Monday, May 14, 2012

So friendly

Let's start my Sri Lanka blogs off with a complaint. Just to be different.

I don't usually do a lot of research before I arrive in a country, beyond trying to find the lowest priced room and getting a rough idea of the exchange rate so I won't be violated too roughly by taxi drivers. This lazy research is probably the reason I end up booking these cheap hotels several hours distant from the airport, when I really could have done with something closer on a day I hadn't slept for about 40 hours (I wasn't going to rely on my alarm after last time).

But one constant that shone through in the various websites I read about Sri Lanka is just how friendly the people are. Seriously, these people are almost paranormally friendly - so friendly, they'll follow you down the street when you're trying to enjoy a peaceful walk, reminding you that they can give you a tour of the city in their taxi even after you've politely declined several times.

The waiters are extremely friendly too, standing right next to you and distracting you slightly from your lamprais, in case you suddenly change your mind about getting that second bottle of ginger beer and they can run to your aid. Despite previously having made you wait up to 30 minutes to take your order, making the lethargic Italians look like Sonic the Arseing Hedgehog.

The three-wheeler taxi drivers are the friendliest of all though. So friendly, they'll even take you to a hotel you didn't ask to be taken to, because they're concerned about your wellbeing and finances. Despite your protests that you've already booked a hotel and told them the specific address when you finally gave in to their nagging at the bus station and realised the extra cost of a taxi would be worth it for getting to your hotel faster than taking another bus, not having accounted for these time-wasting detours.

I should have taken the refuelling as an opportunity to scarper.
But I just wanted to get to bed

When I finally arrived at my destination, exhausted from the lack of sleep and the need to be constantly vigilant for signposts as the driver clearly didn't have a clue, I didn't notice that I'd left my clothes bag in the taxi until I was half-way down the lane and the taxi had disappeared out of sight. Luckily, my hero found me and handed me the bag back - provided I gave him an extra 100 rupees, of course. I thanked him in his native language and offered 50, but there was to be no further haggling in what was now more reminiscent of a hostage situation than a courtesy, and I bought my clothes back. What a friendly man to offer me such a good deal. I'm surprised a country this friendly could even have a civil war.

That was a bit uncalled for, but this kind of 'friendliness' makes me very unfriendly. It's been a while since I was hassled this much, but the damage was already done back in Egypt and my patience threshold for being harrassed when I just want to walk down a street is now practically non-existent. If it stays like this for a few more days, the headphones will have to come out - though for safety reasons they will be just for show, as my route often requires walking along the coastal railway.

Makes a change from being afraid for my life on country roads

I ate at a few different beach restaurants in my first couple of days here, and every time I was subjected to the same sales pitch from the same guy, who didn't seem to take polite disinterest for an answer. When I wanted to go for a swim, I had the idea of shaving my beard and taking off my glasses (more effort than Clark Kent goes to, and it seems to work for him), but the guy still recognised me. Comics lied to me again. I guess I can't go to the beach any more.

I'd hoped these people would be less friendly when I headed to more remote parts of the country, though on a day trip to try to locate a turtle sanctuary further down the coast I almost made it all the way by train and bus before being forced to deal with taxi drivers at the final hurdle and getting so frustrated that I quit and went home. It would only have cost me about £3 more, but that wasn't the point by now.

I know I'm strange and that I usually come out of these things looking like the one at fault, you don't have to point it out. But maybe you have to be in these situations to understand how they affect me. And being a bit strange yourself would help.

Maybe they did try to warn me. But I'm not learning another language.
I'm only here a month, Sinhala can puke arrapan. I'm such a paiya

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