As a 6’1″ tall white guy, I stand out in Sri Lanka. My looks really influence people’s interactions with me here.
When speaking Sinhala I take people off guard, as they don’t expect a foreigner to know the language.
At the store today I thanked an attended in Sinhalese, ඉස්තුති (istuti), and in return I received a blank stare. Thinking I had fumbled my words, I repeated myself. When he still hadn’t registered the words I spoke, his coworker – speaking perfect English – said, “he’s thanking you in Sinhalese”.
The expectation in Sri Lanka is that foreigners don’t speak any Sinhalese. Many people aren’t mentally primed to hear Sinhalese come out of my mouth, so when I try to speak it takes them a moment to register the fact that the words I’m saying aren’t in English.
Expectations influence perception.