Different countries, different customs: there are certain western customs that are not appropriate in Sri Lankan culture and may be considered insulting to the locals. Here are some tips about the typical sensitivities and behaviour in Sri Lanka:
• “Aayubowan” (may you live a long life) is the traditional greeting in Singhalesen and is also used to say goodbye. Both hands are placed together in front of your chest in a prayer-like gesture.
• Use your right hand to give something, to eat and for handshakes. In Sri Lanka the left hand is considered to be unclean.
• In Sri Lanka comfortable yet appropriate clothing is considered important. Jeans, cloth trousers and t-shirts are fine.
• Skirts should be at least knee length. Too short or too skimpy clothing will not be appreciated in Sri Lanka.
• Remove your shoes before entering a temple. In Hindu temples you are usually expected to cover your head, however in Buddhist temples no headpieces are allowed. Arms and legs must be covered.
• In rural areas men and women do not shake hands.
• Even though it may occur on some hotel beaches, topless or nude sunbathing is banned in Sri Lanka as the locals consider it shameful.
• Sri Lanka offers many wonderful opportunities for photography, however please ensure you ask politely before taking any photographs in museums, temples or of the locals. Do not take photos of religious buildings or paintings. Photography is forbidden in airports and military zones.
• Shaking your head means yes.
• Many people working in the tourism tourism industry in Sri Lanka make a living from tips rather than their wages. It is customary to recognise good service by awarding a tip.
• Hotel porters/suitcase carriers earn 50-100 LKR per suitcase, taxi drivers 50 LKR and around 250 LKR is recommended for general services. In restaurants around 10% of the bill is an appropriate tip.