Code of Conduct and Cultural Norms
Every family and society, including your own, has a behaviour code and cultural norms, rules and etiquette which are quite easy for a visitor to transgress. The information below is meant to help you conform to the cultural norms in Sri Lanka and avoid unintentionally giving offence.
What to wear:
Women should wear clothing that covers their shoulders and reaches to their knees. T shirts (but not strappy tops) are quite acceptable as are trousers, capris and skirts or sarongs. Shorts are not worn by Sri Lankan women except at the beach. Sri Lanka is more conservative and traditional than Western societies. Behaviour and clothing that are acceptable at home may give Sri Lankan men the wrong impression and attract unwanted attention.
Men in Sri Lanka wear trousers. You will not offend anyone by wearing shorts but you will be treated with more respect if you dress as other adult men do.
Everyone should remove their shoes whenever they enter a house or (of course) a temple.
Some volunteers have worn shorts and even thin cover-ups over bathing suits at Janaka's house and out in the community. Sri Lankans are exceedingly polite and won't say anything but this behaviour may give offense. If you see another volunteer dressing or behaving in a way that does not seem appropriate, please say something to that person so they can correct their behaviour. Janaka and his family will be grateful.
One thing you will notice is the quiet and gentle manner of Sri Lankan people. Talking in a loud voice or acting immodestly will create a poor impression.
At the Volunteer Accommodation – Home Stay with the Project Manager’s family, please:
do not swear
- do not smoke in the house, your room or in the garden
- ask Janaka before inviting guests to the home. Overnight guests are strictly prohibited.
- do not indulge in kissing and cuddling with your partner outside of your room. Such behaviour is considered very immodest in Sri Lankan society.
Remember: you are staying in a family home. Many of our volunteers are young and want to enjoy their time in Sri Lanka, and we have no problem if volunteers want to go to the beach to enjoy the night life. However, we ask that you return home before 10 pm on weeknights from Sunday to Thursday, and before midnight on Friday and Saturday. If you wish to stay out late you are welcome to do so, but please make alternative sleeping arrangements.
Please be responsible and keep in mind the impression you will make in the community. Staying out too late can affect your ability to perform effectively the next day. Smelling of alcohol in the volunteer workplaces is not acceptable and will bring disrespect to you and to the project.
It is best:
to consult before making visits to private homes
not to make gifts of money or goods to individuals because gifts are normally dispersed through the community by the village committee or chairperson on an equitable basis
Everything at the Temple is controlled by the Senior Monk, Venerable Sumana. Please don’t arrange anything there without first consulting him and keep Janaka informed - better still consult him in the first place and arrange it together.
Always consult the Head Teacher or in their absence the Deputy Head Teacher, or the Principle at whatever establishment at which you are working, before arranging anything. Don’t do it independently.
Punctuality and reliability is considered extremely important. If you will be arriving later the next day or not at all please advise these management figureheads in good time.
In brief, don’t do it if you wouldn’t do it in your own home country, consult when in doubt and don’t assume autonomy because it doesn’t exist in Sri Lanka to the same extent as it does in your home land.
If you follow these simple rules, it will make life a great deal easier for all involved and help to ensure that your time with us is as wonderful, beneficial and difficulty free as possible.
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