Sri Lanka

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question: I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

Making a good impression when meeting someone for the first time is always important. It is an ideal opportunity to establish good relationships and effective dialogue. An increasing number of Sri Lankans can speak or understand English, so there are no barriers to communicate as you would normally do in Canada.

Discussion topics vary according to the person(s) or the situation(s) in Sri Lanka. Talking about one’s family has always been a popular topic among all Sri Lankans due to the fact that the social fabric is often woven around the extended family. Talking about the goals of your visit/assignment in Sri Lanka is another useful topic that will help build good relationships, particularly when meeting your team for the first time.

Cricket being the most popular sport in Sri Lanka, just like ice hockey in Canada, it is a very popular topic in any leisurely conversation, particularly among young Sri Lankans.

Humour is always welcome in Sri Lanka and thus it is also a nice way to help establish friendly ties with those around you. In fact, if humour is effectively used it would show one’s approachability and openness to dialogue. Person’s gender would not matter much in conversations... both men and women are equally receptive to good conversations. But avoid subjects that may offend certain people based on their sexual orientation, educational background, occupations, appearance, political affiliations, etc.

Canadian Perspective:

Sri Lankans will be interested to find out about your family (children, husband, wife), what you do, where you’re from, places you’ve traveled and you can also ask them similar questions. They will also like to share information about points of interest worth visiting in cities such as Kandy, Galle or Jaffna and what various regions are known for, e.g. gemstones in Ratnapura and Moneragala, tea in Nuwareliya and Hatton, beaches in Galle, Tangalle, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.

Another popular topic is the new-found freedom to travel around the country and especially travelling by train to Jaffna where there have been new developments since the end of the war. There are many religious festivals throughout the year and certain special events (Kandy Perahera, Kathiragama Festival) take place in different parts of the country. You can also enquire about local arts and crafts and find out where is best to buy certain local products like tea, spices, fabric and carvings. You can inquire about agriculture or industry in the area, such as fishing, tea, vegetable production, special economic zones and tourism and the plans or potential for more development and business growth. And every culture likes to share information about food, local delicacies and ingredients such as string hoppers, chili, coconut, tea, curd, etc.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question: What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

It is quite common to see people shaking hands with others before starting a meeting, a conversation or a discussion. It is also common to see people greet by bringing both hands together and saying “Ayubowan” (literally meaning “have a long life”) when they first meet with someone. Thus, it is always important to be pleasant and welcoming, and maintain a smiling and happy face in both verbal and non-verbal communications.

Eye contact is the best way of communicating with a person in Sri Lanka. However, in some cases a person (particularly women) may not make eye contact when meeting with someone for the first time, particularly someone not from their own culture. This will improve as they get to know the person better and work in teams.

In most large social and official gatherings, men and women tend to stay clustered within their own groups whereas they tend to mingle more freely with each other during smaller family or social functions. If unsure about a non-verbal cue, ask friends, clients, business colleagues or the host.

People in professional gatherings would keep the same distance as among business colleagues in Canada. This distance gradually diminishes once people get to know each other better.

Refrain from touching anyone during conversations unless both people already know each other well. Always try to be straightforward and non-partisan in presenting ideas, particularly goals of your project. This will help build effective collaboration and partnerships as the project progresses.

Canadian Perspective:

People are often addressed according to their relationship or place in the family. Akka (older sister), Tangi/Tangacchi (younger sister), Aya (older brother), Tambi (younger brother), Ama (mother), Periyama (aunt who is older sister to mother), Sinama (aunt who is younger sister to mother), Siti (mother-in-law or Aunt on husband’s side), etc. Older people are addressed respectfully using Mr./Mrs. People are often addressed according to their position e.g. Mr. Head of the Department, Mrs. Field Director, etc. People lower in status will not be addressed using a title, just their name. Once you are familiar with people, even people older than you, you can drop the formal titles.

The surname of Tamils comes first (father’s name) as an initial and the given name comes second e.g. S. Shanthi (where S. is the initial of name of Shanthi’s father’s e.g. Sinnaiya). However, he would be called Mr. Shanthi (formally) or Shanthi (informally). His wife would be called Mrs. Shanthi.

During formal occasions, there are a lot of speeches acknowledging the important people present e.g. those who are the heads of organizations or politicians.

People will often be agreeable and say yes, which should be taken more to mean they understand what you are saying. If you are asking them to do something, they may say yes, but may not follow through. Following up is always a good idea to ensure that information is understood and appropriate actions are being taken.

It is good to remember that what you do in private will rapidly become public knowledge or an “open secret” so it is best to err on the side of caution. The same applies for sharing information: it will rapidly become common knowledge. There are no secrets in Sri Lanka.

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question: Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Public displays of affection or anger are not uncommon. Emotional displays by individuals are not very common, thus not generally seen as acceptable.

The author’s experience working or dealing with many organizations in Sri Lanka is that people tend to be united when it comes to issues of mutual interest, particularly at their work place, notwithstanding any impacts on particular individuals, often leading to a collective display of emotions in terms of disagreements, anger, etc. in certain situations.

Canadian Perspective:

People do not show too many emotions in public, e.g. no kissing or hugging. However, it is common to see young people of same-sex holding hands with their friends while walking in public.

Although not common, you can see people showing anger in public from time to time. For example, you might see public display of anger or frustration in the bus or other places if people are not following the rules or trying to take advantage. People may raise their voices to be better understood or to explain a point or if they get excited about something. Politicians shout a lot when making speeches in an effort to try to rouse the crowd.

Close family members cry loudly or wail in public at funerals or if they suddenly receive bad or shocking news.

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question: What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

Sri Lankans dress formally at formal gatherings, e.g., meetings with your boss, team, clients, etc., and casual clothing for other occasions. Men often wear dress shirts and dress pants for formal occasions, including at the office. It is advisable for women to dress "professionally" for formal occasions, i.e., try to avoid wearing jeans or very casual clothes while attending formal events. For day to day work, dress as you normally would in Canada.

When meeting with your group for the first time, you may want to address them formally. As you get to know them better, feel free to call them by first name. Handshakes are very common in Sri Lanka, but hugging or kissing is very rare, so avoid kissing or hugging someone when welcoming a person.  In most formal gatherings it is typical to start with the traditional Sinhala language greeting "Ayubowan” (Wish you a long life).

Punctuality is seen as a measure of one’s dedication to one’s work or the project. It also symbolises one’s commitment to respecting deadlines. There has been a remarkable progress on punctuality in Sri Lanka, particularly among business and professional community, and thus punctuality has become an essential element of effective engagement.

It always pays to be punctual regardless of the habits of others. This will add to your credibility among your peers, colleagues and bosses! Remember there are many public holidays in Sri Lanka in any given year, so you have to plan ahead to account for the lost time and absenteeism.

Canadian Perspective:

Office employees are well-dressed and fairly formal. Wearing sandals is common but men in very senior positions will often wear closed-shoes. National dress is used by Sinhalese on formal occasions or official events. The office environment is usually quite professional and serious.

Office work is 5 days/week with some private companies work half-days on Saturdays.

Shops are open most days except Poya days (Buddhist holidays) and national holidays.

Usually, there is a sing-in book for arrival and departure from the office. People are generally punctual, but there is some flexibility. There is an acceptance of taking “short leave” which is for emergencies or things that come up. When important family/social events occur (deaths, weddings, births) these are given priority over work. It is expected that office colleagues would attend these important social events as well. In government offices, sometimes people may not have a lot of work to do so you may see people that do not look busy.

It is better to make an appointment if you want to meet someone in an office but they may still be willing to see you without an appointment. People generally give a lot of respect to foreigners.

There is an aim to be punctual but events will normally be a little late getting started. Generally, if VIPS are invited, people tend to arrive on time. Function will not begin until VIPs arrive.

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question: What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

A person’s education, professional background and experience would often be viewed as one’s most important strengths, and these will be viewed as the basis of his/her competence and readiness to accomplish the mission and provide leadership. The way a person presents him/herself could be as important as any other credential in terms of the ability to get the work done within the timelines.

When meeting with managers/supervisors or a team for the first time, start with a brief outline of your accomplishments and abilities (may be in the form of a short CV), with some highlights on areas that are most relevant to the current assignment/project. Also, demonstrate your ability to deal with complex issues and readiness to entertain new ideas, engage in constructive dialogue and teamwork as part of the job.

The appreciation and respect by staff will depend in part on how one presents him/herself to staff, particularly with respect to commitment and marketability and most importantly, how well their credentials and previous experience would fit into the current job. Staff will view a person’s previous accomplishments as a potential, justifying that the person is right for the job.

Revisiting project goals periodically is both a good strategy and a tool for monitoring progress. Note that transparency, friendliness, ability to fit in and go with the flow are all-important elements of good leadership. To know how a person’s staff views him/her as a leader, it is important to listen with eyes and ears open, and with intuition.

Canadian Perspective:

Educational background, experience, being understanding and supportive, motivating employees, help them to get benefits (like promotion, capacity building, attending conferences, etc.), and being trustworthy are highly regarded qualities.

If your staff think you are a good manager, they will follow your instructions and support you. If they think you are bad, they will ignore you, will not follow your orders, talk about you behind your back, or create a group against you.

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question: In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

Authority and decision-making in the work place is often based on a pre-established hierarchical structure, supported by communication patterns and lines of authority

In public institutions a person has to go through a full range of bureaucratic hierarchy (or ‘red tape’ which some refer to) before any decision is made, which usually takes up a prolonged time period regardless of the urgency. Relationships with supervisor could also become a factor in the ability to make decisions faster. On the contrary, in private sector organizations, decisions may be faster as the timeliness of each decision could be critical to their survival. But relationships with those with authority would still matter to some degree in private sector organizations as well.

As a general rule, it is prudent to consult the supervisor (or mentor) for feedback on recommendations or suggestions, which often could facilitate or expedite the decisions. When one is operating in a setup largely unknown, it always pays to know in advance if the "right thing" is being done in the "right way", i.e., operating within the rules, regulations and norms of the organization.

Canadian Perspective:

It is expected to seek clarification and feedback from your immediate supervisor.

Decisions are mainly taken by the boss, or the “leaders” or senior employees in the office. Sometimes the group will help to make a decision. In group meetings, junior employees or lower ranking staff will not likely speak out. They may also feel shy to say something even if you directly invite them to share their opinion. Some consultation with their fellow employees may happen before they express their view.

Employees have a lot of rights in Sri Lanka and there are strong labour unions.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question: Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:

Religion:

Sri Lankans are made up of Buddhists (70%), Christians (8%), Hindus (12%), Muslims (9%) and others (1%) [Sri Lanka National Census, 2012]. No noticeable difference in attitudes based on a person’s religious orientation. For example, the author is Catholic, but most of his friends are either Buddhists or from other religions. Note that all major religious days are public holidays in Sri Lanka

Class:

Sometimes peoples’ class or wealth matter in their attitudes, but likely to have a minimum impact on expatriates.

Ethnicity:

Sri Lanka’s population is made up of Sinhalese (74%), Tamils (18%), Muslims (6%), Burgers and others (2%) [Sri Lanka National Census, 2012]. Some differences based on ethnicity exist, but a vast majority of people live in harmony. The possible impact at work place is minimal; for one thing a person’s ethnicity is clearly ’visible’ among locals. In general, Sri Lankans have no ill feelings towards foreigners.

Gender:

In modern Sri Lanka, no significant differences in attitudes based on gender, women are noticeably as active as men in the workplace.

Canadian Perspective:

Gender equality indicators for Sri Lanka are higher than most/all South Asian countries. In particular, women have a high educational achievement. Women are still under-represented in senior government, private sector and parliament. Although their numbers are small (qualified) female bosses in government and private sector are well respected in the office environment.

There is a high rate of violence against women, child abuse and child labour. Women in the plantation sector face the most problems for health, education and income. There are a huge proportion of war widows in the north and east who face social, economic and psychological issues due to their status and situation. Female ex-militants face many of these same problems along with security issues. Many displaced women have trouble returning to their homes which are still occupied by the military, still have landmines or are being recolonized by the government.

Class plays a role in Sri Lankan society and to a certain extent there is a “Colombo 7” group privileged and wealthy Sri Lankans. In ancient times most parts of Sri Lanka were ruled by Kings. Kandy is still steeped in its “kingdom” heritage. Formerly, caste also played a role in social organization and is still followed in particular situations, e.g. for finding marriage partners. Most Hindus do not put a lot of emphasis on caste anymore.

A large proportion of the population are poor and dependent on agriculture, fishing and small businesses for their livelihoods. The poorest in Sri Lanka are plantation workers who in some senses are perceived as the lowest class. Government employees tend to be middle income families. In the office, there are often low-ranking staff who clean and do odd jobs, such as preparing tea. They are often from poor families and it is generally seen as a way of helping such people who otherwise would not have a job. Class differences do not prevent people from moving forward in life, as the example of former President Premadasa who came from poor family shows. Many senior government officials and political leaders are from middle income or humble backgrounds.

Religion is a part of everyone’s daily life. People attend Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Mosques on a daily basis or at least on special religious days. Everyone observes all the different religious holidays, including monthly Poya Day (Buddhist holiday) observed on full moon day. This results in a very large number of national holidays. People from all religions are welcome to attend other people’s religious holidays, rituals and ceremonies. Fundamentalists (from all religious groups) are in the minority but are sometimes used by politicians or religious leaders to incite the public on certain issues.

Ethnicity is the most defining issue in Sri Lanka. People also identify with their religious and geographic group e.g. Tamil-Hindu, Tamil-Christian, Up-country Tamil, Eastern Tamil, Kandyan Sinahalese, down-south Sinhalese, Colombo Muslims. Sometimes geography takes precedence over ethnicity e.g. people from the East may identify as one group (made up of Muslims and Tamils). Sri Lanka has suffered from decades of ethnic violence and so in the office there can be undercurrents of animosity even though people may seem to get along with one another as individuals. Offices may purposely try to have individuals from all ethnic groups to have some balance.

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question: How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

Good work relationships with colleagues and clients are critical for success – they certainly make tasks much easier to manage and respect timelines! Sri Lanka is no exception…make every effort to engage colleagues in ways which boost their support and cooperation for the project. Yet be vigilant when you try to establish personal relationships

Make every effort to be transparent in everything and treat everyone equal and with respect – this should work equally well for colleagues as well as clients. Sometimes gender differences matter in relationships. So finding a right balance is important for maintaining effective relationships with those around you.

Canadian Perspective:

It is important to establish a personal relationship or mutual connection with a colleague or client before doing business. Sri Lanka is a small country and many people know each other that work in the same field. It’s good to be introduced by a person who has a good reputation in the community and it’s better to avoid associating with people with a bad reputation.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question: Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship?

Local Perspective:

Although it depends on the situation and person, always try to be non-partisan and avoid favoritism to anyone when dealing with staff. In all situations it is important to maintain "professional" relationships with colleagues, so their expectations for special privileges can be well managed and kept at a minimum.

Try to promote professionalism at all times, sending a signal that personal relationships are not to be mixed with work relationships or responsibilities. If you start a relationship with a colleague and later, if others in the group found that your actions has favoured that person you will find yourself in a difficult situation. Your reputation as a neutral person is at risk which could also affect mutual support from others in the group, and the progress you already made. So be tactful always. Impartiality and honesty are important pillars of success in everything we do.

Make sure that everybody is aware of the goals and responsibilities and the capacity in which one operates. At all times, stick to a non-partisan style in actions, decisions, etc. in the work place. Express intentions to treat everybody in the group equal irrespective of personal ties or friendships.

Canadian Perspective:

A colleague may expect special consideration if you have personal relationship. The opposite is also true, that if you have a close relationship with the boss, s/he would expect your support on everything. You would become a “yes-man” and give your support on everything. Other employees would be aware of this.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question: I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

One effective way to resolve any work-related issue is by engaging people directly, communicating with them privately, and understand the basis of the issue and what triggered its existence. Sri Lanka is no exception!

Direct engagement is a powerful tool not only in reconciling differences but also in finding mutually agreeable solutions for problems. It also prevents others from learning about your disagreement with the colleague, which is useful for both parties.

Often times in work environment in Sri Lanka, issues or concerns could arise due to subtle misunderstanding over something you did, said or something that a person is reluctant to publicly talk about being a colleague of yours. In such cases, engaging the person directly is the best way forward. It also protects privacy and minimize reactions and rumours by others.

A word of caution…depending on the nature of the problem, you may want to first approach your supervisor (or coordinator) to see if he/she can engage your colleague before you do. Also if the colleague is a female (and you are a male) obviously you may want to exercise more caution as to how you want to confront her, particularly to avoid possible reactions from other colleagues.

Canadian Perspective:

It is best to confront a colleague privately and try to solve things in a friendly manner. However, the colleague will usually respect the boss more and it may be more common to request the boss to intervene in the problem. People often talk about “shaping things up” meaning finding a way to smooth things over if there has been a problem. Third parties such as colleagues or friends are often involved in shaping things up.

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question: What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Make your work objectives very clear at the outset and stick to a plan all throughout the project. Set measureable work targets. Appreciate the good work and commitment of your staff, particularly any exemplary achievements.

Loyalty and commitment are critical for effective performance on the job. It is therefore important that you focus on areas what matter to your colleagues the most – such as work environment, prospects for being promoted, job security and benefits.

Show how your colleagues can benefit from your work or through interactions with you. Create a sense of openness and readiness to accept new ideas, and that you are there to help, but not to punish the wrong-doers or under-performers. Once you build your reputation along these lines, you will see your colleagues performing naturally and their productivity going up!

Avoid dealing with any issues beyond the scope of your project or assignment. Always try to maintain impartiality when it comes to evaluating contributions of your colleagues. Maintain close ties with your supervisor and appreciate views on things that would likely matter to those around you!

Canadian Perspective:

Local colleagues are motivated well by appreciation, rewards and promotions. They also like to be given responsibility and authority for example, to become the “person in charge” or team leader for a particular task. It is common to have office get-togethers and annual outings for team-building purposes.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question: To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

A wide variety of information about Sri Lanka is available both on-line and from libraries around the globe. More info on news and everything happening in Sri Lanka can be found by visiting the official news portal of the Government of Sri Lanka.

Books: All-time favourites include English Patient (award winning movie as well), Anil’s Ghost by Sri Lankan-born author Michael Ondaatje and Running in the Family. Information on hundreds of other material covering numerous aspects of the Sri Lankan culture is available from the above websites and library databases worldwide.

Traditional Dishes: To name a few cultural, celebration-specific dishes; Kiribath, Kavum, Kokis, Halapa, Sau-dodol, Aggala, Aluwa, Mun-kavum and hundreds of other delicious dishes. Take a peek at Sri Lanka Cuisine , enjoy the taste and they are relatively inexpensive!

Canadian Perspective:

All the books about Sri Lanka by Michael Ondaatje especially Anil’s Ghost and Running in the Family.

All the books by Shyam Selvadurai especially Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens.

Only Man is Vile: the Tragedy of Sri Lanka by William McGowan.

Still Counting the Dead, Frances Harrison.

Music: Baila, Kandyan Temple music.

Films: Sri Lanka had a very vibrant Sinhalese film industry but is has recently declined.

Food: Hoppers, String Hoppers, Pittu, Kotu Roti, Kiri Hodi/Sodi, Kiri Bat & Sambal, coconut roti, wada, muruku, “short-eats”, samsa, all the curries (from all vegetables, meat or seafood), red rice, seafood especially prawns and crab, all the fruits, tea from up-country, king coconut, Lion Lager, Kurd & Kitul pani, fruit salad with ice cream and jello, biriyani, dodol, maskut,boonthi.

Be aware that Sri Lankan curries are extremely hot!

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question: When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island at the southern tip of the Indian Ocean. Its tropical climate and natural beauty attracts millions every year from around the world.

While in Sri Lanka, a person should be free to pursue his/her favourite entertainment ideas. There are about two dozen local TV and radio channels apart from international networks such as the CNN, the BBC (in Sinhala), the Sports Network and the London Sky News Channel 24. Most channels broadcast 24 hours a day.

Newspapers, magazines, etc. are available in all national languages, Sinhalese, Tamil and English. If a person missed the chance of seeing their favourite movie before leaving Canada, They may probably have a chance to see it in Sri Lanka. Most of the latest Hollywood releases are played in Colombo cinemas and of course, those of Sri Lanka’s own are also available, but only a few with English subtitles.

As for the cultural information, there are tourist information centres throughout the country, particularly at the Colombo International Airport (BIA) and other resorts. It is possible to consult the Ministry of Tourism for further information, often hotel staff will also be able to help with this as well.

There are plenty of easily accessible exotic beaches all around the island. Do not forget to visit the Central Hill country, particularly naturally beautiful Nuwara-Eliya area, about 100 miles from Colombo, and exotic beach resorts around Hikkaduwa, some 50 miles south of Colombo. There is a large selection of delicious food and other local dishes at very affordable prices. Consult Sri Lanka Tourism, Visitor Information Centres, hotel or the coordinator for further information.

Canadian Perspective:

Most useful places to visit include temple of the Tooth, Kandy,Kandy Perahera, Ancient sites – Polonarawa, Anuradapura, Sigiriya, Matale Hindu Temple, Tea plantations in Hatton and Nuwara Eliya and vegetable farms in Nuwara. Visit also Eliya. old forts in Galle, Batticaloa, Trincomalee which are all still in use.

Festivals: Kandyan dancing and other traditional dances, Katiragama Festival, Wesak Fesitval, Mamangam Temple Festival and Water-cutting ceremony, Batticaloa Kavadi ritual offering, Chariot parade (Ter), Tricomalee Kovil, local religious rituals and festivals, Mahdu Church (Catholic religious relic & festival)

Visit the Vedas who are Sri Lanka’s aboriginal people in Mahiyangana, toddy tapping and rubber tapping, stick fisherman near Galle and other fishing communities in Negombo, Hambantota, Tangalle, Trincomalee, etc.

Take the train – there are some excellent views that are on the Kandy to Badulla route and it is a good way to cross the country to go to the East or the North. Many cities are worth a visit to experience the different feel, e.g. Kandy, Jaffna, Nuwara Eliya, Galle.

Cricket is a popular sport; try to attend a match.

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question: Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

Sri Lanka was a kingdom for many centuries (about 21 kings have reined the country) and the written history dates back to the second century BC. Ending the reign by kings Sri Lanka was invaded by three colonial powers, starting from the Portuguese (1505 -1796), the Dutch (1796-1814), and the British (1815-1948). The independence from the British in 1948 marked the end of colonialism. All these events in the county’s history correspond to many patriots or martyrs who later became national heroes.

There were also others who fought with the colonial powers and with other invaders from neighbouring India, who later became martyrs and now considered National Heroes. To celebrate the heroism of these people the Government of Sri Lanka has set aside a national holiday called National Heroes’ Day (May 22nd) every year.

Canadian Perspective:

There are not really any national heros, except possibly the Sri Lanka Cricket team, especially Aravinda da Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question: Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

Both Sri Lanka and Canada are part of the Commonwealth. Over the past few decades many Sri Lankans have migrated to Canada and they continue to travel and maintain close ties with their families and friends in Sri Lanka. Yet none of the historical events have any direct bearing on Canada or its citizens. Canada enjoys a very high level of reputation among Sri Lankans as a country with freedom and generosity. This reputation among Sri Lankans certainly helps Canadians in their work or social relations while in Sri Lanka.

Canadian Perspective:

During WW2, there were Canadians stationed in Trincomalee. There is a Canadian war cemetery in Trinco.

There are a large number of Tamils who fled to Canada during the war. A number of Tamil diaspora are Canadian politicians.

There are a number of famous Sri Lankan authors living in Canada – Michael Ondaatje, Shyam Selvadurai.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question: What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

The author is not aware of any stereotypes. Canadians are perceived as friendly and generous and are always welcome in Sri Lanka.

Canadian Perspective:

It’s important to know which ethnic group a person comes from because it impacts on their relationship with the nation-state and other ethnic groups. Up-country Tamils do not necessarily identify with Tamils from the North-East. Tamils from the East feel somewhat distinct from Tamils from the North and vice versa, similar to how Manitobans feel distinct from Ontarians. Sinhalese people in general feel the minority issue is overstated.

Sri Lankans seem very nice to foreigners but the military and former militant groups have been accused of crimes against humanity. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have been known to lead mobs to burn down churches and mosques (not during war-time). In spite of the war, there are some mixed marriages between Singhalese and Tamils.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Perspective:

The author was born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). He is the eldest of a family of three children and was raised in the town of Kandana, 10 miles north of capital Colombo, in the western province until the age of twenty-five. He completed his undergraduate studies in Sri Lanka and was a University instructor and a Central Banker until he moved to Canada on a Commonwealth Scholarship to continue his graduate studies. He graduated with Master’s Degree in Economics from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Then he completed his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University in Ontario. He is currently a Senior Economist/Manager with the Government of Canada, and living with his wife in Ottawa in Ontario Canada.

Canadian Perspective:

The author is a development worker from Ontario who has spent more than 20 years working with NGOs and higher education institutions. She has lived and worked overseas for more than 15 years in conflict-affected and disaster-affected countries primarily in South and South-East Asia. She lived in Sri Lanka for 9 years, Indonesia for 4 years and India for 2 years and has been responsible for projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Sri Lanka, she lived and worked in South, East, North and Colombo on project related to vocational training, disaster response and livelihoods. In Indonesia, she worked with 7 universities to promote entrepreneurship for students. She has provided capacity building in Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya, South Sudan and Mozambique. Her area of expertise is vocational and tertiary education, entrepreneurship, sustainable livelihoods, capacity building and disaster response. She has contributed extensively to developing a variety of project proposals which received funding. She is married to a Sri Lankan Tamil.

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

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