entering holy areas, it is customary to remove your shoes
and walk barefoot within the designated area. (This may
also be the case in people's homes.) Women should wear long
skirts or loose trousers and a modest blouse, or a loose
cotton dress. Men should wear long trousers. Even ancient
temples are considered sacred, and should be treated as
If you encounter a Buddhist monk or a Hindu swami and
would like to greet him in the traditional way, hold your
hands together as if in prayer and raise them to your
forehead. Do not shake hands. If you wish to offer a gift
to a monk, do so with both hands to show that it is given
freely. (Gifts of money should be placed directly in the
temple box.) When sitting with a Buddhist monk, try and
sit at a lower level to him and avoid pointing your toes
towards him, as this is seen as a lack of respect.
The questions Sri Lankans ask in conversation can be
different from those asked by Westerners and may be considered
as quite personal or rude by the foreigner. For instance,
it is not unusual for people to ask you your age, marital
status and the number of children and siblings you have
in their first conversation. These are ordinary questions
and simply reflect the emphasis Sri Lankans place on family
life. People may also enquire about your religious beliefs,
due to the emphasis on religion within their own culture.
As in many parts of the world, shaking the head from
side to side indicates a negative, while a nod indicates
a positive response. However, the "waggle",
a cross between a nod and a shake with the chin pointed
outwards indicates a simple "yes" or "okay".
Food should be handled with the right hand only, as the
left is considered unclean. When handing objects to another
person, either the right hand or both hands should be
In the intense heat of the low country regions, cottons
and light natural fabrics such as linen are ideal. However,
remember that in a conservative culture like this, skimpy
skirts and brief shorts are not the norm or considered
respectable. For women, loose cotton skirts or trousers
and tops, and a long dress or skirt and long-sleeved blouse
for visiting temples are ideal. Men will feel comfortable
in cotton trousers or shorts and a T-shirt, or even the
As a general rule tipping is not expected unless you
feel a service has been special, although chauffeur guides
(but not trishaw drivers) expect one. Hotel and restaurant
bills include a 10 percent service charge as well as a
12.5 percent government tax (GST).
Homosexual activity is officially illegal in Sri Lanka
and there have been some convictions. Discreet gay travellers,
however, are unlikely to encounter any harassment although
public displays of affection are best avoided.
Sri Lanka is not well equipped for those with physical
disabilities. Only a few of the five-star hotels have
access and facilities for people in wheelchairs - public
transport has none, so a car and driver is essential.
Consult your travel agent for more information.