235 - Nepal; Getting to Know the Local Customs
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Nepal; Getting to Know the Local Customs

When you travel to a foreign country, there is the risk of offending people of another culture. Even though you have the best intentions as a humanitarian aid worker and you’re there to help. To avoid uncomfortable situations for you and the people you meet, it is important to understand and respect the local customs.

A typical Nepalese local custom is namaste

As part of your preparations when going abroad for a humanitarian mission, it is important to learn the local customs. In Nepal, different ethnic groups coexist, each with their own complex customs.

As a foreigner in Nepal, you’re likely to draw attention from the local population as an object of curiosity. There is a chance you’ll be joined in the street or on the trail by someone who just wants to chat. Nepalese will constantly try to interact with you, wanting to exchange addresses, take photos and try to befriend you.

One of the most attractive of Nepalese local customs is giving the greeting, namaste (‘I salute the god within you’), where your palms are held together as if you were praying. Namaste isn’t used casually. You can think of it as ‘how are you?’ Rather than a simple ‘hello’. Say namaskar if you want to show great respect. It is a more formal variant.

The gestures for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ often are confusing to foreigners. To indicate you are in agreement, tilt your head slightly to one side and then back the other way. To politely decline, hold one hand up in front of you, palm forwards, and subtly swivel your wrist, as if you were adjusting a bracelet. Shaking your head as is common in the Western world, is too similar to the Nepalese gesture for yes. Pointing with your finger is considered rude, rather use the chin.

Touching is a sensitive issue in Nepal, and it is essential to know when it is appropriate. The head is the most sacred part of the body. You can't pat or touch it, even on children. Physical contact between men and women is frowned upon and considered improper. However, contact between the same gender is considered perfectly fine. Also, avoid touching a Nepalese who is dressed in all-white. A white dress signifies a death in the family.

The do's and don'ts listed in this article are more flexible than they might appear. As a foreigner, it is perfectly understandable to make bloopers and Nepalese will rarely say anything. When in doubt, do as you see Nepalese doing. That is the safest way to familiarize yourself with the local customs.

We’re proud to serve any humanitarian who’s willing to help those in need in Nepal or anywhere else in the world. We regularly arrange travel for compassionate, faith-based organizations who are dedicated to helping those in dire need of help. Never hesitate to contact us through our quick address locator should you have any questions.