They say every individual is different and cannot (or should not) be stereotyped. But I disagree and think as Sri Lankans, we clearly show certain “qualities” that give us that unique signature style. Now… I’m not taking about these new age, culturally merged, fast-food bellied, coffee shop loving, lets-do-lunch type Lankans. They have a totally separate set of habits – which I don’t intend to go into on this article. I’m talking about the original, full-blooded Sri Lankan you find at the Sunday Pola*1 or on a typical “Private Bus”*2.
We smile at everything; when we are happy, when we make a mistake, when we are stressed out, even when we are constipated (that comes from my friend who admitted that smiling helps very much… go figure!). Heck, we see some lunatic driving straight at you the wrong way on a one-way street. He will stop right in front of your vehicle and give you the best smile he can muster - somewhere in that smile are an apology and a request for you to make way for him. Of course being a Sri Lankan you would know that.
We overuse words like sorry, aunty (or uncle)*3, sir, and machan*4. Very frequently using them more than once in the same sentence. For example, it is not uncommon for us to say “Machan, sorry machan”.
We have an opinion on just about everything. From running the country to the selection of the national cricket team, we believe we can do better than whoever is in control.
The concept of doing something on time is mostly limited to a few auspicious events during traditional New Year’s celebrations. Being late for something is no big deal for us. It is common for someone to not turn up for an appointment and not even apologize for it when they finally do meet. The strange thing is that the other party will be fine with this –they won’t even expect an explanation.
Sri Lankans are touchy-feely type of people. When friends meet they tend to hold each other’s hands throughout the entire conversation (especially if you bump into a friend of the same sex on the road). Most non-Sri Lankans will put a homosexual connotation to this behavior – but we know better.
Just try paying the bill after you’ve just had a meal in a nice restaurant with several of your Sri Lankan friends. Every single person at the table will want to pay that bill, regardless of who is hosting the meal or the amount of the bill. They won’t even hear of sharing! In such instances, I just give up – after all, it is nice to go back home with some money still left in my wallet for a change.
I’m sure the list goes on and on. Some of these habits can certainly be annoying,.. but then again that is who we are. Remember, we could do a lot worse.
*1 - Pola is a traditional Sunday roadside market where prices are negotiable and bargains are plentiful.
*2 - Buses in Sri Lanka are clearly categorized into Government (or Public) owned and Private owned. These privately owned buses (known as "Private Buses") are everywhere and easily outnumbers Government owned buses by at least a ratio of 3 to 1.
*3 - Sri Lankans use the word Aunty and Uncle to address or refer to almost anyone who is older than themselves in appearance. This includes total strangers they happen to meet on the road.
*4 - Machan is a very versatile word. Although the true meaning of it is "brother-in-law" most Sri Lankan males use this word as an Australian would use the word "mate"; to convey camaraderie. Occasionally females also use the word to convey the same meaning.