Studying the arts in Sri Lanka comes with a unique set of difficulties and frustrations. Arts degrees are popularly perceived as inferior to more traditional ones (medicine, law, engineering), and most people have no trouble reminding you of this. Below are some things you should probably not say to an arts student – most of it is common knowledge, but some of y'all tend to need reminding.
1. "OMG you study (arts subject)? That's so (condescending adjective)!"
Condescending adjectives include: fun, interesting, unusual. This is usually said by older relatives when you've slipped up and accidentally disclosed that you are not, in fact, doing anything they have deemed useful with your life. Telling signs include a pause between the 'so' and the adjective of choice, an abrupt change of subject after, and a sense of shame that isn't justified but that haunts you nevertheless.
What to say instead: "Wow, [arts subject], huh? I know nothing about the arts and I'd rather not verbalise my belief that it isn't as important as any other degree."
2. "But what will you do after university?"
Literally anything I want. The best part about arts degrees is that they're not as restrictive as, for example, medicine. Arts graduates have a wide variety of jobs to choose from, in industries as diverse as media, publishing, communication, marketing and entertainment, to name a few. So yeah, we've got options. NEXT.
What to say instead: "You're so lucky you've got such a broad range of areas to go into!"
3. "Your parents are paying for that?"
God forbid parents should trust their children and encourage them to pursue their passions. But listen, sweetie, I'm so sorry that your parents are so narrow-minded that they draw the line at paying for degrees they can't brag to your older relatives about. Tragic.
What to say instead: "Your parents trust you and respect your decisions? Huh, can't relate."
4. "You must have so much free time!"
This one actually makes my teeth grind and my nostrils flare. How DARE you patronise the very root of my caffeine dependence? The belief that our workloads can't possibly be that bad because our degrees aren't that important is downright insulting. These aren't bags under my eyes, these are SUITCASES.
What to say instead: "Please educate me on what an arts degree involves because I clearly have no clue."
5. "That's not where the money's at!"
Obviously, your goals have to be practical, and you need to be able to support yourself financially, BUT my bad if my number one priority isn't making lots and lots of money. Way to be a slave to the system, man.
What to say instead: "Having different priorities is okay, and I shouldn't try to impose mine on other people."
6. "Ah, so a Housewife Degree?" OR "You better bag a rich husband!"
Where do I even begin? The misogyny? The total lack of respect for anything you don't consider important? Choosing to be a housewife does not immediately render your education useless, and please refer to numbers 2. and 5. on this list if you're that concerned about my job opportunities and financial situation.
What to say instead: "I'm literal trash."
People studying and working in the arts have a lot to deal with already – the popular assumption that what we do isn't that important, for example, or being the first to suffer budget cuts or the retraction of financial funding because we're more 'dispensable'. So the next time you feel the need to say anything on this list, do us all a favour and just don't. We've heard it all before.