Cerno's "Are you Indian?" post reminded me of something that still frustrates me. It used to annoy me but I've calmed down about it and now just feel that bit of frustration.
It's something that happens about several times a day whenever I'm in Sri Lanka. Now, you may be aware of how I look or you may not be. I could go off on a diatribe here about my good looks and all that but I'm making a concerted effort to resist the temptation. It's enough to say that both my parents are Sri Lankan, I was born and brought up in London, I wear clothes that have a London look to them, whatever that means, and I feel as if I'm both Sri Lankan and British.
And, probably vital to the story, is the fact that my accent is about as London as you can imagine, somewhere between David Beckham and Ali G, with a hint of drummer thrown in for good measure, and, to my chagrin, I can't speak or understand a word of Sinhala, except "machang".
So my main mode of transport when in Sri Lanka is three wheelers. I jump in them and do the usual haggling, eventually settling on a price somewhere in the region of four times the local rate. There's a strange line to be drawn between the knowledge that the money I'm haggling about is so little compared to my cost of living and the fact that there are principles involved and I'm not just another suddha, which incidentally is another Sinhala word I know.
After the price has been agreed I sit happily and wait for the offer of a herbal massage and all the "add ons" that these tri shaw chaps can supply, or take me to. I know that they have to do some sort of ice breaker in the conversation too, it usually goes like this:
"Where are you from Sir?"
"I'm from London" I say.
It's funny how I always answer that, yet if I'm asked the same question here in London, which is very rare, I'll always say I'm Sri Lankan but brought up in the UK.
Then the chap will look at me in his mirror with a look of bewilderment, at which point I offer explanation by saying that my parents are Sri Lankan but I was born and brought up in the UK. The chap normally goes on to say that I don't look Sri Lankan, that he thought I was from Thailand or Malaysia or somewhere like that.
All my life I've never expected anyone to look at me and think I'm British. After some thought on why I've realised that it's because of colour, nothing more, nothing less. I don't think I look British because I'm not white. Is that wrong?
But these days cultural identity isn't about colour. It's not about parentage and it's not about language. My humble opinion is that it's about how we feel, with some limitations.
And I'm definitely not a Thai or a Malaysian ok!
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