Look at a map and Sri Lanka might seem like just a small island off the coast of India. But once in the capital of Colombo, it’s evident that it’s a sprawling, unique place with its own personality. For starters, myriad religions live side by side peacefully – Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus share this space with relative harmony.
So don’t expect Sri Lankan culture to be akin to any other – its melting pot-ways means there’s a whole set of rules that apply in the country. If you want to seamlessly blend in to the local ways, here are the Flexicover team's top five aspects to remember – all as important as never refusing a shot of arrack, the local spirit.
Forgo your one-dish meals
The idea of going to a restaurant, ordering one curry and rice (and a naan to share) is unthinkable to Sri Lankans. The standard meal involves more curries than can fit on a table. Using a different spice combo in each, meals typically consist of lamb, aubergines, greens, lentils (always lentils) plus rice and sambar, and expect coconut to appear in this spread in various guises. The idea is to enjoy a small variety of flavours and spice levels in one meal, but it’s so difficult to resist temptation that a rookie mistake is to heap your plate with each of the curries, leading to a meal-mountain. Instead, take minimal portions of each to begin with, and top up when needed.
Don’t worry about clock watching
Many non-Western cultures revel in their lack of timekeeping – a trait that we, with our commuter trains and lunchtime appointments, can sometimes find hard to adjust to. But few places outdo Sri Lankans when it comes to a relaxed attitude. While this doesn’t relate to tours or transport, which could very well go without you, when meeting locals or if you’ve given your hotel a time of arrival, they’ll fully understand if you don’t turn up right on time. Exactly what you need on holiday…
A country rich with all manner of wildlife, Sri Lanka is more conscious than most when it comes to animal welfare. In cities, there’s a significant problem with stray dogs (who are placid and ignore humans, fear ye not) although you may notice benevolent hotel staff feeding them leftovers. Wildlife are also treated as well as can be; animals kept captive for photo opps have all but disappeared, but do remember to discourage this if you see it in action. Instead head to one of the national parks such as Wilpattu National Park, which is a fantastic place to see a whole myriad of wildlife including elephants, leopards, sloth bears, water buffalos, mugger crocodiles, spotted and barking deer, wild boar and pythons.
Respect religions - and Buddha statues
Well-seasoned travellers are used to basic forms of respect: covering up in temples, taking shoes off and behaving with decorum. But it’s just as important to know the correct behaviour in regards to Buddha statues – especially as visitors have been deported on the basis of their antics around them in the past. Don’t try anything humorous around the statues as it will be taken as a sign of huge disrespect and it’s a no-no to have your back to a Buddha, so bear these aspects in mind when taking photos with one.
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