Most travelers tend to bring too many clothes in general,
and too many thick clothes in particular. In the heat and
humidity of the lowlands, cotton and light natural fabrics
such as linen are ideal for women during the day. However,
remember that Sri Lanka is a conservative culture, so skimpy
skirts and brief shorts are not considered respectable.
During the evening it is advisable to wear lightweight long
sleeved tops and trousers to provide some protection against
mosquitoes. Women should pack a long dress or skirt and
long-sleeved blouse for visiting places of worship.
Cotton trousers or shorts and a T-shirt or sleeved shirt
is the ideal attire for men during the day. During the
evening trousers and long sleeved shirts protect against
mosquitoes. Both sexes should select comfortable shoes,
sandals, or trainers. Cotton socks are a must. Remember
to take a sunhat and good quality sunglasses. (Sunhats
can be purchased in Sri Lanka).
More and more visitors – both men and women –
are experimenting with the traditional Sri Lankan garment,
the sarong. The sarong is a tube of cloth that you step
into and tie around your middle rather like a towel (although
there are several more sophisticated ways of tying one).
There could not be a better garment for wearing in the
tropics. It is cool and comfortable, and extremely versatile.
For example, it can be hitched up to wade in the sea and
even used as a tent in which to change in and out of swimwear
on the beach.
If your itinerary takes you to the highlands, you will
need to pack thicker clothing to wear in the evenings,
when the temperature can drop dramatically. Jeans and
sweatshirt or lightweight pullover are suitable.
If you are traveling with infants or young children you
will find that clothing them is so easy in Sri Lanka compared
to temperate climes. However, while it is tempting to
leave them in swimwear all day (if you are at the beach)
or shorts and T-Shirts (if you are touring) some bring
long-sleeved cotton tops to protect them from sun during
the heat of the day and from mosquitoes at night.
As Sri Lanka is now a major exporter of garments, visitors
will be surprised at the high quality yet very reasonably
priced clothing available at the mushrooming stores in
Colombo. So if you find you need any extra clothing while
you are on holiday, the solution is easy.
Try to pick clothes with pale colors, for it has been
found that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.
Sri Lankans are a remarkably hospitable race, very tolerant
of other cultural norms, and prepared to ignore the lapses
in etiquette sometimes displayed by overseas visitors
(with the exception of the protocol regarding Buddhism).
It goes without saying, however, that visitors who take
the trouble to conform to local etiquette will find they
are welcomed with extra warmth.
The traditional method of greeting among the Sinhalese
is Ayubowan “may you live long” which is said
while keeping one’s hands with palms together in
front of the chest. Tamils use the same gesture to accompany
the word Vannakkam.
RIGHT HAND RULE
Always give and received and eat with your right hand.
The left hand is used for and associated with unclean
functions and it is extremely bad mannered to use it for
eating. Women do not normally shake hands with men, as
this form of contact is not traditionally acceptable between
AT THE TEMPLE
When entering temples it is customary to remove your shoes
and walk barefoot within certain designated areas. Do
not pose beside a Buddha Statue. This is considered a
serious breach of protocol. Women should wear long skirts
or trousers and a modest blouse, or a cotton dress. Men
should wear long trousers. If you should met or be introduced
to a Buddhist monk or Hindu swami, do not shake hands.
Instead give the traditional respectful greeting in which
you hold your hands together as if in prayer and raise
them to your forehead while stooping slightly. If you
wish to offer a gift to a monk (a book for instance) do
so with both hands to show that it is given freely. If
you should be invited to sit with a Buddhist monk for
a discourse, try to sit at a lower level than the monk
and avoid pointing your feet in his direction.
Business hours in Sri Lanka are quite varied.
Most government offices are open by 8.30am and are closed
by 4.30pm. However most shops are open by 10.00am and
close by 06.00pm on weekdays and Saturdays. Banks are
generally open from 09.00am to 01.30pm. Some have later
hours, however. All shops and banks remain closed on public,
bank and mercantile holidays, such as poya. Supermarkets
in Colombo are usually open until 10.00pm and all day
Business hours kept by out of Colombo shops can be fairly
erratic. Owners can suddenly decide to put the shutters
up in order to go out, rather than leave an employee in
charge. A slower pace of mercantile life outside the capital
must be anticipated.
Many Sri Lankans working in the tourist industry
rely on tips to bolster their modest wages. Although a
service charge – which is supposed to be distributed
among staff – is included in bills for food and
accommodation, tipping is a way of showing appreciation
and understanding of the realities of life for these workers.
A reasonable tip to a waiter for a meal well served is
10%, as would be a tip of Rs. 500 for a room boy who has
looked after you for a week. Tourist drivers who are engaged
to drive and guide clients around the island expect a
tip. Some tourists tip such workers generously if they
have felt that the service they have been given has enhanced
their holiday. Bellboys and doorman should also be tipped.