8 tips about local etiquette and safety in Sri Lanka

One of the best things about overseas travel is the chance to get to meet the local people and learn something about a new culture that is so foreign to your own. On the flipside, all that culture shock can cause some visitors to be absolutely confused and lost. Not to fear, we’re here to give you a brief insight into Sri Lankan norms and culture before you plunge into the deep end of the complexities of Sri Lankan culture.

We give you 8 useful tips that will demonstrate to the locals that you’re making an effort to respect and learn about their culture.

1. Be sensitive to the local religion

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country, and any offence to Buddha is taken very seriously. Also, what we as visitors do not even consider offensive, the Sri Lankans may consider to be deeply insulting. It is thus very important to take extra care when dealing with anything vaguely related to Buddhism. Take note that tattoos of Buddha could cause you to get deported or even imprisoned! Needless to say, anyone caught disrespecting, or worse, vandalizing religious monuments will certainly be dealt with harshly. Also, do not take photographs of yourself posing beside a statue of Buddha or a Buddhist monk.

2. Dress Modestly

As an Asian country, Sri Lankans are still rather conservative, and visitors should avoid skimpy clothing like short and tight skirts or short shorts. Women are advised to wear loose cotton dresses, long pants or skirts and a modest blouse. Men are advised to stick with long pants rather than shorts. This is particularly the case when visiting places of worship, where flouting the dress code could be considered not only inappropriate, but disrespectful as well.

3. Avoid dark areas at night

Sri Lanka has come a long way from being stuck in civil war and violence, however, it makes sense to take general precautions when travelling in an unfamiliar place, one of them being to always stay in well lit places, and avoid being alone at night.

In particular, this includes the beach. It may seem romantic to lie on the beach at night, but they are also the site of occasional muggings and crime. If you simply have to visit the beach at night, ensure that you stick to busy stretches of beach where there are plenty of other people around.

4. Don’t photograph the soldiers

The civil war may have ended, but don’t assume that the soldiers are now part of a tourist attraction. They’ll probably not take very kindly to your attempts to treat them like an exhibit. Visitors would do well to show proper respect for these survivors of a long history of civil violence.

5. Exercise caution when visiting wildlife

Sri Lanka is an amazing paradise of flora and fauna, and the wild safaris are one of Sri Lanka’s most splendid attractions. Nevertheless, visitors should remember that wildlife are exactly that- wild. Whilst it’s unlikely that the plants will be out to get you, take care around the animals. Whilst rare, people do get killed by elephants in Sri Lanka, don’t be next!

Exercise appropriate caution and respect for the wildlife by keeping a safe distance and being careful not to agitate or provoke them.

6. Try the local ‘waggle’

The uninitiated may be confused as to what is meant by the local ‘waggle’. Performed as a cross between a nod and a shake of the chin, it is meant to signify a yes, or an okay. Try it for yourself! At worst the locals will be amused by your attempts.

7. Avoid eye contact with strangers to prevent sexual harassment

Whilst this may have feminists flying off their handles, it is simply better to be safe than sorry. Eye contact can be considered to be an invitation to move things forward. If not interested, simply lower your eyes and move away quickly. If confronted with persistent and over amorous strangers, draw the attention of others to his behavior to deter him.

8. Beware of the spice level

The Sri Lankans really enjoy spicy food, and visitors who are not accustomed to such levels of spiciness might want to remember to ask the chef to please tone it down by a lot. Certainly an upset stomach is not the best way to kick start your Sri Lankan adventure.

We hope that these tips give you an insight into Sri Lankan culture, and hopefully help you steer clear of etiquette faux pas. We wish you safe and happy travels!

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