Sri Lanka Holiday Customs
There are many cultural differences about Sri Lanka that may be unfamiliar to you. Here are some tips on how to best impress and get along well with the locals by learning Sri Lanka Holiday Customs:
Although locals are generally familiar with Western-style handshakes and greetings, there is a proper way to say hello in Sinhalese. The verbal greeting ayubowan is accompanied by a slight bow and placing the palms together in true namaste fashion (like in the picture above). And if shaking hands, it is a sign of respect for visitors to place their left hand on their right forearm. Many Sri Lankan women may not want to shake hands with men, so wait for a woman to extend her hand if she wishes. As titles are used with the person’s name or the surname, it is best to first be invited before using someone’s first name.
It is customary to be offered tea when visiting and considered impolite to refuse. If visiting someone’s home or place of business, bring a small token, such as a souvenir from home. Give and receive gifts with two hands. To demonstrate graciousness, some Sri Lankans will touch their right forearm with their left hand while offering the gift with their right hand. Informal, Western dress is suitable, except when visiting Buddhist temples, where modest clothing should be worn (eg no bare legs and upper arms). Visitors should be decently clothed when visiting any place of worship, and shoes and hats must be removed. Jackets and ties are not required by men in the evenings except for formal functions when lightweight suits should be worn.
Do not turn your back to (or be alongside) a Buddha statue when within a reasonable distance. It’s always a good idea to follow what the locals are doing. This includes posing for photos. It’s fine to take a photograph of a statue, but all persons should be facing it.
At dinnertime, most of the socialising is done before eating. It is important to use your right hand to eat. You may be offered or served second helpings, if you do not want more and it has already been put on your plate, there is no need to eat it. In fact, leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you have eaten until full. Finishing all your food means that you are still hungry.
Public displays of affection between lovers such as kissing and/or hugging may be frowned upon as it is considered to be private behaviour but it is acceptable in functions and establishments for adults such as nightclubs, casinos and beach parties. Allowances are made for foreigners and holding hands and affection between parents and their children is allowed.
Public nudity is illegal in Sri Lanka – if like you like to nude/topless sunbathe or skinny dip stick to the private beach resorts which allow it.
The best advice for any trip to Sri Lanka is watch what others do. Learning from locals is the best idea to make sure you don’t trip up on a custom that may offend someone and get you into trouble.