When we landed at Colombo, Sri Lanka and took a taxi to the hotel, there was hardly anyone on the road. I was half expecting Delhi-style traffic chaos. We checked into the hundred-year-old Grand Oriental Hotel, which had seen better days. A few hotel employees were in the lobby intently watching the tv, which was playing a repeating infomercial of the hotel. Very Strange. Needless to say, it took a lot longer than it should have to check in. All very similar to India, but not quite as crazy; Sri Lanka was India-light.
Some of the similarities and differences I noticed:
1. For being a laid-back people, Sri Lankans are aggressive, reckless drivers. Anything goes on the road. The main difference to India is that there are less sacred cows all over the road.
Size matters, so buses rule the road. Many buses are privately owned so race well over the speed limit, looking for fares. Cars and scooters get pushed off the road and bicyclists must have a suicide wish. It’s a free-for-all; they cut each other off and come within inches of hitting you.
With all the chaos you would think there would be fist fights in the intersections. But no; no road rage, no dirty looks, just quick beeps of the horn.
2. Good food; The cuisine is fresh, with lots of Indian influenced tapas-like small plates.
The most prevalent dish is curry. Every meal has curry, even for breakfast; Curry of every type: lentil, coconut, fruit. All spicy but not blazing hot.
The Sri Lankan fruit was amazing; pineapple, mango, papaya and odd shaped tiny bananas. I was eating it with both hands whenever fruit appeared on the table.
3. Both Sri Lankans and Indians do the ‘head bobble’. This is when they tilt their head quickly from side to side and it can mean several things. I deciphered a few:
A) “Ok, but I’m not happy about it”. For example, when we told the women at the hotel that we had a change of plans and could only stay one night, not two, she gave us a big, slow, silent bobble, and then she said “ok.”
B) “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I got this one a lot. This is usually a continually rolling bobble, followed with a blank stare.
C) Most of the time, the head bobble means something between “Maybe” and “Whatever”.
I have quickly adopted the head bobble; It comes naturally to me. I have bobbled a few times even after I returned to the states. I hope it sticks.