Etiquette in Sri Lanka

Know until 1972 as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean, off the southeast coast of India. The population of 20 million includes Sinhalese, Tamil, Moor, Burgher, Malay and Vedda. Ethnic divisions between the Sinhalese and Tamil are particularly deep rooted and are the cause of long-endured violence.

Sri Lanka recognizes both Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages. English remains widely spoken, as a legacy of the colonial period, and it is used as the local language of commerce.

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary multiparty republic with an elected executive president and a prime minister. The President is the head of state and government.

Sri Lanka is home to many religions, with 70% identifying as Buddhist. Hinduism is the second most prevalent religion, with Islam and Christianity also represented.

The official currency of Sri Lanka is the rupee, which is subdivided into 100 cents.

General Etiquette

Sri Lankans have a much more relaxed sense of time and punctuality that North Americans. It is not unacceptable to be made to wait 2 or 3 hours to see an important person. Your Sri Lankan counterpart may keep you waiting, however you should arrive on time and plan for plenty of time in between appointments. It is not considered rude to visit unannounced and the best time to make an unplanned visit is between 4-7 pm.

Tea is an important part of the Sri Lankan culture and economy. Should you be served tea at a meeting, accept it graciously and compliment its quality. Sri Lankans take a tea break in the mornings and in the afternoons during which time no business is conducted, even if one is sitting at their desk.

When making business negotiations, be patient and establish a rapport with your counterpart first. It is not uncommon for Singhalese to consult an astrologer before making an important commitment.