Sri Lanka is a magnificent island country that has nurtured its traditions for thousands of years. Other than a few superficial things, not much has changed about Sri Lanka's cultural values over the centuries - a strong sense of national pride has allowed the native population to retain what's important to them. This is why it's important if you're travelling to Kandy - the locations of our two Sri Lankan programmes - that you go armed with insider know-how.
Most of the country is Buddhist Sinhalese - it is these Sinhalese customs we'll be looking at below.
- Be mindful of the distinction between Buddhism and Hinduism
- Don’t directly touch food that others might eat
- When eating without utensils, always use your right hand
- Shirts are always better than t-shirts - even a casual shirts will make a better impression
- When giving gifts, use both hands - it's seen as you giving the gift more freely and with greater respect
- Casual smiling isn't common in Sri Lanka. Be mindful when you use them as they may be incorrectly interpreted
- Keep a calm and patient tone of voice to avoid losing face and to respect other people's desire not to lose face
- It's important to keep your feet pointed away from people (which means sitting cross-legged if you find yourself opposite a monk)
WORDS AND PHRASES
- ‘Ayubowan’ is the Sinhalese greeting, using the ‘Namaste’ gesture pictured above
- 'Mahattaya’ is used ‘Sir’ but goes after the last name
- Similarly ‘Nona’ is ‘Madame’ and is used with, and after the last name
- Head gestures for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are different - the Indian-style side-to-side head tilting indicates yes, and nodding indicates no
- 'Ko ho mada?' - How are you?
- 'Varadak neh' - I'm fine
- 'Karu na kara' - Please
- 'Istuti' - Thank you
Ow - Yes
Naa - No
So there you have it - the beginners' guide to staying savvy in Sri Lanka. Of course, the subtle customs and traditions of Sri Lanka extend far beyond this blog post, but the above will get you started.