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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Natalie and Nadiya Anderson Fiasco

 
 
It was a firestorm of the shortest duration, but if you spend as much time as I do on the internet you pick up things pretty quickly. Recently, a YouTube clip from the show "Amazing Race" went (slightly) viral among Sri Lankans, as it featured a 3 minute interview with two Sri Lankans who were taking part in the latest season of the show. Natalie and Nadiya Anderson are twin sisters who, from what we have since gathered, were born and brought up in Sri Lanka but are American citizens who completed their secondary and tertiary education there.

The video clip has since been removed or made private, presumably from the barrage of negative comments it has since received, so I'll try to reconstruct it from memory.

The clip was basically a short on-location interview between the show's hosts and the two girls who had just won a challenge. They appear exhausted and tired, yet jubilant after completing whatever task had been set for them. The clip starts with the host asking them what they felt about the challenge and their reaction to winning it. They respond rather enthusiastically saying how they get to experience things from "the other side", and how because they are from a "privileged" family they are not exposed to this so-called 'other side' often, and what an eye-opener this was. The word "privileged" is tossed around a little bit more, as the girls painstakingly try to show they are embracing this new "street life" despite their obvious affluence.

Now, here's where things get awkward. Somehow, in their giddiness, they mention how proud their many "servants" would be of them if they could see them now. "Servants?", the host asks, not so innocently, and the girls gladly oblige, reiterating that their "servants" would be ecstatic that the girls are seeing into their world, so to speak. The host then asks (again not so innnocently) how many servants they have, and the girls answer "many", or something of the sort. If memory serves, they go on to mention that they have one for cleaning, and one for cooking, before noticing (for the first time) that the hosts are not so amused with these tales.

By this time, one of the twins seems to have caught on that they have made a colossal blunder, and she starts to try to explain that in Sri Lanka, it is quite common for people to have - yes, she says it again - servants, and then once again mentions that they are after all from a 'privileged' family, and it is the accepted norm. The girls, in an attempt to make light of the situation, then go on to tell a story of their beloved driver Premasiri, who has been in their employ since he was 14 years old. This draws an exclamation from the host, who says, "You've had a driver since he was 14 years old, before he was old enough to get a license??". The girls, again, still laughing and giggling but not as much as earlier, try to joke about it and one of them started with "Well in Sri Lanka you don't need.. " before the other sister cuts in, trying to show that they treat him like one of their own, since they've known him since he was so young.

The presenter allows for a slight pause, letting the awkward silence stretch out for a few seconds, before saying (only half-jokingly) "I don't think I should be giving you girls a millions dollars."
 
 

The girls finally catch on to where this interview has gone, and immediately get on the defensive, boldly claiming that "oh, we don't want the money, because half of it we plan on giving to our parents anyway and the other half we're donating to charity", and one sister then rather bluntly states that she works for a non-profit in Sri Lanka, alongside her mother, and that the money doesn't matter. Sadly, the damage has already been done, and when the presenter asks why they're taking part and they answer a) "to prove we can do it" and b) "to represent the 'brownie girls' of South Asia woohoo!", things couldn't have gotten worse.

The interview ends on a tame note asking if they had boyfriends waiting for them back home, to which one sister answered yes while thankfully avoiding mentioning anything about his social status or domestic help.




Most have ridiculed the two girls in the video, though their reasons have been varied. I personally could barely watch the video after the millionth mention of their vast array of servants, and Premasiri's child labour situation didn't help. What bothered me the most however was their complete ignorance of the politically correct way to talk about domestic help and maids. Yes, Sri Lankans do use hired help often in their households, but mentioning it in such a callous and offhand way in front of a camera crew is just unforgivable. These are not uneducated, socially awkward girls; they are self-professed "privileged" adults, exposed to both Western and local culture. Thanks to 3 minutes with them however, CBS happily captioned the video "Twins Natalie and Nadiya share with Phil how comfortable life is for them in Sri Lanka", making it sound like child labour is something every affluent Sri Lankan makes use of. The twins obvious back-tracking, with the "non-profit" employment thrown in, only made things worse for them, and no doubt made for good TV.

It seems that the YouTube video received a slew of insults, rude comments and verbal abuse before being taken down. I don't condone the insults, (and I definitely don't consider them a "national embarrassment", like this prominent news site does - ridiculous) but I do however understand the anger, or at least where it is coming from; Sri Lanka gets enough (but probably deserved) bad press internationally without having to have two giddy girls unknowingly making a mockery of the social situation at home.
 
One blogger has written a spirited defence of the twins (whom she knows personally), but while I commend her for standing up for her friends I feel she is letting that friendship cloud her judgement. I'm sure the girls are lovely, friendly, good-natured adults, but that doesn't excuse being really, really ignorant. If this were any other country, they would be releasing statements to the media clarifying their statements and apologising, but I sincerely doubt they'll do that here. Instead, they'll have to suffer in silence knowing that for a brief few hours, they were exactly who they said they were - privileged, spoilt children who hadn't seen anything outside of their little bubble, and now that they have, are still unable to comprehend it.
 
The fact that their online bio for the show states that they liken each other to Kim and Khloe Kardashian now appears rather poignant.
 
Welcome to the internet, Natalie and Nadiya. Actually, welcome to social etiquette 101. Take the punches, learn from it, and move on.

EDIT:

After reading this post with a more cool head, I realise that I may have been too harsh and not explained my thinking clearly. I get that these kind of bloopers can happen when you're in front of a camera, and no doubt the girls were only trying to express how they were enjoying themselves. They just did it in an appallingly inappropriate way. I hadn't read the comments on the clip before it was taken down, but I fear that it is highly likely they were as ridiculous and over-the-top as the Groundview status update I linked earlier in the post. I feel sorry for them having to go through that, but I hope they learned from it, and I wish them the best.
 

6 comments:

Jack Point said...

I think you have done a good analysis. Boasting about how rich you are is bound to raise hackles anywhere and talking about servants will only make it worse.

A modicum of common sense or awareness would have saved them. Lets hope they learned a lesson.

Sabith said...

I too followed the fiasco. Some people just dont understand how responsible one most be when representing a population/community/country as they are believed to bear the characteristics of that population.

Namali Premawardhana said...

I think the fact that the experience helped them relate better to the people who work for them is awesome.

Political correctness on the other hand is bull. Just because the west tells the rest of the world that the word "servant" is one you don't use doesn't mean we have to stop using it.

Plus whats the deal with hating on ignorance? People can't HELP it!

Angel said...

You can't *help* ignorance? In *this* day and age? Please!

cj said...

I wonder why they took the video down is that an admission of guilt???

Anonymous said...

the link to the video
http://www.movieweb.com/tv/TEuQ393ehPZVxD/life-in-sri-lanka

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