Stereotypes

Forgive me if I indulge in gross generalisations.

Sri Lankans seem to me to be an interesting mix of what appears to the visiting Scot – me – of politeness and rudeness. Of course, both of these attributes are judged through the preconceptions of a different culture and the terms should not be taken as absolutes, nor criticisms.

I’ve already commented on the local willingness to jump queues: boarding buses and waiting at supermarket checkouts would be two examples. This also seems to be the case when road-users barge and push their way through the traffic to the detriment of fellow road users. On the other hand, in (over)-loaded buses, those with a seat will frequently offer to take the bags of standing passengers on their knees, which has the double benefit of easing the journey of those strap-hanging – assuming straps are available – and also decluttering the aisle. I have to say that I’m not generally included in these offers, probably due to a potential language barrier and what I see as the general diffidence of Sri Lankans, but it’s nice to witness.

In relation to supermarkets out here, I would say the “super” prefix is likely to lead to disappointment. I have visited three “super”s and one “hyper”, but none of them really cut the mustard in comparison with their European equivalents. Occasionally I am reminded of the stories from the old Russian GUM stores – not that I’ve ever been in one – where apparently the shelves might be filled with thousands of just one item, the stock of everything else being zero: UHT milk abounds in Cargill’s P&J City near the bus station and House of Hidayath Hypermarket’s fruit section was limited to apples or oranges the other day. People here make no attempt to pack their shopping bags as items are passed in a leisurely way though the checkout. After payment has been made, the girl – it’s nearly always a girl operating the till – will absent-mindedly start to stuff the customer’s purchases into plastic bags whilst chatting to the girl at the till nearest to her. Of course, I’ve no idea what they’re actually talking about but it doesn’t seem to be work-related.

I try to slip out of the computer lab when the new IT teacher, Fathima, is teaching the little ones and I find an empty room – generally Nadeshani’s classroom or the science lab between which she divides her time. Today I was in her classroom and working on my laptop producing something for an upcoming lesson when Rick introduced me to two prospective parents: well, they are actual – not potential – parents but their child is a prospective pupil at the school. Rick introduced me to the well-spoken father and made some jocular remark about me being a Scot and liking whisky. In the same spirit, I replied that I particularly enjoyed the whisky if Rick had paid for it and the father said something along the lines of “So you’re a typical Scot”. The comment was amusing and certainly not meant to be offensive and I didn’t take it that way, but I was struck by how far the Scottish stereotype had spread.

Attentive readers will have noticed I’ve been moaning about a very poor internet connection at Sera’s caused by a cap on the service – one that can be raised by paying a bit more. I have mentioned it a few times to Sera and Venushka and hoped that last night’s limited service during V’s IT lesson would provide further impetus to do something, though Sera maintains that he topped it up just a few days ago and there don’t seem to have been dozens of other residents hogging the bandwidth. This afternoon, Poornima knocked on my door and introduced me to two recently-arrived German lady visitors who had been complaining about the service: this was followed up by a visit from Sera who fiddled with the positioning of the wireless router and said he’d contact the ISP. Minutes later the service improved immeasurably: Vorsprung durch Technik as I’m sure my new Teutonic neighbours would say.

The next week or so will be a bit different from the run of the mill. Yesterday’s rain didn’t come to much more than a couple of hours’ downpour, so the omens are good for Friday’s school trip to Madol Duwa, the island setting of the novel Nadia had been doing with one of her classes. The trip may, however, have to be curtailed as the family of four kids who constitute 100% of the “upper” (P4-P8) section of the school are going back to Saudi Arabia for the mid-term break and are leaving SL on Friday evening. The father is Saudi and the Canadian mother has opted to stay with the kids in SL as it is a more liberal society than Saudi Arabia.

I asked the girl in the family, an intelligent and amiable eleven or twelve year old called Sarah, what she thought of Saudi Arabia: she replied thoughtfully that she would be glad to see her Dad and various cousins etc. but that she preferred Canada, where she spent an earlier portion of her childhood. I asked tentatively how she felt about the various restrictions on women in that society: of course, at her age many of the restrictions will not have begun to bite, but she admitted she didn’t really like wearing a headscarf, though her father was keen for her to do so. She did add that wearing full Saudi dress meant she could go out in her pyjamas, which she seemed to consider a benefit.

So, back to the quirks of the coming week.

Tomorrow – Thursday – is Swimming Day though I’m not involved, having been on pool duty a couple of weeks back. Nevertheless, classes will be disrupted by this eminently worthwhile activity. Friday, a day I don’t normally work, is the Madol Duwa trip. Monday will be an ordinary day – but missing the “upper” school who will be in Saudi Arabia. Tuesday is “Fun Day”, basically a sports day with the emphasis more on entertainment than competition. I’ve been allocated the job, along with Nadia, of adjudicating at the finishing line.

The end of the sports sees the start of midterm, with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday added to the normal weekend. I’m still looking at options for a trip away for two or three nights. Elephants are likely to feature, if my plans work out. This is the same weekend as Highland Council Schools’ midterm and Sonia is hoping – her fluey cold permitting – to go and see the wedding venue and the like in the Dundee area in connection with (our) Sarah’s 2018 wedding. Sarah is like her father and is always keen to get things organised well in advance: I suppose that’s necessary when a wedding is being planned.**

Since the speed has increased I’ll treat you to a few photos. First, a couple of shots of the IT Lab: a small room with 7 desktop computers, some of which are fairly reliable and both Fathima’s and my laptops to bulk out the numbers.

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Rick and Kris have moved to a new place since last year: it’s a lovely house – separate groundfloor of a larger building with  furniture very much to my taste, that they’ve accumulated in their years teaching in exotic parts.

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**Just realised I’m out by a week: the HC hols start this weekend: my trip is getting on for a week later.

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