Life in Sri Lanka
Greetings & Other Manners
Languages commonly used by Sri Lankans are Sinhala, Tamil, and English. Greeting phrases in Sinhala and Tamil are “Ayubowan” and “Vanakkam”, respectively. In general settings, greetings in English language (such as “hello”, “good morning”, etc.) are completely appropriate and will be understood by most. The Sinhala greeting is formal and many will feel usage thereof strange, if used in general settings. Traditional Western mannerism is generally accepted in Sri Lanka.
Cultural & Religious Observances
If you visit any place with a religious significance, dressing modestly and in light colours (ideally, white colour) will put you on the safe side as far as dress code is concerned. Also, please observe local practices (such as removing head-wear and/or footwear) when entering a religious place.
Please take measures to conceal any tattoos and other body markings that can be related to religions or philosophies as much as possible at any public place (even at the airport). Also, please make sure not to keep footwear with any religious words or marks in your possession when coming to Sri Lanka as such may be construed as offensive to respective religion(s).
As Sri Lanka’s climate features warm and cool temperatures, it will be beneficial for you to pack accordingly. For areas that are warm (places other than central hill-side of Sri Lanka), please choose clothing made of cotton or other light-weight natural material. The temperature in the hill-side is mildly cold; therefore, clothing with layers is advisable.
As far as styles of clothes are concerned, almost any colour or style is generally acceptable in Colombo and other urban areas. However, avoiding overly revealing clothes would be a smart choice. Conservative dress codes are observed in religious locations, so it is advisable to dress modestly and you cannot go wrong with white coloured clothes.
Mosquitos Effective Repellents
Sri Lanka has a lot of mosquitoes in almost every region of the island, so it is strongly recommended to keep insect repellents with you. In addition to using commercially available insecticides and insect repellents, spraying isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol) directly onto mosquitos is an effective (and for some people, fun) method of getting rid of mosquitoes around you. The added benefit of using isopropyl alcohol on mosquitoes is that it has a relatively low harmful effect on humans. A note of advice on spraying isopropyl alcohol: avoid inhaling large quantities of the substance as it can intoxicate you and it can be poisonous.
In addition to using insect repellents, having proper vaccinations against insect-borne diseases is highly advised.
Although tap water/running water is generally safe to drink in Sri Lanka, using bottled drinking water (or mineral water) will be a safer choice, until at least you become familiar with kinds of water supplies in the island. When purchasing bottled water, please check for the “SLS” logo on the bottle.
Sri Lanka has a wide array of food options as you will be able to find restaurants with different cuisines (although some may be difficult to find). Local cuisine also has a lot of variety and they tend to be on the hot side or the sweet side (but Sri Lankan cuisine doesn’t mix hot and sweet at the same time). Food safety is generally acceptable, but practising common sense when choosing dining establishments is advisable.
Tipping in Sri Lanka is not strictly customary, but tipping in restaurants, bars, and hotels is commonplace. Tipping amount is up to your discretion depending on your satisfaction of the service received.
Please be mindful when making hand gestures. While Sri Lankans are familiar with hand gestures of the Western world for the most part, there may be occasions such gestures may be misinterpreted by locals. If possible, avoiding overly visible hand gestures will be the safest option.