If you are staying in Nepal for sometime, learning the ropes of social etiquette in Nepal helps a lot. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts while living in Nepal to make your visit a pleasant one.
For greeting people of same age as yours just say ’Namaste’ with a smile which is like saying hello. Don’t go around hugging people whom you are meeting for the first time. As such was the case with me when a very sweet Malaysian lady I was supposed to receive embraced me in the middle of the road. This was when I first found out that I wasn’t too keen on hugging people, especially strangers. It felt amazing to meet such a warm person, still the bear hug was awkward nonetheless. It may be natural for you to hug but the person in question may feel uncomfortable, so a handshake will suffice.
When you greet the elders or someone older than you, then put your hands together and say Namaste, this is like saying hello while showing your respect to them which will make the elders take you in a positive light that your parents have taught you well, the same way how we have to bow to our elders and touch their feet and if we don’t, we get a lot of flak for being rude to our elders.
If you are invited to a social gathering of a local in their home, careful not to step on or walk over or touch someone who is sitting with your leg as it is considered to be ill mannered of you. If you want to you can present the family with gifts of fruits or sweets if it’s your first time visiting their home. When you give or receive anything like money, business cards or gifts do so with your right hand while your left hand slightly touches the right one. This shows your respect to other party. When doing this you can use both hands too.
While sharing a meal with the local family, you will be asked to start first as with all the guests rather than the host. If you are willing to use your hands to eat meals with the local, you need to wash your hands first and only use your right hand for the eating purpose as left hand is considered to be dirty (even if they are not or if you are lefty by nature better ask for a spoon or fork to eat with your left hand) which is used for washing after defecating. Also, do not share the food you have touched with your mouth or taken a bite of because it is considered ‘jutho’ meaning tainted and eating one’s jutho is done only among close friends and family.
When you enter someone’s home take off your shoes. It should also be done in most of the temples. When you are entering certain temples you are not allowed to carry leather items. Do ask for permission before taking photographs of the temples, its statues and the people as in some cases taking pictures may be prohibited. A few Hindu temples or inner most part and certain area of the temples do not allow non Hindu people to enter, so ask the local people around the temples if you are allowed to enter the premises or not. If you are circling temples and Buddhist monasteries and stupas then walk around clockwise, anti-clockwise is believed to be inauspicious.
PDA (Public Display of Affection) is frowned upon but holding hands with your partner/lover is slowly gaining acceptance while kissing in public is still a taboo and will draw a lot of unwanted negative stares from the locals. Showing a lot of skin is also not a good idea. As a foreigner, you are already the subject of curiosity for the people with your milky white skin or chocolaty dark skin color. So, showing your legs in very short shorts or bearing your chest for girls can get a serious glowering from the elderly while the young adults will built a negative opinion of you (even if they don’t know you personally). For guys clothing like you are here for a beach holiday showing your pot belly or six or eight pack abs is a big No No unless you are playing in the sand at a river bank.
If you are thinking of taking a bath in public say, in ‘Dhungedhara’ (these watering holes with actual water flowing out is so rare in the city) or by a riverside, guys please don’t be butt naked! At least wear an underwear for the boys while the girls wear a long piece of cloth called ‘lungi’ or ‘dhoti’ not just for modesty’s sake but to be safe from the prying eyes of perverts.
Hope these little tidbits serve you well during your stay in Nepal!