Want to quickly gather together a massive group of Sri Lankans? Get into a car wreck. Want to play Twenty Questions with a Sri Lankan? Walk down the street. There isn’t a culture on Earth more nosy or curious than Sri Lanka’s. At least, I hope not!
This really only applies to Sri Lankan men. Women basically leave you alone… but the guys! They want to know everything about you, and they’re not afraid to ask. “Where are you from? What is your name? Why are you here? You like Sri Lanka? How long you stay? What is your hotel? You want a banana? Why not? Why don’t you want a banana? What are you looking for? Where are you going?”
The questions come rapid fire, one after the other, and I’ve gotten so used to the drill that I spurt out my answers without even thinking. USA. Mike. Vacation. Yes. Three Months. A guesthouse. No. I just don’t. I don’t know I just don’t. Nothing. Just walking.
Sometimes, when I’ve been forced to run the Sri Lankan Interrogation Gauntlet multiple times within a span of minutes, I’ll protect my sanity by getting surreal: Japan. Hiroshi. Spying. Meh. Forever. Your House. No. I’m allergic. All us Japanese are allergic to bananas. A pot of gold. Probably hell.
Often, these questions are the prelude to a scam, but you can never be sure until you’ve completed the course and the final question is “You have foreign coins?” or, “You want a massage?” Most of the time, your inquisitor is just genuinely curious about you, so you keep shining your toothiest Western smile and respond as cheerfully as possible. Until he starts talking about a “special price for jeep safari”.
The curiosity extends to all aspects of Sri Lankan life. If there’s been a car accident, or an argument has broken out between a shop owner and a policeman, the neighborhood comes a-runnin’. Action! Within minutes, a gossiping gaggle of gawkers has bunched together on the sidewalk. Frustrating, since it prevents our own rubbernecking. We’ll kind of stand around on the outside of the group, trying to figure out what’s going on, until one of the guys notices us and starts in with the questions… “Where are you from?”
The curiosity of the people was off-putting at first, but we’re becoming used to it. I’ve even started to feel a little hurt when I meet a Sri Lankan who doesn’t pepper me with questions. What, I’m not interesting enough for you? Aren’t you dying to know why I don’t want your bananas?!