee" and phrases like "What to do" have been discussed and pondered on.

Now I must instigate a movement away from the obvious and on to slightly more obscure choices. Cynical types might point at me and say

"Ah, that fellow has run out of stuff and he's now scraping the barrel"

They'd be right, but barrels can be useful. Where would the fun lie in rolling over Nigara falls without one? Chaps would just die immediately. How would pubs take in their beer deliveries? Brewery lorries would pull up and there'd be lager, bitter and all sorts of yeasty things leaking all over the pavement. So I'm sorry, but I make no apologies.

But, you know the old "So what are you doing now, are you still studying?" conversation. Not so much a conversation as a series of questions thrown in your direction, the answers will be forgotten as soon as you have left the room, sometimes even before.

At the age of forty I have now got to the stage where most of my old Aunts and Uncles don't ask me whether I'm studying, after twenty something years they have finally realised that I work, raise children and do other adult type stuff. Of course the fact that I have a brother who is an academic, and therefore thirty something and still studying, confuses these olds big time. I'm not entirely sure whether it counts as still studying or what.

The smarter and more "with it" people remember what I do and listen to my answers. With others I just repeat the answers I gave them a few months ago to the very same questions. In recent years I've discovered the turn of phrase to take care of everything, the choice three words that satisfy their curiosity yet actually say nothing.

Here in England, when asked the question, I have to answer in some detail. This is particularly tiresome as I am involved in an industry that lacks glamour. International Mail is just not high up there on the list of options for the glamorous and adventurous. On the scale of excitement it falls some place between Chartered Accountant and Formula One driver, slightly closer to one than the other. But here, when asked what you do, it's usually because the other party is interested. So the answer is quite detailed, maybe incorporating some facts about the company as well as the industry.

Things in Sri Lanka are very different. When confronted by someone of a higher generation and an inquisition comes your way, you are faced with some options. You can engage in a full scale two way conversation. This has the possible advantage that the old Uncle may just remember it next time you meet and ask you how the Brain surgery / motor trade / arms smuggling business is going these days. The disadvantages are untold, but include endless advice along the lines of "you must speak to so and so who's a good friend of mine", etc.

You can choose not to engage. This has a high risk factor too. Specifically the danger that the Uncle will think of you as rude or he'll just take a disliking to you. Something no young man wants to risk when starting out.

But, if you use the three magic words wisely, all the problems disappear as if by magic.

"So what are you doing these days?"

"I'm in business Uncle"

I know, that is actually four words, but I added in the "Uncle" for effect. I can do these things, it's my blog.

The principle is there though. Those words "I'm in business" just seem to cover anything in Sri Lanka, you can be up to anything, from driving a Tri Shaw to being Chairman of an international organisation. As long as you work for yourself the words cover it, no further questions will be asked and the conversation will go off on a different direction.

In business. I love it!


Darwin said...

You don't have to publish this comment, it's completely off the topic, but you're in 'International Mail'? Does that mean you'd know of handy ways to ship stuff to SL from over here?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Darwin - Sorry, but no that's not my field I'm afraid. Had to publish the comment too as I had no other way to respond to you.

Anonymous said...


You know that you are definitely a Sri Lankan if:

Everything you eat is flavored with garlic, onion and chillies. You try and re-use gift wrappers, gift boxes, aluminium foil and of course disposable cups & plates.

You try to eject food particles from between your teeth by pressing your tongue against them and making a peculiar noise like, tshick, tshick!

You are standing next to the two largest size suitcases at the Airport.

You arrive one or two hours late to a party, and think it's normal.

Your toilet has a plastic bowl next to the commode.

You name your children in rhythms (example, Honey & Money, Sita & Gita, thunga & --singhe, Nimal & Vimal)

All your children have pet names, which sound nowhere close to their real names.

You take Sri Lankan snacks anywhere it says "No Food Allowed" You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving someone's house.

You load up the family car with as many people as possible.

You use plastic to cover anything new in your house whether it's the remote control, VCR, carpet or new couch.

Your parents tell you to not care about what your friends think, but they won't let you do certain things because of what the other Uncles And Aunties" will think.

You teach you kids to say uncle and auntie to anyone older related or not.

Owning a rice cooker is a top priority.

Use the dishwasher to store dishes - use it only for special occasions.

Say 'NO' after every sentence. i.e . that's good NO. very expensive NO...etc

Men use the word 'PUT' frequently i.e PUT a drink, PUT a bath, PUT a Jump !

You live with your parents even if you are 40 years old. (And they like it that way).

If she is NOT your daughter, you always take interest in knowing whose daughter has run with whose son and feel it's your duty to spread the word.

If you don't live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you've eaten, even if it's midnight.

When your parents meet a Sri Lankan for the first time and talk for a few minutes, you soon discover they are your relatives.

Your parents don't realize phone connections to foreign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at the top of their lungs while talking.

You have bed sheets on your sofas so as to keep them away from getting dirty but the sheet on your bed has not seen water for months!

It is embarrassing if your wedding has less than 600 people.

You list your daughter as "intelligent, fair and slim" in the matrimonial no matter what she looks like or has upstairs.

You have a big cabinet in your hall to keep glassware & ceramic utensils (you have never used or anyone will ever use except the burglar, maybe)

Indyana said...

That's the easiest part about being "just a housewife..."

chandi said...

Dear Anon

I think that is about the funniest thing i have read in a really really long time. Thank you so much for making my day!

I dont laugh out loud in movies, (except dirty rotten scoundrels when i was nearly asked to leave the cinema) and rarer still when i read ..but i have been in hysterics about your post.

I think you need to reveal who you are .. please. (or just tell RD)

My only concern is this business with the sheets not being washed for months...?? I'm not sure that's a sri lankaism!!!???

thanks again.. pure genius