Oh, island in the sun!

By Rukshani Weerasooriya

There are some things I simply don't understand. Like, why is Coco Jumbo still a hit in Sri Lanka? I returned to the island a few weeks ago with a view to spending a tropical Christmas, sparing myself the trouble of having to freeze to death alone in my one-bedroom apartment in England. Over these past few weeks, not only have I enjoyed a whole lot of sunshine in Colombo, I have also been reminded of Sri Lanka's tenacious cultural personality.

For instance, it is a well known fact that it is every Sri Lankan Auntie's duty to mercilessly insult a young girl at her earliest convenience about her weight, personal choices and things generally considered well out of public bounds. Such remarks are customarily announced around the dining table in the course of friendly conversation. The element of context is crucial to the proper performance of the aforesaid duty.

If not performed at the earliest and most public opportunity humanly conceivable, the conscientious Auntie will have failed to reap the desired effects of her duty. In such cases, she must at least laughingly proclaim the insult of her choice when introducing the said young girl to a complete stranger. At which point, the young girl will wish she was an ailing maggot, descending from a line of ailing maggots, with a guaranteed lifespan of a couple of milliseconds at most.

I have to say though, Uncles are not as bad as Aunties. They will cut straight to the chase. "Still no boyfriend?" or my favourite, "How much do you weigh, putha?" Unlike Aunties, Uncles have no idea these questions are taboo. They honestly just want to know why some young girls aren't unbelievably obese and if their lack of fat truly is why they remain single. Sometimes I humour the odd Uncle – allow him to think he's on to some secret when I tell him, all serious-faced, that I certainly am not on a mission to grow a potbelly just out of peer pressure.

It is, notably, the solemn duty of every Sri Lankan host to butcher her guests over what they dish out on to their dinner plates. One must make a small mountain on ones plate and eat very slowly in order to get on the right side of the scary host. Having finally consumed the said mountain, one is dragged back to the table for seconds. Failure to create a second mountain is tantamount to spitting in the face of one's grandmother. A deeper insult does not exist in this country. I have learnt this the hard way.

If you've recently returned home from abroad, be prepared to make sweeping statements about where you live because the loving Uncle and Aunt will ask tremendously deep questions, such as "How is England?" (or Australia or India…as the case may be) and expect you to blatantly generalise when responding. "England is useless" or "England is the best in the whole world." Always remember that any answer you will ever come up with is always absolutely incorrect, no matter what. That is the trick to the generalisation questions. Always say something meaningless and then graciously agree with the person who proceeds to jump on your back and bite your head off for whatever reason. If one takes such questions too seriously and proceeds to embark on a lengthy discussion on "how" England really is, one might have to experience great regret for years to come.

This is also the land in which it is routine procedure to criticise everything while you pass it by on the street. All drivers are terrible – except for the person driving the car you are in. He is perfect and unblemishable. If you feel a little uncomfortable bouncing uncontrollably in the backseat, it is only because the car is a faulty Korean model which does not slow down in time for speed bumps (no matter how hard the driver tries) and of course it is also because the Government has failed to produce perfect roads. You must always stand by the person driving the car you ride. Never – I repeat, NEVER – disagree with them as to who's fault the accident was.

No matter how tenacious the cultural personality of Sri Lanka is, one really tends to miss it when one is away. I know I get a little sad when nobody bothers to insult me randomly on the street about what I'm wearing or how my hair looks. And after some time, adherence to road rules just becomes a little mundane and one finds great pleasure in the frenzied West Indian traffic warden, who though very excitable, is still less of a hero than our dear Police Uncle (who we all curse) at the junction in Colombo.

There really is no viable solution to the problem of being Sri Lankan. Provided we don't all grow up to be ill-mannered Uncles and Aunties (or cursable traffic wardens), the future of this land (socially speaking) is in tremendously capable hands.

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