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What are some basic Nepali Customs, Gestures and Etiquette ?

posted Jul 11, 2010, 5:51 AM by Einar Olav Carlsen   [ updated Jul 11, 2010, 5:54 AM ]

    Take off your shoes before entering a temple or one's home.

    Ask for permission before entering a Hindu temple.

    Taking photographs inside the most temples are considered illegal. Ask for permission before taking photographs of objects, and including Nepali people.

    Nepali people are friendly by nature. Have a genuine interest in them. Talk to them. Be friendly as you travel..

    Public displays of affection such as kissing may be considered offensive.

    Say hello or Namaskar if anyone is initiating a dialogue with you. The form of greeting in Nepal is Namaste or Namaskar. Say it to greet Nepali people. It has a lot of meaning such as hello, how are you, have a nice day, bye bye. To do Namaskar by hand, join your palms together, bring it few inches below you chin facing it upwards.

    You may accept handshake offered by both sex male or female, but never offer your hand first to women. Instead you do `Namaskar' Its considered rude for a man to touch a women even shaking a hand, specially married women. Hand shakes are more gentle not strong, so don't feel the person isn't interested, it's just their way.

    Roads are narrow and crowded so horns help drivers save lives. They signal pedestrians with each beat of the heart! So be ready to hear horn noise and accept it - don't get upset about it

    Khana Khanu Bhayo? - Nepalese may ask you in Nepali, Khana Khanu Bhayo (have you eaten) ? Its a form of greeting more than the question. So go ahead say `you ate one (Khaya)' if you are busy, or they will have you joining their dining table if you say (Chaainaa)!

    For Yes : shake your head from side to side, and for NO: nod your head up and down

    It is common to see same sex walking together hand in hand or with arms around each other. It is a common friendship gesture in Nepal. Perception of friendship is realized before such terms like Gay or Lesbian. When someone talks to you and taps you while talking to you consider that the person is trying to get your attention - its a Nepali friendship way.

    Pointing your finger at people is considered bad - it means wait and I will have something against you! If you have to point at someone, use your upturned hand or lift your chin and say oo

    It is believed that it's uncommon to say Ma Lai Thaha Chaina (I don't know in English). Its often considered rude to say it. So if you have to say "I don't know" try saying it like you knew it! Suppose someone asks you where is America and you didn't know, you would say "Try looking up in the globe?" So people expect answers from you but not the "I don't know" answer!

    When you are in a Nepali dining table, there is usually the senior member of the family, usually a female, serving to everyone. She will repeatedly offer food. Consider that as a respect, don't get offended, take a little and say thank you. In Nepali, usually the mother eats last and she makes sure that everyone eats and eats well. That's why you have the repeated offers!

    You generally visit someone in a hospital with fruits or some powder mix like a popular Indian made Horlicks. Never visit someone in a hospital empty hand and a happy face!

    Elders are called by their title but not by their names. Never call your daddy by his name nor do you call your mummy by her name, it's considered rude. When you visit your friend's parent, you also don't use their names. Brothers and Sisters also do not use their names while calling one another.

    Shopping in Nepal start by bargaining. Most products don't have price tags, so you are expected to haggle with shop owners. Don't buy anything without bargaining or if you feel that extra dollars of yours would not hurt poor Nepalese go ahead give your best shot! Bargaining is common for buying stuff like vegetables and groceries, riding a cab, buying gift items such as Nepali Kukuri, Carpets, and just about anything really.

    When you touch someone with your feet accidentally, you pay back the respect by tapping the person's shoulder, and then your forehead.

    Calling people by names like Dad, Mum, Sister, Brother, Uncle is very common. For example, you say `Amaa' (Mother) or Buba (Dad) to your friend's parents but never call them by their names.

    Never tell a girl you don't know that she is beautiful or compliment on her features. Girls consider it impolite and rude - they think you are flirting with them. Most Nepalese girls don't flirt except for a few bunch living in cities breathing western air!.

    Slurping - It is common to slurp tea and other hot drinks in restaurants and homes.

    Superstition is a part of Nepalese life. Never say a young baby healthy and or fat - they don't like that, they think the baby will get sick afterwards. Never keep your shoes or sandals upside down - it brings bad luck around. Spilling rice on the floor (specially cooked rice) and walking on it is an insult to the Hindu Goddess of Food. For a long journey away from home, you usually depart with a sip of yogurt and/or a red tika (colored mix or powder) on your forehead given by the senior member of your family. Some highly superstitious people will only travel on specific days of the week for leaving home towards a specification directions like north or south. The number 3 is considered unlucky - for example, when three people have to depart from the same location, they leave one after another but not all at same time. It is common to pray before traveling specially on a long journey, so you will see bus drivers with photos of Hindu goddess, incense and bells and doing prayers before beginning the first drive of the day. Its common to see hanging of red dried Chillies in places like homes, restaurants and even in buses - it's done to protect the place from bad spirits.

    Fat - If you tell someone he or she is fat, it's a compliment. Say it in Nepali "Tapai Kastoo Moto HooNuuHunChaa". Nepalese like that and most Nepalese like to be called fat. When someone has a big fat belly, it means they have got a lot of money to eat, it shows off. Most big fat bellies in poor countries do walk proudly.

    Sharing a meal - You always ask someone around you if that person want's to share your meal. If you take a snack to work, you always ask your colleague if they would like to have a bit out of it. When a Nepali family prepares a special meal or even a special pickle at home, they will send it out to neighbors before they have it themselves. Sharing a meal makes them feel good about it. This is very common specially in remote villages in the country.

    Nothing in Nepal works on time. Don't expect punctually. Public buses don't run on time, road traffics are unpredictable, and I didn't know about the meeting time - the kind of excuses you will hear from someone who shows up late in Nepal. Expect everything to slow down. Did you know that it takes hours just to pay your Electricity Bills, forget about paying your telephone Bill - it might take a whole day of waiting in a line! So expect delay at all levels from getting a bus, taxi, plane and getting a room in your hotel

    nepali topiNepali Topi is the the national cap of Nepal - it's rather the part of the national dress for men. Many Nepalese were Topi proudly and it makes them feel good. One of the best ways to show that you care about Nepal and Nepalese is to wear this cap. Many visitors take back home a Nepali topi and use it in special occasions such for receiving Nepali friends at airport or during celebrations. Nepali Topi makes an unique and simple method to show your affection for Nepal and Nepalese. If you can, wear a Nepali topi while traveling in Nepal - for a Nepali topi on your head you feel like a Nepali and what better experience can be more than that!

    Use of bad language is not common even among friends. Visitors to Nepal should avoid using bad language, and remember most city people do understand spoken English.

    Licking your fingers is considered a bad manner. In most countries like USA, you lick your fingers if it has touched any edible substances. Doing the same in Nepal in public is considered gross.

    Blowing your nose in front of people is considered rude. If you must blow, do it quietly and/or alone.

    People spit and throw stuff everywhere- there is no law against littering. Don't complain, just go about your business, ignore it. The most common spitting is from the chewing of Betel Leaf (Paan) and chewable tobacco (Khaine in Nepali)

    When women have their monthly (Period or menstruation), they sleep and eat alone without touching anyone in the family for three to four days, they are also kept isolated for a week when they give a birth. Such traditions have been modified to fit family's desire or needs. During untouchable period, women don't visit temples or perform puja (worshiping and making offerings to God ). Some go as far as not celebrating festivals. For example, a sister who has a period during Tihar festival won't give or receive tika (a special mark on forehead). Learn about Tihar festival

    Most Nepalese eat their meal by hand specially for the Nepali food Dal Bhat and Tarkari

    Once someone has eaten from a plate, most Nepalese will not eat from it as it is considered impure (Jutho in Nepali). They feel they might get germs from it. But it is found that many Nepalese women eat leftovers from her husband's plate - for sharing of food is a loving gesture.

    Priest play an important role in the lives of Nepalese. He is called in to get a special `birth name' when you are born, he is there to witness your marriage vows, and he is with you at your funeral, and also in selected Hindu festivals like Janai Purnima. He performs puja, worships God and asks God for forgiveness of your sins. They are passionate people, they love their job like no other. Never criticise the job of a priest, even if you don't agree.

    Traditional Nepalese marriage is a deal between the parents. The boy, his mother and his father will come to see the girl and her parents. She will offer them tea. He will get to see her for a while, and the deal is made by the parents. If its not good enough, they will go search for another deal.

    People who don't look like the ordinary Nepalese will get lots of looks and even constant staring. Specially when you are away from the main cities like Kathmandu, you will be noticed constantly by many people including beautiful Nepalese kids whose curious eyes will be all around you. Smile and Enjoy

    Nepalese don't eat beet, but buffalo meat is eaten by certain group of people.

    Many of the Nepalese customs are based on traditions and beliefs in Hindu and Buddhist religions. You haven't known about Nepalese untill you have been with all. There are more than 100 ethic groups of Nepalese in Nepal each with their own custom, tradition, and rituals, all sorts speaking different Nepali language. To learn more spend 100 days in Nepal 1 day for each group!