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A sequel to my first interview in UK – 40 years on!

Hameen Markar is still thinking ...

It is over 40 years since I had that first memorable interview in Leicester Hospital in the UK. Memorable, not because I did not get the job but for my exploits at the Hospital canteen during lunch hour. On my way back, I could not help but recall the Consultant’s feedback. He said, “you did not get the job, because you were too enthusiastic.” Enthusiastic about what – getting the job, training opportunities available. It took me many months to realise that he was referring to my enthusiasm for staying on in the UK.

In the last forty years, so much has come to pass. We have seen earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods. We have had huge global changes in the political, social, financial and cultural scenes. From the racial discrimination act to same sex marriage, nationalism to globalisation, Thatcher, Blair and Brown to Cameron and Boris, turmoil and devastation in parts of the middle east, EU to Brexit, Make America Great Again to America is Back and of course, COVID-19, lockdowns and vaccines. The list is endless – some good and others, not so good!

I have often wondered how all these years have affected me as an individual – a first generation immigrant trying my best to weave into a socio-cultural background that is so different to my native - Sri Lanka.

No doubt I have learnt a lot. For instance, I now know that toad in the hole has no toads and spotted dick (rather disappointingly) is only a pudding. Rice pudding is actually a pudding but Yorkshire pudding is not. I have learnt that boots do not sell boots and one cannot buy a curry from Currys. A free house is a pub serving food but it is not for free, a puddle of water on the road is referred to as a flood and any white circle in the middle of a road is a roundabout!

I have learnt that public display of emotion is a sign of weakness (except in the football pitch) and I know not to confuse frankness with bluntness or diplomacy with hypocrisy.

In this journey of education and rehabilitation, I have learnt many other things too. For e.g., the obsession that the English have with the weather. Now, this continues to baffle me to this day. True, the English weather is remarkably changeable, but so is it in many other countries around the world. Why do we talk about it so much – almost every day with family, friends, colleagues and even total strangers. Perhaps, it is one of those subjects that can cause no serious disagreement. It allows for much to be said with little or no impact; an excellent topic to ‘break the ice’. In most other countries, one would initiate conversation with ‘how are you or how do you do’. Perhaps that is too personal for the English.

The complexity of the English Language has been a source of puzzlement and to some extent, even amusement. I know that it is derived from multiple foreign languages including French, German, Latin, Greek and even Sanskrit. For e.g., the words Pundit and Guru come from Sanskrit. The latest addition to the Oxford English Dictionary is the word, ‘Aiyo’ from Sinhalese! (probably derived from watching too many Sri Lankan cricket matches). Before long, we will have ‘Aney and Machan’ in the dictionary too. So, it is an evolving language but I still cannot get my head around the pronunciations, not of borrowed words such as rendezvous or faux pas, but simpler home-grown ones like Leicester, Warwick or Berwick.

I admire the careful use of English words and the nuances that can change the effect or meaning quite significantly. But again, how or why should one single word have so many different meanings; take for example the word care that has 13 different meanings listed in the Oxford dictionary. Similarly, words such as close, determination, irregular, irrational and many more have multiple meanings. The simple comma or an exclamation mark can give an entirely different meaning to whole sentences.

So, have I learnt it all in the last 40 years? I know this tremendous personal journey is coming to an end, but I do have a long way to go, so much more to learn, understand and assimilate. I can’t help but conclude that these ‘Quintessentially English Oddities’ will continue to grow, baffle and confuse many for years to come!

Hameen Markar

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