Sri Lankan Culture


Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Basic Etiquette

  • Many of etiquette are thought to mark differences in social ranking. Gender is also a central factor in determining what is appropriate behaviour.
  • Men generally do not touch women out of respect as there is a tendency to view women as ‘sacred’.
  • Women are forbidden to touch or be seated beside a Buddhist monk. If they are required to pass an object to a monk, it is best to pass it through another male or to hold the object with a tissue. This is generally because male monks are not to touch women of any age in order to avoid developing a craving or attachment to women.
  • Objects should be passed with the right hand or with both hands together. The left hand is considered to be reserved for cleaning.
  • The top of the head is considered to be the most important part of the human body. To touch someone on the top of their head, especially a baby or child, is rude and insensitive.


  • Sri Lankans tend to be noticeably hospitable and welcoming when having guests visit their homes.
  • It is common practice to remove one’s shoes before entering someone’s home.
  • Sri Lankans generally socialise before a meal. It is best not to arrive to a Sri Lankan’s house feeling hungry as you may not eat until a few hours later.
  • Try to accept any refreshments offered, as refusing them is considered impolite.
  • Although strict punctuality is generally not observed, it is considered to be a symbol of dedication and respect if one tries to be as punctual as possible.


  • It is expected that everyone will wash their hands before serving food and eating a meal.
  • It is common for Sri Lankans to eat food with their hands. If they encourage you to do so, only use your right hand to hold the food and pass it to your mouth. The left hand is reserved for cleaning or holding the plate you eat from.
  • Depending on the formality of the occasion, a Sri Lankan may fill your plate for you or they may expect you to serve yourself.
  • In some households, it is norm to leave a little bit of food on one’s plate to indicate that one does not want a second serving of food.
  • Eating all the food on your plate indicates that you are still hungry. If you are given another serving but do not want to eat it, it is acceptable to leave it untouched.
  • Sri Lankans tend to be very considerate of vegetarians and will try to accommodate for them as best as they can.
  • Be aware that it is generally not appropriate to drink alcohol with dinner as many religious traditions disapprove of the consumption of alcohol.

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are often given during birthdays and religious events. As a rule of thumb, gifts are typically symbolic or sentimental rather than lavish or expensive.
  • Flowers are generally not given as gifts, but rather are reserved for times of mourning or for other events such as weddings or religious festivities.
  • Avoid giving alcohol as a gift unless you are sure that the recipient drinks.
  • Black and white are colours reserved for funerals and mourning. Avoid wrapping gifts in these colours.
  • The religious affiliation of a person partially determines what gifts are considered inappropriate. For example, do not give a Muslim Sri Lankan gifts containing byproducts of alcohol or pork. Hindu Sri Lankans may take offence if given cow-related products, such as leather. In Sri Lanka, many Buddhists refrain from consuming beef.
  • Gifts are generally given and received with two hands.
  • To demonstrate graciousness, some Sri Lankans may touch their right forearm with their left hand while offering the gift with their right hand.
  • Gifts are typically not opened immediately upon receiving them.
  • It is expected that gift giving will be reciprocated.

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