Etiquette and Culture in Sri Lanka

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Etiquette and Culture in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka appears to be the most Westernised country in South Asia at first glance. This, coupled with the widespread utilisation of the English language and a flourishing tourism industry, can often result in visitors mistaking the island for a more familiar destination than it truly is. However, a closer inspection may reveal examples of cultural diversity inconspicuous.

Being authentic

A prime example of how highly Sri Lankans regard decorum and civility is the exceptionally courteous staff at upscale hotels; expressing dissent during a dispute typically backfires and makes one appear naive and impolite.
Sinhalese individuals have a propensity for taking uncomplicated, uncritical delight in their homeland, its national accomplishments, and (especially) its cricket team. The query “Is Sri Lanka satisfactory?” is among the most commonly posed inquiries by tourists.

Certain Western concepts have yet to make their way to the island. On any beach in Sri Lanka, it is prohibited to be nud or topless. It is also considered impolite for romantic partners in Sri Lanka to display explicit physical affection in public. Rather, they retreat to more tranquil areas of botanical gardens and parks, shielded by enormous canopies. It is recommended that you utilise your right hand when eating and shaking palms with others.

Temple etiquette

All visitors to Buddhist and Hindu temples are required to attire appropriately. This requires individuals to enter Buddhist temples while removing their footwear and headgear, concealing their shoulders and legs. Beachwear is inappropriate and offensive. Occasionally, the exact moment to remove your shoes and hats in enormous temples is obscure; therefore, if uncertain, consult the locals. Remember that traversing temple grounds barefoot can be more challenging than you might expect at times, when the stone surfaces beneath you are heated to oven-like temperatures by the tropical sun. However, wearing hosiery will not be a problem for anyone.
Two additional traditional Buddhist observances are only sporadically observed in Sri Lanka; however, it is impermissible to be photographed while posing with a Buddha image, specifically with your back to the image. One notable regulation is the prohibition on directing one’s feet towards a Buddha image. While this regulation may not be as rigorously enforced as, say, in Thailand, individuals are occasionally observed seated before Buddhas with their legs carefully tucked underneath. However, it is uncommon for individuals to adhere to the ancient Buddhist principle that dictates the proper circumambulation of dagobas in a clockwise direction.

A few exceptions exist regarding the attire and footwear requirements that are observed in Hindu temples. Certain inner shrines prohibit the entry of non-Hindus, while others require men to remove their shirts prior to entering. In certain shrines, women are sporadically entirely prohibited from entering.

You will be requested to make a donation following a tour of particular Buddhist and Hindu temples led by a resident monk or cleric. On occasion, unofficial “guides” will materialise in alternative locations and demand payment in return for their services of guiding. Make every effort to avoid feeling obligated to accept the services of unofficial guides if you do not wish to use them.

Candy, begging, and pennying

While it is indeed a personal decision to donate to beggars, there is no immorality in offering a few cents to the obviously geriatric and ailing individuals who congregate in close proximity to mosques, churches, and temples. However, it is imperative that you refrain from initiating an unsustainable cycle of overreliance or unreasonably high hopes for foreign benevolence. For this reason, it is advisable to exercise restraint when distributing gifts to children and to be economical with the amount you give away (small donations to numerous individuals are always preferable to large donations to a single unfortunate individual who catches your attention). Additionally, avoid donating to petitioners who deliberately pursue visitors.
Regrettably, a prevalent form of phony-begging is frequently observed among affluent pupils, and at times, adolescents and adults as well. This typically takes the form of requests for money (typically conveyed as “one foreign coin? “), school pens, or candy. This unfortunate behaviour is the result of the misplaced generosity of previous visitors. All of the aforementioned items were distributed by these travellers under the guise that they were assisting the local populace. Conversely, they promoted a culture of begging that is detrimental to all future tourists and degrades Sri Lankans. Give your sincere intention to support your community into account by contemplating a donation to a nearby educational institution or a reputable nonprofit organisation.

“What’s your destination?”

Due to the prevalence of close-knit village communities and extended family units, which dictate Sri Lankan culture, Western concepts of privacy and seclusion are neither understood nor respected in that country. Constantly inquiring about the whereabouts, nationality, and identity of the individual is the most prevalent manner in which natural curiosity demonstrates itself. They may drive you a little crazy if you’re there for an extended period of time, but it’s imperative that you remember to be courteous and consider the damage that your rudeness or impatience could cause to the perceptions of foreigners and the treatment of those who follow you. “Just walking, John, England,” accompanied by a smile that even reveals clenched teeth, should suffice. In situations where one can no longer withstand the situation, employing surreal humour to defuse the atmosphere without causing offence is often effective (“To Australia. Mars. Lord Mountbatten.”) Since Sri Lankans generally appreciate being confronted with concrete proof that the prevailing notion that all foreigners are completely insane is unfounded.