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Sri Lanka Social Customs & Etiquettes


The influences of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the caste system have created a culture that operated within a hierarchical system. Sri Lankans are conscious of social order and status. All relationships, whether in family life or at the office, to some extent involve hierarchies. At home the patriarch (the father or oldest male in the household) is considered the leader of the family. In the office, the boss/owner is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in business. All relationships within these circles are then based on upon people's positions within the hierarchy.

Face, which can be described as honour or personal dignity, is extremely important to Sri Lankans. Face can be given or lost in social situations and it is important to avoid the latter. In business, for example, publicly reprimanding or criticising someone would lead to a loss of face for both parties. As a result Sri Lankans are very conscious of protecting their and others' face at all times. This manifests in many ways. For example, many Sri Lankans will not feel comfortable making decisions since this may lead to failure which then leads to loss of face. Similarly, if asked a question to which the answer is "no" many Sri Lankans would prefer not to be so blunt and may give rather vague or uncommitted answers in order to avoid losing face.

Meeting & Greeting

• Typical greetings depend on the ethnic group people belong to but as a foreigner you will not be expected to be aware of such differences.
• The older generation of Sri Lankans will use the namaste (palms clasped together as if in prayer at chin level with a slight nod of the head).
• The Sinhalese may say ayubowan. (may you be blessed with a long life).
• Tamils would say vanakkam. (may you be blessed with a long life).
• In informal settings you may also hear kuhomadu (How do you do?).
• The younger people generally shake hands.
• Many Sri Lankan women will refrain from physical contact with a man outside their family so always wait to see if a woman extends her hand or not.
• When addressing people you should always use the appropriate title followed by the surname. Always wait for the other party to move to a first name basis.

Gift Giving Etiquette

In Sri Lanka gifts are usually given at birthdays and religions holidays. As a rule gifts are not usually lavish or expensive but symbolic.

As with other etiquette pointers about Sri Lanka there will be differences due to the ethnic/religious diversity of the country but here are some general gift giving etiquette rules:
• Avoid flowers – they are used in mourning.

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