First day back in Sri Lanka, and I’ve already gotten into an argument with a local.
I was at a supermarket, in line to pay. As I near my turn, an old lady nonchalantly, but very deliberately, cuts in front of me. She had only a knife and a plate (she probably bought New Years cake, but forgot the knife and plate. I have a feeling she was back later for forks and napkins).
Now, in this country, cutting in line isn’t all that uncommon. And considering that I was buying necessities for the next six weeks of my stay, and her two items, it makes sense for her to go first. I kept my mouth shut at first, as she continued to deliberately ignore me, with a smug smirk on her face that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t just imagining out of spite.
The cashier is well aware of this, and is visibly flustered. What to do. When my turn comes, he hesitantly reached for my basket, FULL of six weeks worth of stuff.
What I should have said was, “nothing” (credit: Mike Birbiglia)
Instead, I stop the cashier and say to the lady, “If you wanna go ahead, just ask.”
She scrunches her nose and give me the, “Haa? Wha dis guy be sayin??” look.
Woo, my engine pistons are really getting warmed up now.
“I don’t mind. Just ask.”
“Whaaa???” The scrunch gets deeper.
Just then, her son (I think???) about 30 years old, comes up to me. Here’s where the argument starts.
“Hey, is there a problem?”
“What? She don’t know Sinhala, or what? Or how to wait in line?”
“Hey, friend! Is there a problem?”
“No. I got no problem. If she wants to go, she can. But, most normal people would at least say something, no? Friend?”
“Hey friend, she didn’t know you were there. How could she know?”
“Whaat? The cashier knew I was next. Maybe she really doesn’t know how to wait in line. Sorry about that.”
“Hey friend! There is no problem. Let it go.”
“Hey, yea, no. Don’t worry. I got no problem. I’m just trying to help you out.”
By this point, my checkout was almost finished anyway, and they went to a different, more crowded line. I don’t know why.
In hindsight, he was probably right. I should have let it go sooner. But things like this are all too common here. There is a fine line between being kind, and standing up for yourself, and just being a jerk. And that line is different in each country. I’ll probably never get good at navigating these situations.