I had driven the previous day to Toronto to do a survey on language maintenance in the Sri Lankan Tamil community. The first morning there, before visiting some of my subjects, I thought I should wash my vehicle (an SUV) so that my status-conscious community members wouldn’t disapprove of me. As I drove into a carwash, I encountered a young attendant who appeared to be a Sri Lankan Tamil. (It is we Tamils who can make out a Sri Lankan Tamil from the dizzying array of brown-skinned people in Toronto-i.e., Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, not to mention other tan nonSouth Asians in the city.) Coming from a small town in New Jersey, where there are no Sri Lankan Tamils around, I was glad to meet someone with whom I could now talk Tamil. As the attendant was getting ready to hose-wash the front of my SUV and let it into the carwash, I thought of alerting him to the fact that my vehicle had extra heavy dirt from highway driving. So I told him:
“aNNai, mun pakkattai koncam kuuTa kaLuvi viTunkoo. kanakka uuttai irukku.” (“Big brother, wash the front side a bit more. There’s a lot of dirt there.”)
He said, “What?” in English. I repeated my request in English this time.