come here, I'd like to tell you a story and ask your opinion on something, but keep it quiet, I don't want the wrong people to know about this.
Last week I was in Lanka, as you're likely to be aware of if you lurk around here with any frequency. On Tuesday I went out for dinner with some friends. I'll give you some background and attempt to set the scene, maybe even trying some of that whole carrying rocks up a mountain in a rucksack thing, though as a first attempt I reckon the result might be a drummer shaped mess at the bottom of the mountain. With rocks.
First there was me. I'm an articulate good looking blogging drummer, with metrosexual tendencies and some rather confused ideas about my own national identity.
Then there was C, my good friend. You might know her.
We were due to meet a couple, friends of C. I'll call them A and S, partly to protect their identity, partly because his name actually begins with C, but that letter's taken. A is the man and S is the woman. The more intelligent among you will have sussed that bit already.
The Bayleaf, sorry but I'm unsure if it's one or two words, was our chosen venue. A and S had asked another couple, some Sudda friends who were travelling and in Sri Lanka. I've eaten at the Bayleaf a few times and there are things I like about it and things I don't.
I like the atmosphere and the setting. It's relaxed and easy going and it's rather a charming old house that somehow makes me feel as if I'm having dinner at a friend's place instead of a restaurant.
I suspect, if I were an Italian travelling through Asia and looking for some good home style just like Momma used to make type of food, that I might glance at the menu and think that it would do the job. Then, after ordering and eating, I'd wonder why the hell all the food was much more spicy than Momma's stuff and never go there again. But, that's Italians for you.
As a Sri Lankan Brit I think that the food is okay but only if I'm in the mood for Italian food. Frankly when in Lanka I'm never in the mood for Italian food. Give me rice, give me string hoppers, give me pol sambol, prawn curry and those things and I'm happy. Italian food, when there's such an abundance of Sri Lankan food available, is just a waste of stomach space.
Now I've put these rocks into my rucksack and I'm going to carry them.
You may remember last Tuesday evening if you're in Colombo. It's the evening that contained that massive rainstorm, the one that caused the tenty thing at the front of the Bayleaf to leak. These are things I know from experience. Four of us, me, C, A and S were sitting there getting soaked with water dripping on us from strategic points in the tent above our heads. The conversation and alcohol flowed pleasantly and we waited for the Suddas to arrive.
At this juncture I reckon I can name the Suddas. So we'll call them Q and Z. Bunging them at the other end of the alphabet makes things easier, giving them oddish letters, or names depending on how literally you want to take this, seems appropriate for reasons I'll come to. Q can be the man, Z can be the woman.
The way that Q and Z came to be invited was because Q was an old friend of A, they had gone to school together but hadn't seen each other for a few years. While we were chatting and loosening up A glanced at the entrance to the Bayleaf regularly to check for their arrival.
At some point two white people who looked like a Bollywood film director's idea of typical British tourists strolled through the gates. I looked at them and probably made a "chee" face. The others around the table had slightly similar reactions.
The chap was wearing green Kurta suit trousers, the sort that my cousins would wear, not the ones in Australia or Denmark. He had a blonde mohican haircut, piercings all over and that unwashed and travelled look. The woman with him looked similar. None of this really mattered to me until I noticed that A and S were looking at them intently. S asked A if that was them. A peered with open mouthed eyes as if he was Joey in Friends trying to not say something to Ross about being engaged to Rachel.
And fuck me it was them, though pretty obvious that A had never seen the fellow in fancy dress. Only it wasn't fancy dress, it was what these people wear in real life. The introductions were done. I was strategically placed next to Z for the evening. This enabled C to talk to S as they were old friends and A to chat to Q as they were the same.
We kicked off, I asked Z about her, about their travels and their lives. At one point I even listened to her answers. It was a momentary lapse in lapseness. I discovered that the hippy mohican green kurta wearing couple were estate agents before leaving England. This tickled me. It was a bit like finding out that Lewis Hamilton hasn't got a driving licence or David Blacker's tattoos are all stick on ones.
The evening continued in a jolly and happy manner, the details aren't important, it's what happened at the very end that flummoxed me. The hippies were nice enough, as hippies go and the food was nice enough, as Sri Lankan Italian food goes.
We came to getting the bill time. It arrived and someone did some calculations, probably a girl. I produced a card of some sort to pay for C and I. Then A turned to Q and said that he would pay for Q and Z, his treat. Even now I remain stumped and bemused by this. I think I have that old fashioned mindset about bill paying.
I go out and either I pay for me or someone pays for everything. It's simple. That thing when someone says that they didn't have a starter and should pay a bit less then the others isn't comfortable for me. Split the bill or someone pays the whole thing. Simple.
So, when A said that he'd pay for him, his wife and Q and Z, I was startled by the sort of message he sent; that Q and Z were good enough friends for him to pay their bill, but C and I weren't. Or perhaps Q and Z looked so skint that they warranted his charity and C and I didn't, which was definitely true.
And the more I dwell on this the more it bothers and vexes me. If I were in A's position I'd feel way too embarrassed to tell someone that I'll only pay for two people and not the other two. If I were Q I'd feel very uneasy about accepting the offer in front of others. We Sri Lankan men are brought up to have fist fights over who should pay the bill aren't we, not to split it and get all anal about it.
So I put it to you the Sri Lankan blogosphere.
Have you ever seen this kind of thing happen?
Was I right to be startled by it?
What would you do?
What do you think?
Damn, I think I've dropped a rucksack full of rocks somewhere.