DESTINATION: Sri Lanka – Culture, Etiquette and Business Practices


You can’t understand Sri Lanka without understanding Buddhism. Photo taken in Kandy by Yves Alarie on Unsplash

The culture of Sri Lanka is known for its ethnic variety and blend of modern and traditional features. Sri Lankan culture has long been impacted by the tradition of Theravada Buddhism that was transmitted from India; this influence is especially notable in the country’s center and southern areas.

Sinhala (also called Sinhalese or Singhalese) is the mother tongue of the Sinhalese ethnic group which is the largest in Sri Lanka. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages.

In Sri Lanka, around 16 million people speak Sinhala, of which 13 million are native speakers.
Along with Tamil, it is one of Sri Lanka’s officially recognized official languages.
The Tamil people of Sri Lanka speak Tamil, the oldest of the Dravidian language family and a classical language.
Tamils in Malaysia, Singapore, and India also speak it. With more than 74 million speakers worldwide in 1996, it was the eighteenth most widely used language.


Sri Lankan Culture and Society


The two primary religions in Sri Lanka are Buddhism and Hinduism, both of which have a significant impact on the country’s politics, culture, and social life.
Generally speaking, Buddhists hold that everyone has multiple reincarnations.
They should make an effort to improve their behavior in each life until they reach
what is referred to as “Nirvana.”
Five vows are made by Buddhists: 1. not to kill or cause harm to any living thing. 2. Never steal or take anything that is not offered to you voluntarily. 3. to restrain a sexual urge. 4. not telling lies. 5. not to use drugs or consume alcoholic beverages.
Samsara, or the idea that one’s deeds in this life affect one’s standing in the afterlife, and “dharma,” are two of Hinduism’s core doctrines.
Hinduism contains a variety of gods, including Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Parvatand Kali, who are all manifestations of Brahman (the eternal source of everything).
Both a direct and an indirect effect of religion on business. The widespread belief that a greater power is in charge, or fatalism, is what predominates.
People will therefore consult religion when making decisions, etc.

Tea was and still is of major importance to the Sri Lankan economy. Photo taken in Talawakelle by Asantha Abeysooriya on Unsplash


  • A civilization that followed a hierarchy was produced by the caste system, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as other influences.
  • Sri Lankans are aware of social hierarchy and standing.
  • Hierarchies have a role in all interactions, whether they be ones in the workplace or with family members.
  • At home, the patriarch—usually the father or the eldest male in the family—is regarded as the head of the household. The employer or owner is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in the workplace.
  • The hierarchy’s roles become the foundation for all relationships within these circles.


  • For Sri Lankans, “face,” sometimes known as “honor” or “personal dignity,” is very essential.
  • In social settings, face can be gained or lost; the latter should be avoided.
  • For instance, publicly chastising or criticizing someone in business would result in a loss of face for both sides. Sri Lankans are therefore very mindful about always shielding their own and other people’s faces.
  • This shows up in various ways. For instance, many Sri Lankans won’t feel confident making choices because doing so could result in failure and face-saving embarrassment.
  • Similar to this, many Sri Lankans would rather not be so direct when answering a question with a “no,” and instead may make evasive or ambivalent responses to avoid looking foolish.

Etiquette and Manners in Sri Lanka

Welcome and Salutations

  • The manner in which people greet one another depends on their ethnicity, but you won’t be required to be aware of these variations as a foreigner.
  • The most common ways to greet someone in Sri Lanka can be summed up as follows:
  • The “namaste” is used by the older generation of Sri Lankans (palms clasped together as if in prayer at chin level with a slight nod of the head).
  • “Ayubowan” is a possible Sinhala pronoun (may you be blessed with a long life)
  • Vanakkam is how Tamils pronouce it (may you be blessed with a long life)
  • Also known as “kuhomadu” (How are you?) in informal contexts.
  • The younger individuals typically shake hands.
  • Always wait to see whether a woman extends her hand to you because many Sri Lankan women would avoid making physical contact with a man who is not a member of their family.
  • Always use the right title, followed by the surname, when addressing someone. Wait for the other person to introduce themselves using their first name.

Etiquette for Giving Gifts

  • Gifts are typically given in Sri Lanka on religious holidays and birthdays. Generally speaking, presents are not extravagant or expensive but more symbolic.
  • There will be variations in Sri Lankan etiquette because of the country’s ethnic and religious variety, but the following are some common guidelines:
  • Keep away from flowers; they are a sign of grief.
  • Give alcohol only if you are certain the receiver consumes it.
  • The colors of funerals and mourning are white or black.
  • Avoid alcohol, pig products, and any meat-containing foods if the recipient is Muslim (unless “halal”)
  • Leather shouldn’t be used in gifts intended for Hindus. . Use both hands when giving and receiving gifts. Some Sri Lankans will offer the gift with their right hand while touching their right forearm with their left in an act of graciousness.
  • Gifts are typically not opened right away.
  • Every gift that is given should be returned.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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