Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Lost in Translation

Some cultural differences just make you think 'oh that's interesting;' or 'that's a nice wayof doing things'. It's when it's something that seems reallly abnormal or different to you in a jarring way that the cultural clash comes or the misunderstandings.

It wasn't weird that Maheswary wanted to sleep on the floor, that's because she can't afford a bed so is used to it. The cultural jolt came when she thought it was perfectly normal to sleep on the floor between our two children (there's about a 3 ft wide gap) She isn't even their 'nanny' just does housework. ie doesn't have that much to do with them. It is, however normal to sleep with your kids in Sri Lanka, as it is in many countries.

Our landlord and land lady are a professional, working, well-to-do couple, one of whom lived in the UK for 10 yrs, yet they sleep with their children (not babies, 5 & 7 yrs!) They have 2 double beds side by side in their room, despite living in a 4 bedroom house. Status/class/wealth is very significant here. So never mind that 3 bedrooms are unused.....

My househelper and I really do clash when it comes to child rearing. She is of the typically Sri Lanakn 'indulge your child and her every whim' school of childrearing. We must seem like uncaring Dickensian despots with our 'time out', 'naughty step', 'being sent to your room', occasional smacks, taking away privileges. However we do use bribes frequently, which is very Sri Lankan. Amonsgt the governing and military authorities, if not the parental ones.....

One thing I find very difficult is the 'proprietorial' interest Joe Blogasinghe Sri Lankan takes in one's children. I have been told my child has a bad cough (oh really?), that my child needs to see a doctor, asked if they are taking any medicines for whatever ailment they have just diagnosed in my child on the street, that my child is crying (oh really? That is a hard one to spot)

Maheswary tells me that our daughter is getting "VERY thin", that it's not good that she doesn't eat, sleep, drink etc. (she does, of course, just not enough to satisfy Maheswary) She asks me most days if my 3 yr old has 'taken lunch', if she has had 'ANYTHING to eat today'. She opens her nursery snack box, shakes her head, tut tutting, shows me the contents and says 'oh dear no eating again today'. I hasten to add when my daughter is at home she never has a snack between 9 and 12. Just drinks. You lose your appetite in the heat.

She also says things like "is A. not having a sleep today?" when I have decided not to do battle on that partic day because I am just too hot, sweaty and lacking in the energy commensurate with the task of tackling a 3 yr old. Anyway she is in the process of giving up afternoon sleeps so doesn't always feel very sleepy (I write defensively). Of course when I am teaching and Maheswary puts her to bed, she goes sweetly, obediently and without a whimper.......

It's a bit like having the stereotypical domineering mother-in-law or mother at your side giving her opinion on every thing you do. I hasten to add neither my mother nor mother-in-law are anything like this, but at least now I get to see what it would be like..... It used to really, really wind me up, but now I try not to let it, because I know she doesn't mean it how I take it. I used to explain myself too. I don't now I just 'proceed'.

The other thing that gets lost in translation sometimes is politeness, the way I am presented with statements rather than requests.

We have a rambutan tree in our garden. I am ashamed to say I don't like them much, tho they are highly sought after by sri lankans, and expensive. My househelp aske di f we ate them I said no, so she waited, so I then said 'please help yourself'. The next day she went outside with a bag saying 'today I am taking your Rambutans'.

Oh, ok then...

My 7 yr old has recently started violin lessons, and his teacher is the same in his conversational manner. He is also very accident prone. It usually involves tea. He announced on his first visit that he was dreadfuly thirsty, was a tea addict and then 'what I would really like is a large glass of cold water and then a cup of tea'

Oh, ok then....

He then usually spills it, but always and rather cleverly uses the passive voice to tell me that 'some tea has spilt on the sofa.' or 'there has been a spillage', before further instructing me 'You need to bring a cloth and clean it immediately or it will stain' then he proceeds to tell me I am cleaning it up all wrong and will make it worse.

On another occasion he arrived and said 'today I will take tea at the start of the lesson'.

Oh, ok then...

On yet another occasion he said 'next time I take tea, I will have two tea bags in the pot, one is not strong enough' It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him to take it up with the tea plantation estate managers, as his country grows the stuff....

However I know he doesn't mean it, though by the end of a Monday when I have had him and my househelp instructing me, I feel suitably chastened and bossed about. Something is definitely lost in translation I think.

1 comment:

The thinker said...

Hello there PLIT - I popped over to have a look as you had kindly left me a comment one of my blogs. I keep 3. One is for letting off steam in my role as carer, one is just whatever .. and the third is an experiment .. just to see what happens.
Your blog sounds very interesting. I have no knowledge whatsoever of Sri Lanka - so I'm pleased to see you explaining things for us - and the cultural differences etc - as you go along. I'll be popping back.