5 Things to know before you visit Sri Lanka

things to know sri lanka

In the paradise island everything will be perfect, but your experience will be better if you know the way the Sri Lankans think, talk, and do things. Here are five things you must know before you visit the country your next holiday.

Tea, Plain tea, and milk tea

Who thought this would be a problem in a country that is famous for its tea, right? When you walk in to a local tea shop, or a hotel as they would say, if you order tea then you will get a cup of tea with milk. Because in Sri Lankan local language tea means milk tea. “Plain tea” (pronounced without a pause, and a short consonant at the end – plainti) is the word you must use if you need a cup of black tea. And there’s a problem again. Your “plain tea” will taste like sugar syrup because they add a very large amount of sugar in it. So what should you ask for if you really need a cup of plain tea? The local term is “kahata” (last syllable should be pronounced like “ter” not “tar”). But you could say, “plain tea without sugar” which they will understand.

Be advised, tea or plainti, they add very high amounts of sugar. Tell them specifically that you need very low sugar. There are many local tea shops that give you tea bags which is a great idea. Make sure to tell them that you need sugar separately so you can use it to taste.

Milk tea? Well, that is “tea” in the local language, and therefore a synonym.

Flashing headlights                                                  

If you happen to drive a vehicle and if the oncoming vehicle flashes the headlights that means he is coming on, and you must give way. Just slow your vehicle and take it to the side of the road in order to save your life. Flashing headlights do not mean that he gives way, instead, in Sri Lanka, he needs way.

Rice, Rice and curry, and fried rice

Sri Lanka is also known for its rice. You can have some of the best Asian style rice if you find the right place to buy them. But this is about the common usage of the word. If you order “a rice” at a local eatery that could be a fried rice you would get. For Sri Lankans the common usage is that at a hotel, “a rice” is a portion of fried rice. Then they have chicken rice, egg rice, and vegetable rice too. Mixed rice comes with all proteins (a small piece of chicken shredded, and a tiny piece of fish shredded, mainly, and of course with egg too).

So what if you need rice and curry? You must ask for “rice and curry.” About rice and curry, there are many eateries that serve the portion of rice and curry in the plate. In that case you have to ask for the gravy in a separate dish in order to avoid the whole plate of rice covered in chilli hot gravy which makes it impossible to eat. Those eatery owners believe that everyone loves their gravy.

This however is different in the more expensive restaurants where they use the words in their normal meaning.

Then fried rice, well that’s a synonym again, for what the locals call “a rice.”

Front seat is for the clergy

If you are using the public transport then be aware that the front seat of the bus behind the driver is reserved for the clergy such as monks and priests. There is no wrong in sitting there, but if one of them gets in, then you must stand up and offer him the seat. Therefore if you have a lot of luggage and really need to travel seated, then sit at least 4 seats behind because if more monks get in you will have to offer the seats until all of them are sat.

If there is only one Buddhist monk in the front seat, a layman can sit. But no females are allowed to sit. That is the tradition of the country. The front seat of the opposite side of a bus (opposite to the driver’s side) is reserved for female clergy. A man may not sit in the same seat if a woman Buddhist priest is sitting there. That seat goes to a female traveller.

Wear longs to religious sites

Usually Sri Lankans do not care what you wear to the beach or the mall. But when it’s the temple they expect everyone to wear less provocative or revealing clothes. At sites like the Temple of the Tooth Relic you will be given a sarong or a piece of cloth to cover yourself with, but why not go ready with your own attire? No fear of getting a skin rash from whoever wore it before you, right? Something that is below knees would serve the purpose. I decided this is one of the important things you must know.

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