Maldives is commonly seen as a holiday destination and many people do not realise that the archipelago has a rich culture. The locals are very proud of their heritage and culture and there is a lot more to this country than just the luxurious resorts.
Maldivian cuisine is heavily influenced by Indian dishes. Rice, fish and coconut milk are the staples. Spices are used extensively. Betel leaf with areca nut, cloves and lime, known as foh, is chewed after meals and older people smoke guduguda (an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water). Alcohol is not served outside resorts but the locals enjoy a traditional brew called raa.
Education is of high priority for the Maldivian people. The government provides both modern English-medium schools and traditional schools where teachers have no formal training but are community-paid. The thriving tourist industry has also boosted the economy as well as improving infrastructure.
In the past, Maldives was a favourite stop on the trading route between Asia and Africa. Trade brought in spices, timber, dried fish and the precious cowry shells which were used as currency.
The Maldivian people are very religious and this influence can be felt in the everyday life. Men and women dress modestly and public displays of affection are frowned upon. The capital, Male, and other large towns have a very conservative atmosphere. Mosques and shrines welcome non-Muslim visitors but they must be appropriately dressed. Men should not wear shorts and women must not wear revealing halter tops or expose their shoulders.