Conversation #1 – (at a local, rural school)
Headmistress: Welcome to our school. I have put a whole lot of work into it. You should have seen it before. The place was falling apart. First, please sit for tea.
Me: Yes, thank you.
Headmistress: So you are interested in learning what we do at this school?
Me: Yes, I would like to learn about the local curriculum and how the schools operate in more rural settings.
Headmistress: Aw, right. How old are you?
Me: Um . . . I’m 32.
Headmistress: Oh, you are young. The same age as my daughter. Are you married?
Me: Yes, for nearly 9 years now.
Headmistress: Do you have any children?
Me: No, no children.
Headmistress: Why not? I suppose you have chosen your career over your family. What religion are you?
Me: It’s kind of complicated.
Headmistress: You are Christian, no?
Headmistress: What do you teach?
Me: I teach maths and drama.
Headmistress: Oh, I love drama. I used to be in all the school plays. I couldn’t play the princess of course because I am too short, dark and fat. Last year I won a local drama competition. (Pictures are pulled out.) That’s me with my face painted black because I am the ugly villain.
Me: Oh yes. This looks like an interesting play, and congratulations on your award.
Headmistress: I have won many awards. Here is my award for the best cleaner, and here is a picture of me with the former prime minister and here is me with the brother of the cousin of the Head of Defense and here . . . . .
Me: Wow! (I’m going to be here a long time)
Several hours later . . . .
Me: Do you have an email so we can keep in touch professionally?
Headmistress: Yes, yes.
Me: Could I get it from you?
Headmistress: Yes of course.
She calls her secretary who proceeds to look through several file folders in a frenzy for many minutes. The secretary comes back slightly frazzled with the desired information neatly written on a piece of paper – only it is a web site address.
Conversation #2 – (getting a ride to the gym)
Me: I would like to go to the tennis club.
Tuk Driver: Huh?
Me: Tennis club?
( blank stare)
Me: Victoria park?
Me: Nelum Pokuna Mawatha?
Me: Ten NEESS Club
Driver: Oh, TenNEESS club why didn’t you say so in the first place?
Conversation #3 – (at our house)
Travel agent helper aka “the boy”: Have you got all your documents ready for your Nepali visa?
Shaun: Yes, here they are all in the envelope.
“The boy”: Your wife’s photos are the wrong size.
Shaun: We can just cut them down. (After some meticulous work with scissors and a ruler, he hands them over). Here.
“The boy”: Fine, I suppose this will do. Do you have paste as we need to affix the photos to the form?
Shaun: No, but we have tape.
“The boy”: (looking more and more horrified ) I will use paste at the office. Now you must sign the photo.
Shaun and I sign the photos.
“The boy”: (exasperated at this point) No! You must sign on the paper, over the photo and finish on the paper.
Conversation #4 – (at an American Thanksgiving Dinner)
Sri Lankan guest: Oh, you are Canadian. My brother lives in Canada.
Me: Do you know which area of Canada?
Sri Lankan guest: No, but you might know him. He is a very good writer.
Me: What’s his name? (thinking- There’s no bloody way I will know him. Canada is a huge country. Here we go again.)
Sri Lankan guest: Michael Ondaatje
Now I have a great reason to read Running in the Family again!
– I have taken artistic license to slightly alter these conversations.
– “The boy” is such named because his boss at the travel agency refers to him this way. She often tells me, “I will send the boy to fetch the documents.” It is not meant to be condescending and is simply cultural but still is something we find quite funny. The boy is actually in his late 20s.