People watching in Colombo is more interesting in December. Hordes of expatriate Sri Lankans here – resulting in gobs of family “get togethers” around the season’s pre-sex parties. I am on leave after many months at the yoke and I have been assigned to the family transport pool. My official responsibility is getting expiate family members around town alive through the terrors of Colombo traffic. The role has given me a perfect seat to sniff the aromas of Sri Lankan social life in the early 21st century.
Of course pecking out this kind of post is utterly dangerous. There are plenty of slippery slopes into stereotyping especially when it comes to describing visiting expats. Cultural variation is a very subtle thing. We tend to notice it in petty variation from our “local” standards – such as wearing Bermuda shorts and Nikes outside the house. American, Australian and UK accents are dead give always from that carefully cultivated Colombo accent of not sounding “go-day” while not sounding foreign. Proper pronunciation of Sinhala half tones is the key indicator.
The best place for all these observations is the Odel near the eye hospital – that island of first world department store shopping. Besides Odel, I’ll be doing a House of Fashions (should I say Gas Chamber of Body Odours?) run. I don’t want to think ahead about the parking ordeal that awaits me so that’s’ another post.
The annual pilgrimage to Odel is a fixture of my chauffeuring duties. This time I made a successful attempt to stay away from the expensive yet tempting book section. The interesting characters local “hip dudes” with their bangles and fancy hair hanging out with the hip hop dressed friends from abroad. Addressing each other as “Machan” in affected upper class British accents.
Inevitably, we meet some visiting “aunty” from abroad with an “uncle” (almost always in a polo shirt) tagging along. The only thing I am not fully comfortable with about these meeting is the cheek to cheek hug/kiss ritual. It is sort of French/Middle eastern but it feels quite awkward. Thankfully these chit chat (which mostly involve the women) don’t drag on. Everybody has somewhere else to go and chances are the conversation will reveal that we are all destined to meet at the same pre-sex party. Not an easy thing to manage as you might think.
Social coordinating during this time frame is similar to a mission to Mars. You got to plot trajectories of multiple bodies moving through vaguely defined and radically changing schedules. One person’s schedule change can wreck the calendars of other. Further complicating things is the insane politics of people to meet and people to avoid. Ironically, the whole thing requires you to have a highly organised yet utterly flexible schedule. The processing complexity is enough to melt a supercomputer.
One of the many things I have realised this “season” is that there are too many good people in my family in exile. When they do get here, the maelstrom of the “social scene” never really lets you spend quality time with all of them. I pushed my mingling skills to the max at the last dinner but somehow it felt flat.
Before I finish I’ll through out an odd sociological situation I have noticed. Visiting couples split up for the duration of their visit – with each person staying with parents. It creates this bizarre if not fun “dating” situation. Along with the politics of how many lunches and dinners you have had with each other’s parents. I knew about this before but the reality of it has hit only recently after observing it from close range.
Thus ends a skimmed version of my amateur anthropology. I am sure I am not the only Sri Lankan blogger noticing these things. Please do share interesting social habits/trends you have noticed this “new year season”.
The comment box humbly awaits your input.