The Maldives consists of 1,190 coral islands that are spread across ring-shaped atolls in the Indian Ocean. Maldivians are a friendly, hospitable people with an upbeat and energetic culture influenced by India, Africa and Asia. Music and dance exhibit strong influences from East Africa and Arabia, while finely woven reed mats and lacquered wooden ornaments are traditional crafts. Sunni Islam is the state religion and non-Muslims are not allowed to practice public worship.
Most families are nuclear in structure and children are highly valued and respected. Women are accorded a dignified position in society and enjoy equal rights with men. Unlike in many parts of the world, marriage in Maldives takes place at a younger age and pre-marital sex is not practised. The country has a strong Islamic code of conduct that is enforced by the state.
Alcohol consumption is not permitted outside resorts and customs will seize alcoholic drinks brought into the country. Women should dress modestly – it is not acceptable to walk around bare chested and bikinis are not suitable in most places except at resorts. Men should remove their shoes when entering homes and mosques. It is also polite to cover the shoulders and legs when visiting local communities.
Most Maldivians speak a dialect of Dhivehi, an Indo-Iranian language related to Sinhalese. There are also small numbers of Gujarati and Malayalee speakers. The official language is English but Dhivehi remains the spoken language in the home and at government offices.