Sri Lankan Culture

Greetings

  • Customary greetings vary between the different ethnic groups.
  • The traditional and common greeting is to press the palms of one’s hands together under the chin and in front of the chest while slightly bowing the head.
  • The traditional greeting is often accompanied with the phrase ‘vannakkam’ (in Tamil) or ‘ayubowan’ (in Sinhalese), which means "may you be blessed with a long life". An alternative phrase in Hindi is ‘namaste’, which literally translates as “I bow to you.”
  • In more informal settings, it is common for people to greet with the phrase ‘kohomada’, which means “how do you do?”.
  • Most Sri Lankans are familiar with the handshake. However, consider that some Sri Lankans are not accustomed to touching people of the opposite gender. A man should wait for the woman to extend her hand first before attempting to shake it. Women may choose to bow with their hands folded instead.
  • Titles are quite important to Sri Lankans and proper greeting practices call for acquaintances to be addressed by their title, such as ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Doctor’.
  • The oldest person present is expected to be greeted first. When doing so, some Sri Lankans may reach down and touch the ground or the elder’s feet as a sign of respect. This is known as ‘worshipping elders’. Buddhist Sri Lankans may also do this greeting when encountering a monk.
  • Greetings that involve hugging and kissing should be avoided unless you are well acquainted with the person.
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