Dos and Donts: How Not to Cause Offense
Almost anyone who visits Nepal returns with a story of another tourist’s inappropriate behaviour or dress. To commit the occasional faux pas is inevitable when exploring foreign shores and Nepali people will often make light of your indiscretion. However, taking advantage of traditional hospitality without understanding the implications, overt ostentation, disrespecting ceremonies or customs, and dressing inappropriately are all considerable insults and should be avoided at all costs. If you are unsure how to behave follow the lead of a Nepali, and if necessary, ask questions. Everyone will understand that you are trying to do the right thing and you’ll be given all the support to participate in local lives to the fullest. This list of advice is by no means exhaustive, so please apply liberal amounts of common sense to your day.
Respect cultures and traditions
- Consideration: Be a considerate guest at all times. Nepali culture is rich and diverse and can sometimes confuse a visitor but if you are friendly, approachable and consider those around you before yourself, you will always earn the respect of locals.
- Photos: Ask before taking a photo, as many people prefer not to be photographed for personal, cultural or superstitious reasons. You should also be careful of taking photos in and around places of worship.
- Gift Giving: The complex patina of Nepali society sometimes calls for gift giving or making a donation; this may be to a monastery or shrine, at a wedding, or at a cultural programme. Whenever you are faced with needing to give a gift you should seek the advice of a Nepali to work out what is appropriate. The method of, or the formality associated with, giving a gift is often as important as the gift itself so make sure you are aware of any protocols.
- Affection: Do not show affection in public.
- Bathing: Showing your genitalia when bathing is offensive. Use a sarong, modesty screen or shower tent and when visiting a hot spring try to behave modestly.
Benefit local communities, commercially and socially
- Share Skills and Experiences: Teach when you can, offer a fair rate of pay for services, participate in activities whenever invited.
- Do Not: publicly argue, drink excessively, or fight Demonstrations of anger are considered an embarrassing loss of face on your behalf.
- Begging: Of all the negative impacts tourists have had in Nepal, the encouragement of begging along the trail is probably the most problematic. Handing out candy (referred to as sweets, mitai or bonbons) to children who never clean their teeth is thoughtless and irresponsible. Giving money to small children in return for picked flowers is destructive and illegal in all National Parks.
If your conscience struggles with the wealth divide provide skills through training and education, or donate to one of the major charities in Kathmandu or Pokhara. But do not just give away items along the trail and so perpetuate a habit that ultimately only reduces self-esteem and can cause long-term problems. If you aren’t convinced of the negative effects of pandering to cute children then trek away from the main trails and experience the genuine, openhearted joy that children show tourists without the expectation of a ‘reward’.
Adopt new customs
- Clothing: Do not wear tight or revealing clothing, especially if you are a woman. There is a firm dress code followed by Nepalese and it is only not observed by the very poor or for special reasons. It is considered offensive to expose your knees, shoulders and chest at all times and especially in any place of worship. This means that detachable leg trousers/pants are not very useful in Nepal, and cropped tops of any description should be avoided. Men can wear long shorts but should avoid exposing their chests. It is also considered offensive to highlight genitalia, so avoid wearing stretch or very tight clothing around the chest or groin area.
- Entering Homes: It is critical that you wait to be invited into a home. The caste system prescribes a rigid hierarchy of which rooms you may or may not be allowed to enter so respect the wishes of the homeowner. The cooking-fire area is often sacred so always check if you can dispose of burnable rubbish before consigning it to the flames.
- Greetings: Nepalese greet each other with the traditional, ‘Namaste!’ Sometimes they will shake hands, especially if they are involved in the tourism sector or have retired from the Royal Gurkha Rifles, but in general you should avoid touching people, especially of the opposite gender. A namaste, or thanks, or taking a little time to play or practise English is always preferable to a short or quick reply. It will both build respect and relieve any stress you may feel from curious locals.
- Eating: Do not use your left hand to eat or pass objects. Traditionally Nepalese eat only with the right hand, the left being considered unclean. Therefore pass foodstuffs to another person with your right hand and use your left as little as possible. You should also avoid touching the lip of a vessel to your mouth; just pour the drink into your mouth.
- Offering Payment and/or Gifts: It is respectful to use both hands, or offer with your right hand while touching your left hand to your right elbow.
- Language: Learn some basic Nepali phrases and use them as often as possible.
- Tread Softly: Stick to trails and recognised camping areas. Avoid creating new tracks, or damaging the environment in any way. Follow the adage: take only photos, leave only footprints.
- Pack it in, Pack it out: Avoid taking tins, glass, or plastic containers and bags unless you plan to carry them back to Kathmandu or Pokhara.
- Conserve Water Quality: Wash away from water sources and always use local toilet facilities when available. Bury all organic waste at least 30cm below the ground and 50m away from water sources.
- Conserve Natural Resources: What few resources there are belong by right to the locals. Always ask permission before using anything along the trail. It is illegal to disturb wildlife, remove animals or plants, or buy wildlife products.
How long does it take to degrade?
- Plastic bottles: 70-450 years
- Plastic bag: 500-1000 years
- Tin can: around 50 years
- Leather shoes: 25-40 years
- Thread: 3-4 months
- Cotton: 1-5 months
- Rope: 3-14 months
- Cigarette: 1-12 years
- Milk packet (tetra) covers and drink packets: 5 years
- Nylon clothes: 30-40 years
- Sanitary napkins & children diapers: 500-800 years
- Glass bottles: 1,000,000 years
- Hairspray bottle: 200-500 years
- Fishing line: 600 years.
- Glass bottle; 1-2 million years
- Aluminum can: 200 years