As a proud islander, whose opinions might sometimes be biased, I have often felt that Sri Lanka is a country like no other. It’s a place that is known among tourists for its beauty, abundance of tea and a climate that is just about perfect. But Sri Lanka is much more than that. Here are nine things that are uniquely Sri Lankan, the special things and experiences that make the people and island extremely special.
1. Tuk rides
Tuk, or the trishaw, is the all Sri Lankan mode of transport. It’s our version of a taxi, and there’s no other travel experience which will ever make you more seasoned in bargaining about the fare, or as experienced in riding on sidewalks (yes, Sri Lankans drive on sidewalks).
Tuk rides can be exhausting, but they are the only transportation method that can challenge Google maps, because tuk drivers know every nook and corner short of driving through houses to get to the next road.
2. Street food at Galle Face
Sri Lankan food is a heavenly creation that deserves a post of its own, but the highlight of lies is the carts at the Galle Face beach. From flatbread to potato fries, we have our version of everything, and the king of it all, Isso Wade – prawn topped fried patties – deserves a special mention.
3. Full moon days are holidays
Full moon days, also dubbed as Poya days are inherent holidays in Sri Lanka. That means we have a holiday once in every 30 days, thanks to the moon. This is also why Sri Lanka is the country with the highest amount of holidays in the world. The practice is in respect to the large number of Buddhists in the country, but my friend once had a conspiracy theory that it’s all because we secretly have a large population of werewolves.
As slang goes, aiyo is a very special word. It has become so commonplace that the Oxford dictionary has acknowledged it. What does it mean, you ask? That’s the million dollar question. Aiyo is the expression that defines every unexplainable emotion that Sri Lankans feel. It’s used for sorrow, joy, confusion, awe, disgust, pity, surprise, shock, anger, frustration – the list goes on. Someone once said that it’s the South Asian version of the f-word, but if you ask me, the word goes much deeper than that.
5. Cricket is LIFE
For Sri Lankans, cricket is not just a sport, it’s a way of life. We don’t just watch matches all night, talk scores and tournaments every waking moment and then just forget about it until the next match. Every office and workplace has a cricket team, every boy is gifted a cricket bat for at least one birthday before they become a teen. School breaks are almost always occupied by a mock match. In fact, people play cricket everywhere, we don’t require playgrounds. On the roads, in classrooms and sometimes an alternate version is even played inside houses. And of course, the best part of it all is when the ball reaches someone’s house, and you have to knock on the door and ask for it, with a sheepish smile. Or worse, when it breaks a window or a car mirror.
6. Neighbors play a big role
Neighbors are never an idle entity who just happen to live next to you. They are the people who are ready with opinions and suggestions even when you never ask them, your source of gossip and news, the ones who always make sure they know your whereabouts, and the generous humans from whom you occasionally borrow groceries from (the latter one is not an exaggeration, you have no idea how many times I’ve been sent to borrow an egg). It’s absolutely incredible to see how important your neighbors become to you, especially when there’s any kind of trouble or emergencies, these are the people you can always count on, even though they are extremely nosy and overbearing most of the time.
7. Get ready for the ultimate March Madness
The month of March is dedicated for the highlight of Sri Lankan school culture: the Big Match. A series of cricket matches between the schools, it is the ultimate tournament to students and past pupils alike. More than the matches themselves, what makes the Big Match special is all the hype and school spirit that surrounds it. It’s the month where you see school flags everywhere, people getting involved in parades, riots and fights and then you see the ultimate showdown between rival schools. It’s also the pinnacle of school romances and dramas, and definitely the most exciting month for a student in Sri Lanka.
8. Outside food is reserved for special occasions
A restaurant visit is not something you take for granted in Sri Lanka. They’re reserved for specific days – birthdays, parties, anniversaries and special accomplishments. Growing up, the only time we order pizza is when I have scored extremely well in some test. In fact when I went to the USA and ate pizza as if it is such a normal everyday food, I felt guilty and my entire existence was questioned. The sole reason for all of this comes down to one person – your mother. Sri Lankan mothers feel as if cooking is their privilege, and suggesting to eat out is an insult to their abilities.
9. “Fur elise” means breakfast
Bread trucks – or moving bakeries – as I call them, are regular visitors to Sri Lankan neighborhoods. Though these trucks are not connected to each other by any means, for some reason, they have all taken a unanimous decision to make “Fur Elise” their anthem. After years of listening to the tune, and immediately alerting my mother of the baker’s arrival, I can never feel any emotions that Beethoven intended to when he composed the melody originally.
Life in Sri Lanka is certainly an interesting experience, and the beautiful and unique things about the country are never more apparent until you step out and make a trip abroad. Love them or hate them, all of these things are what define the country, and make it ours. And if you’ve never been to the island, we offer some great experiences to last a lifetime, do make sure to pay a visit. After all where else can you find roadside matches of cricket and mouthwatering street food you can never have enough of?