Posted on February 2nd, 2013

Dr. Tilak Fernando

The comforting thought in visiting England could be regarded as the absence of any language barrier as most of the Sri Lankans who travel abroad are familiar with the English language. The problems one can experience without being able to speak a foreign language fluently (except English) when travelled to other countries like France, Italy, Germany or even Thailand can be traumatising because people in those countries make it a point to avoid speaking in English, even if they are able to converse, in preference to their own mother tongue.

As a student, once I travelled with a friend on an overland camping trip to the Continent covering around 3,000 mile round trip starting from London and going through Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and back to London via Germany.

The experience on the trip itself was a story that could accommodate a separate column!

On the last leg from Cologne in Germany, enroute back to London to catch the ferry to cross the English Channel, I was ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”at the wheelƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. My friend decided to use his old Austin Cambridge vehicle (Tuwakku model) for the trip despite my suggestion to hire a better vehicle for such a long tour.

There was nothing more frustrating than having to be at the driving seat while modern Mercedes Benz, BMWs and PorcheƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚´ on the Autobahn overtook us on the fast lane at bullet speed while the Austin Cambridge, under heavy pressure from my right toe on the accelerator, attempted to moan groan and obey my orders to best of her capacity!


At a moment when I felt like virtually standing on the accelerator pedalƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ (similar to bull-pack cart drivers in Sri Lanka biting the tail of the bull to run faster) Austin Cambridge started to protest. Suddenly with a big thud and a loud cry she stopped listening to my commands anymore! From the engine noise it indicated that something drastic had taken place – needless to say, the engine had given up the ghost (Pistons ceased).

With the limited knowledge of German I knew, we managed to get an ADAC (similar to AA) vehicle breakdown service which towed us to the nearest motor repair garage on the Autobahn. The car being an old British model, air- freighting of spare parts was going to take weeks while we were left only with a breathing space to catch the ferry to get back to London.

Under the circumstances, my friendƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s eye caught a smart Opel Rekord car which was parked in the motor garage compound.

He approached the garage owner to find out whether he could purchase the Opel, and to our relief he agreed to sell it for Pounds 90.

At that time the foreign exchange rate was 12 Deutsch Marks to a Pound Sterling. We still needed to obtain permission from the German authorities to export the vehicle by obtaining special number plates which meant we had to go personally to an office in Frankfurt.

The Language Barrier

When we approached an officer at the registration office in English he simply pretended not to know the language, instead he called out to his colleagues aloud: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Is anyone there who speaks EnglishƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚? There was not a hum, all heads pointed towards their tables and pretended to be busy. Next moment to our astonishment the very officer had to deal with us in perfect English!

Putting all that to our experience, and particularly to my bargain Kevin offered me the vehicle for 45 Pounds in London which made me the proud owner of my first vehicle in England as a student! Austin Cambridge was later towed from Germany to London and handed over to Kevin by the AA Five Star service and reimbursed him with the costs incurred in having to stay an extra night in a Belgium hotel.

This goes to show how proud and loyal some people can be of their mother tongue! If you are in France you will be greeted with Bonjour and an Italian would say Comeste. Ah! Then you bump into Citizen Perera or Silva in Colombo and speak to him in Sinhala and what do you get? A jaw jaw in English! This is the difference between Sri Lankan and other nationalities.

Once I parked my vehicle on a Colombo street leaving my wife inside the car, approached a police officer in Sinhala: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Ralahamy mama minutuwen enawa kamak nedda methane park karata? (Officer is it ok to park here and I will be back in a jiffy). With a courteous nod, his answer was: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-No problem……, but….. Lady no get downƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ ok!). Why on earth he could not have answered me in Sinhala when spoken to him in his mother tongue? I began to think to myself.

False values

This is the kind of falsehood we are conditioned to believe in, even in the 21st Century in our society. I am at a loss to understand why many choose to reply in English when spoken to them in Sinhala! Do they think itƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s below their dignity to answer back in Sinhala?

Having lived in the West for decades, I prefer wearing rubber or leather slippers to shoes to ventilate my toes rather than roasting my feet inside socks in the blistering heat when I am in my own country. Some would say: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Oh! No.! No!!! No!!!! Wear a pair of shoes because no one will respect you if you wear slippers, especially if you visit an officeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚!

By the same token, a long sleeve shirt, neck tie and tucked – in shirt (even if it is meant to wear loose) and appear as a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”standing frog’ on hind legs with protruded pot belly, seems to be the dress code accepted in the Sri Lankan society for those who are inclined to wear western outfits.

I do not give a damn about othersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ opinion as long as I am comfortable with whatever I wear! The British owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, millionaire Sir Richard Branson, avoids wearing a tie. Do people in Britain consider him as a hare-brained or a crackpot! Quite the opposite!!

The standard convention in dressing up is to be comfortable with whatever one puts on, but not to please or impress others surely! Those who live in western countries have to be ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”overdressedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ only to withstand severe cold weather conditions.

When Ceylon was under the Colonial rule even the British wore short slacks for comfort most of the time, a hat to cover head from hot sun.

Planters in the hill country wore stockings up to knee level with shoes for protection while walking up and down bushy plantations; also may be to avoid being seen as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”half baked fakirsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ wearing shoes without socks!

Why do we need to purposely suffocate in the hot sun wearing long sleeved shirts with strangulating tight tie knots? I sympathise with those young sales guys who walk in the blistering heat under the sun wearing long sleeve shirts, smothering tie knots and lugging many items as promotional items just to make a living. How comfortable it would be if they were allowed to do their arduous job by making them comfortable with sensible attire! If a company needs to project their image, by all means they can adopt a style similar to cricketers who don coloured uniforms on one day international cricket!

Even in England the trend is fast disappearing except in the case of official circumstances.

In summer people begin to look much happier when all winter gear gets thrown into wardrobes and suitable light garments come to the fore.

Under the Colonial influence wearing long pants among Sri Lankans became a fashion only among those who could converse in English, but in modern times circumstances have changed that every Tom, Dick and Harry and Harriet prefers to wear trousers for convenience.

How long will Sri Lanka take to get rid of the charade of wearing a tie to impress upon others that one is a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”gentlemanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ or belongs to an affluent class in society is food for thought.

6 Responses to “LIFE ABROAD – Part 13: JAW JAW IN ENGLISH!”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    do u know that British wanted kalu suddas to govern Sinhale . So they introduced MAKOLY KIND OF EDUCATION
    The fitst priminister D> S Senanayake and others prefered Tail coat and Tophat and others followed.

    That is why we took 32 years to destroy PRABHAKARAN and still trying to defeat DEMALA JAATHI WAADAYA

  2. Nanda Says:

    Our Ariya suit also “Long Sleeved” and not sure why politicians wear a red towel around the neck. Wipe “daadiya”, may be.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    Even U N P was against SINHALA RAAJYA BHASHAWA –That is atleast 40% sinhalayo

    –PARAGETHI MANASIKATHWAYA+ They like SOBANAYA We have to change our education system
    GUNADASA AMARASEKARA thought J V P GAME KOLLA will chage SINHALE in to a better country But what happend? They too are MACOLY DARUWO

  4. Senevirath Says:

    ANE MANDA dear Nanda

  5. weeralanka Says:

    False Values?? – you need to be more understanding. Some of us who landed in greener pastures or “suddha land” try to be a perfect sinhalaya or pretend to be one particularly when in Sri Lanka. Some of the ones who desires and have no luck to got to “suddha land” try to be a suddha or pretend to be one. Human nature, that is all.

  6. Senevirath Says:

    one time i was giving a lecture to j v P boys in a camp thay it is good to fight against corruption but not using the bullet but using the ballot. One boy was very adamant and said ” u people come pretend to be deshapremiyas. and try to teach us. if u are so patriotic u should have been with us not in govt.. service
    Some time later after rehabilitation we sent him to Japan for 2 weeks after coming back he came to my table to thank me and say hello
    guess what

    He did it likea Japanese bowing down 2-3 times before me and not as a sinhalaya He utterd some words in japanese

    that is the way of VIPLAVAKARAYAS- Marx vadiya and Dhanawadiya both inthe same CHINTHANAYA
    they both are after money. nothing else

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