Archive for January, 2010

Friendships and Age Gaps

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I had an interesting time in Sri Lanka when it came to friends.

I have some friends who are 15 (some of my Grade 11s).
I have some friends who are 23-27 (my Cadets).
I have some friends who are 40+ (CCPSD, other teachers etc).
I met very few people between 30 and 40 (one or two of the parents of my students).

So it was interesting which generation I fitted into (I’m 34).

One of the parents of one of my students thought of me as her daughter and said her son thought of me as a mother.
Ranjith calls me sister and his children call me sister.
Some of the Cadets thought of me as an older sister and some CCPSD people thought of me as their younger sister. (CCPSD think of the Cadets as their sons and daughters.)

So it seems I managed to function in several different generations simultaneously. Which is nice. I don’t really think age matters very much. And I think that I managed to get people in Sri Lanka to look at me for who I was rather than how old I was.

Sri Lanka has a culture of respecting elders. Which on the face of it sounds very nice. But the flip side of that is an implicit assumption that people younger than you have to have respect for you. And whether intentional or not that does sometimes lead to an implicit disrespect for people younger than you. I saw this on very, very many occasions.

Fortunately, as a complete outsider to Sri Lankan culture, I can break the rules (knowingly or unknowingly). So I became friends with people of different ages and had relationships based on mutual respect with people of all ages.

And it was very nice! 🙂

Shopping Bags

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Lots of people in Sri Lanka carry shopping bags. Very few people carry rucksacks or briefcases.

Most women will carry and handbag. But it’s usually a smallish one with several shopping bags in the other hand.

When on the courses most students (male and female) would carry a pile of books and a pencil case etc with them to class, not in a bag. Sometimes in a shopping bag.

No wonder I looked very strange going everywhere with a rucksack (especially when wearing a sari)! 🙂

Multiple Partners

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In Sri Lanka, the family unit is a very strong concept. Marriages last. Divorce rates are very low. Some marriages are arranged (proposal marriages). Some marriages are not (love marriages). But in all cases the purity of both the bride and the groom is quite important.

In the UK and Australia it is common for people to have multiple partners before they get married (usually not at the same time). This certainly isn’t required, but it most definitely is not frowned upon.

There is no stigma per se in a woman or man having a boyfriend or girlfriend, then finding another one if the relationship doesn’t work and so on. This doesn’t necessarily involve having sex with the boyfriend or girlfriend but it doesn’t necessarily preclude it either.

But in Sri Lanka women (and men) seem to be expected to marry the first person they go out with. To have more than one boyfriend/girlfriend (though not extremely rare) seems not to be desirable.

Speaking for myself, I think I prefer the idea of being able to go out with someone before deciding that you want to spend the rest of your life with them. And I think that having the opportunity of going out with different people is very valuable. I think it helps you learn about who you are, how you relate to other people and what sort of a partner you are looking for.

Others Speaking in Sinhala

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Quite often, while I was in Sri Lanka, the people I was with would speak to each other in Sinhala.

I’m somewhat of two minds about that.

Firstly, why I think it’s not a good idea and why it bugged me a little bit.
It bugged me a little bit because I don’t speak Sinhala. And since we all spoke English it was sometimes a bit annoying that people would speak in Sinhala rather than in English. In some cases I just felt it was rude that I was being excluded. It is also not that great an idea from the English learning point of view. Lots of the people I was talking to were talking to me specifically because they wanted to improve their English. And having a native speaker sitting next to you and talking to each other in Sinhala is a bit of a waste of an opportunity. In my opinion.

And now let me tell you why I didn’t mind.
To be honest, it only bothered me once or twice. For the vast majority of the time it didn’t bother me at all.

One reason is because I know that speaking in a second language can be very exhausting and very tiring. It is much easier for people to speak to each other in Sinhala without thinking than to have to struggle through communicating in English. It also meant that when things were being argued, discussed, organised that all of this could be done much more quickly (and accurately) in Sinhala and then someone could give me the English translation of the summary.

There were also times where it was really nice for me to not have to talk to people in English. While almost all of the people I spent time with had really excellent English, sometimes conversations with them could be very exhausting. I had to adapt my language use to communicate with them (speed, choice of words, vocab, use of idioms, enunciation, etc) and I had to work hard on understanding them sometimes (sometimes they couldn’t find the right word or they made massive grammatical errors, all of which are to be expected with language learners but can be quite hard work for the native speaker).So if I was out for dinner and all the people around me were talking in Sinhala, I could just switch off my brain and relax for a while, while still spending time with my friends.

If this had happened all the time it would have annoyed me. But the people I was with were very good at remembering to make the effort to use English. And I am grateful! And I think they benefited from that effort too. 🙂

Back in the UK

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I’m back!

After one amazing year of sun, coconuts, rice, curry, hilarious buses and dust I’m back to a land of carpet, hot showers, copious wheat products and snow. It is really nice to be back. Though I am missing Sri Lanka already.

I’ve got lots more blog posts to write over the next few weeks. A stack more posts about SL plus a few about being back in the UK.