There's a saying that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. According to history that's wearing white togas, watching gladiators slaughter themselves and feeding on grapes sensuously held by beautiful women. But this is not Rome, this is Bangladesh. Doing what the Bangladeshis do means following a list of idiosyncrasies sometimes unique to our nation.
It's a steal
Imagine a pair of shoes costing 2000 taka. Those not used to bargaining will consider it a steal at 500 taka. Those who consider bargaining to be the holy grail of life will think it could have been had for 350 taka.
We love to haggle. We love it so much that we go into shops marked with stickers proclaiming “Fixed Price” and ask the shopkeeper just how much he will let it go for. I would say 90 percent of Bangladeshis do this. But I hear someone arguing that it is 93 percent. Numbers just make us want to argue for hours on end. Think of the 25-minute argument between a rickshaw puller and a passenger over one taka.
Life is not short enough
This should have been the birthplace of SMS (short message text). We are always looking for the shortcut. Flyover, underpasses and other such road shortcuts are hardly used because people are much too impatient.
Think of all the people who wait just a moment before the car approaches to make a run across the road. This happens even when the aforementioned car has no traffic behind it. When a car hits them, it is the fault of the car. Maybe the pedestrians are trying to decipher that old question bugging philosophers for so long: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Well, only the chicken knew and the chicken did not leave a will.
Nature is all around
One thing we never ignore is nature. It's not to say that we run to preserve it when Mother Nature calls for help. No, we just answer when nature calls. That is why footpaths around certain places are not fit to be paths for the foot. When the need arrives people do their business right there on the pavement. A saying goes that the world is your oyster. For us, the world is your toilet.
Some of life's greatest pleasures are the little things. Unfortunately, these little things are not so pleasurable for everyone in the vicinity of the pleasured one. People spend time poking away inside their nasal cavities in search of God knows what. They do it on the bus, waiting in queues and sometimes when looking you straight in the eye. As a result you find it hard to look them in the eye.
They even do it with a serene expression that a meditating master monk would be proud of. It's a trance that not even the hardest drugs can achieve and it's all for free. If Newton was a local, he would have been lying under that apple tree with a finger up his nose.
COL (cough out loud)
We don't just cough. We COUGH! And it's all done in loud bold letters. We do it so loud that it becomes a performance art. Things stuck in the throat or other cavity regions require much gargling, snorting, burbling and other cacophonous aural outputs. In simpler words, it's a damn noisy experience. Could we do without it? Absolutely not! After all, what fun would be the following activity without it?
Projectile shooting record
'Splat' went a raindrop on the windshield of the car. 'Splat' went another raindrop. Now these were no ordinary raindrops mainly because these were not raindrops. While the car was stuck in a jam, so was a bus right beside it. Following the law of physics and logic, the people inside were also stuck in traffic but not their spit. The spit flows out without warning unless you train yourself to watch out for loud throat clearing noises.
The spitting phenomenon takes on a battlefield approach during Ramadan when many misinformed devout Muslims spit left, right and centre. In fact, our spitting attitude is so bad that a park in a largely Bangladeshi-populated neighbourhood in London had a notice printed in Bangla urging people not to spit.
We have very clean dustbins. Rather we would have very clean dustbins had the bins not been stolen in the first place. To prevent this, bins are usually large and heavy. Despite that, we still end up throwing everything everywhere.
There's one solution to this problem. Send the offenders to Singapore where they cane the tender backside for such misdemeanors.
Three's a crowd? Far from it!
How do you spot a Bangali in a crowd? Well, if it is a crowd, then most likely everyone is a Bangali. Our curiosity as a nation knows no bounds. An accident on the road will be surrounded by a crowd within minutes. People selling dubious animal organs as a cure for anything from pimples to AIDS will attract a crowd. A woman driving a car will attract a crowd. One crowd will attract another crowd.
A group of friends once decided to stand on a pavement craning their necks at nothing in the sky. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Heck no, it was a very scientific experiment. Within ten minutes there was a crowd looking up with us staring at vacant space.
Rage against the machine
Ever noticed how people have a tendency to break cars and other vehicles on the street whenever they feel 'agitated'? Smashing up public property seems to be a great way of protest as well as stress relief. Students regularly do this while staging protests against incessant electricity load shedding, being stopped from cheating in exams and even when demanding world peace. The greatest reason for breaking cars is when mourning over a pedestrian hit by a car. It does not even have to be someone they know.
You want to protest the downward spiral of law and order? You want to protest your low salary? You feel your spouse is uncompromising? You have an annoying itch in the small of your back and cannot reach it? Just go out and break a few cars and you will feel better. If you are angry that someone broke your car in protest then go out, protest and break some cars yourself.
A nation's identity is its people's quirky characteristics. Such oddities give a nation its charm. Eccentric behaviour provides appeal. But that's not the case here. It adds 'character' that we can really afford to lose.
By Ehsanur Raza Ronny and Sadia Islam