Firstly I’d like to declare that I am not in any way trying to put you off going to Sri Lanka or any South Asian countries! I adore these places and everything their cultures and people have to offer, however you have to be a bit smart and savvy, especially when it comes to travelling alone as a female. Westerners stick out like a sore thumb. The streaky sunburn is normally a huge giveaway, but nonetheless, it is unavoidable. These people perceive us as rich, extremely wealthy and a good target for tourism. This post is inspired by my friend who came with me to Sri Lanka, as her first visit to Asia and struggled a little bit with the difference in cultures and the perspective of women.
You should be prepared to be engaged and followed whilst people approach you and try to sell their handmade or ‘original’ products. The first wrong thing to do is to show interest even if it is just politeness. Most of the people who approach you are selling exactly the same items, they will be found again at an equal price or even cheaper round the corner. There is no aggression, they won’t be forceful with you, just insistent and it can wear a little thin. Politeness is an opening to sell, sell, sell. You should refuse.
The next problem that I have encountered countless times is the refusal. A lot of vendors do not understand the concept of no. You can say it as many times to their face as you like, and they will return by presenting you with a new item to purchase. Open your mouth and in some cases you might have well as said yes. As a female, don’t be surprised if you are approached inappropriately. I mean that very bluntly. It’s a strange concept and a difficult topic to address because sometimes there is no right way to talk about harassment and anything within those lines, especially when you are a woman. But both of us were harassed on separate occasions and flattery seemed to be a key opening for every situation, “You are so beautiful, you should buy my elephant carving.” I kid you not, that transparent. I even had one man put his hand on my back up my top and get extremely close. But you have to keep calm push their arm away and just walk away.
Not everywhere is like this.
In contrast to this, Sri Lankans say yes by shaking their head. So you can understand that when you shake your head, there is going to be a misconception, just like if you ask them a simple yes/no question. I had many occasions where I thought someone was turning me away, when in actual fact they were warmly welcoming me in. Like I said I am not attempting to discourage anyone from travelling to South East Asia, I met so many extremely wonderful people, including vendors and salesmen. Sri Lankan people have shown me some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and they will to you too. These people are a small minority, but it’s best to travel safe, knowing what to expect and how to handle yourself when travelling.
Not everywhere is like this.