While communicating with locals, visiting one of the impressive temples or while having dinner at a restaurant, the rain-drop island is full of manners and traditions. This handbook of manners helps you to prevent unpleasant situations with and will teach you how to behave in a respectful manner. Once you learned some typical Sri Lankan manners, it will be even easier to join and enjoy the society to the fullest.
Locals in Sri Lanka smile a lot. Despite of all tragic events that took place in the past, Sri Lanka’s locals seem to be happy and positive. Smiling faces from elderly women, children and dads. A smile from you always helps to spread a positive attitude and builds the foundation for a nice conversation.
Handbook of manners #1 – Treat each other respectfully
Respect is one of the most important virtues from a Sri Lankan perspective. If you talk openly in a negative way in front of other people the person you argue with “loses his face” in public. This is, in many Asian countries, one of the worst situations for an individual.
So please reconsider if it is necessary to argue in a loud and disrespectful manner with a person in public space.
Handbook of manners #2 – Bow while greeting
Different to us, Sri Lankans normally greet each other by bowing gently. While doing so, hands meet in front of the chest and the words Ayubowan are spoken (which means literally translated “long life”) to the opponent. Nowadays many locals also got used to the English “hello” but shaking hands is still not commonly used.
Handbook of manners #3 – Nod your head for communication
Once you are observing a dialogue from locals or talking to a Sri Lankan yourself you will soon notice the horizontal movement of the head. The motion usually consists of a side-to-side tilting of the head in arcs along the coronal plane. It is a form of nonverbal communication and means “Yes”, “Good”, “Ok” I understand” depending on the context. Misunderstandings inevitable J
Handbook of manners #4 – Meaning of hand and feet
Soon you will notice that the style of eating also differs to what we are used to. Being in Sri Lanka also means eating with your hands, with the right one to be precise. If you want to try eating with your hand remember not to use the left one. It is considered to be dirty.
Ps.: Having said that, you will use your left for drinking.
Please remember this also while helping people by giving a hand. Do not do this with your left but always your right hand. Same applies for the bottom of your feet. These are also considered to be not clean and thus you should refrain to show the bottom of your feet in public, especially not in direction of temples and other holy buildings.
Handbook of manners #5 – Behaviour in public
Especially the behaviour in temples is a controversial topic and thus often discussed and explained. To put things short: Before entering a temple, you should remove shoes as well as hat or caps. Above that shoulders and knees should also be covered. In general you should show as little skin as possible – as sign of respect.
In public endearments are not accepted. Holding hands is a sign of friendship but everything beyond that is not liked to be seen. We witnessed police stopping a couple kissing in public, for example.
As on every other trip you should be aware of what exactly you are capturing. If you want to take a photo of a local, approach them and ask in a nice manner whether it is ok to take a photo or not. Some people do not like being on photos and this should be considered while taking pictures or videos.
If we wanted to take a picture, we started a conversation with the person and then after buying something or a nice chat we carefully asked if it would also be ok to take a photo. Often, they are happy that you are interested in their life. If you are aiming for taking pictures from tea picker or fishermen, a tip is often expected.
Tip: Taking photos in temples in normally not allowed. Above that you should refrain taking pictures in front of Buddha statues while pointing with your back to it. This is perceived as very disrespectful.