Reflections on Sri Lankan Culture

Written by on 2nd September, 2015

I’ve been here for a week on a brand exercise and my purpose was to discover the culture both in the organisation and the country.

The country is swollen with palm trees and banana plantations, lush and green and beautiful. Hot sun, high humidity and monsoon downpours keep it this way. The coast is lined with dramatic sandy beaches edged with palms it’s picture perfect.
The streets are busy with people, dogs and traffic. Motorbike spares shop next to a wedding dress shop, next to a vegetable seller next to a hotel and so on. There were similar streets in Thailand and Nepal, though here it’s cleaner, greener and happier. Road travel is not so bad once you figure out the rhythm; lucky for me I had a driver that knew the protocol. If you have a tuk tuk - just go where you like and the traffic moves around you.
The people are positive and optimistic, even though their head nods and wobbles can often look like they are saying no. Shaking their heads but smiling at the same time – means they are being agreeable. A lot can be said with a warm smile of which they are plenty.

In business, there are surprisingly high standards of operations in very well organized, clean AC environments. There’s a healthy dose of equality and they link success to hard work and patience. The factory managers speak to staff respectfully with the odd touch on an arm or hand and something to raise a smile. The Sri Lankans I met are very forgiving and patient in their nature. They are non confrontational and non reactive. They want to keep the peace, and value good relationships. At the hotel, there is no rush, staff are relaxed, open and pleasant, you can take your time - Sri Lanka time. There are no signs of this being contrived or false, this is authentic and honest. From the boardroom to the hotel bar, the people are calm, generous, gentle, kind, considerate and eager to please.

Interestingly, there are four different people groups in Sri Lanka, apart from tourists! They are meant to put all three of them on communications and signage. English, Sinhalese and Tamil, and signs become a whole jumble of shapes and sizes as their letterforms are very different. The Sinhalese letters are gentle bouncy curves and squiggles. Their brands and signs are very bright and jolly, very Indian. Patterns and jewels are abundant in the 7 star hotels it feels like Dubai.

To me it looks like Sri Lankans are committed to please all and help one another, there are strong community ties and friendships. They value a sense of family belonging and togetherness, which they want to extend to visitors. It feels good to be on the receiving end.
Michelle Rose-Innes