Sri Lankan customs and manners

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Sri Lankan customs and manners

Sri Lanka looks like the most Westernised country in South Asia from the outside. Because of this, a lot of people speak English, and the tourism industry is doing very well, so guests often think the island is somewhere more familiar than it really is. But if you look more closely, you might find different cultures everywhere.

Being authentic

For example, the staff at high-end hotels are very polite, which shows how much Sri Lankans value manners and civility. Speaking up in an argument usually makes you look stupid and rude.
Lots of Sri Lankans enjoy their country, their island, and especially their cricket team without thinking too much about it. One of the things that tourists ask most often is, “Is Sri Lanka good?”

Some Western ideas haven’t made it to the island yet. In Sri Lanka, you can’t be naked or without a shirt on any beach. People in Sri Lanka also don’t like it when lovers show their emotions in public. Instead, they hide behind big umbrellas in parks and botanical gardens where it’s quieter. When you eat and shake hands with other people, you should use your right hand.

Temple etiquette

Each person who visits a Hindu or Buddhist temple should dress properly. In Buddhist shrines, this means taking off your shoes and hat and covering your shoulders and legs. Wearing clothes to the beach is rude and wrong. In big churches, it can be hard to tell exactly when to take off your shoes and hats, so if you’re not sure, ask the locals. Last but not least, remember that going barefoot around temples can be harder than you think when the tropical sun makes the stone under your feet as hot as an oven. But it’s okay to wear socks.
There are two other traditional Buddhist practises that aren’t strictly followed in Sri Lanka. For example, you should never pose with a Buddha figure with your back to it for a picture. The first is that you are not allowed to point your feet at a Buddha image. This rule is not tightly followed like it is in Thailand, but you will sometimes see people sitting in front of Buddhas with their legs neatly tucked under them. A very old Buddhist rule says that you should only walk around dagobas in a clockwise direction. However, not many people follow this rule.

There are a few different rules about what to wear in Hindu shrines. In some cases, non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the main shrine. In others, men must take off their shirts before entering, and in still others, women are not allowed to enter at all.

A monk or priest who lives there will show you around some Buddhist and Hindu temples. After the walk, you will be asked to give money. There are times when unofficial “guides” will show up in other places and demand to be paid to show you around. If you don’t want these unofficial tips to help you, don’t feel like you have to.

Candy, begging, and pennying

Giving to beggars is a personal choice, but there’s nothing wrong with giving a few cents to the sick and elderly people who often meet outside of mosques, churches, and temples. But it’s very important that you don’t get stuck in a cycle of too much dependence or unrealistic expectations of kindness from other countries. That’s why you shouldn’t give kids free stuff and should be careful about how much you give away—it’s better to give small amounts to many people than a large amount to one unlucky person who strikes your fancy. Also, don’t give to people who are constantly trying to get your attention.
Unfortunately, very well-off schoolchildren, and occasionally even teens and adults, engage in a type of fake begging that is very common. For the most part, this comes in the form of requests for money (usually phrased as “one foreign coin?”), schoolpens, or bon-bons. Sadly, this behaviour is caused by guests who were too kind in the past. These tourists gave out all of the above things because they thought they were helping the people who lived there. Instead, they encouraged a culture of asking that makes Sri Lankans look bad and makes things hard for tourists who come in the future. If you really want to help your neighbourhood, you could give money to a nearby school or a reputable charity.

“What’s your destination?”

Sri Lankan culture is based on close-knit village cultures where everyone knows each other’s business and large family groups. As a result, privacy and being alone are not well known or respected in Sri Lanka. When people are naturally curious, they often ask the same questions over and over again, like “Where are you going?” “What is your name?” and “What is your country?” If you plan to stay in Sri Lanka for a long time, they might drive you a little crazy, but it’s important to remember to be polite and think about how your rudeness or impatience might affect how foreigners see you and how others treat you. A smile and the words “Just walking. England. John.” should be enough, even if your teeth are clenched. If you really can’t take it anymore, some strange humour (like “To Australia, Mars, Lord Mountbatten”) usually helps calm things down without hurting anyone’s feelings. After all, Sri Lankans like seeing proof for the widely held belief that all foreigners are completely crazy.

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