Behave Yourself: Etiquettes and Taboos in Tibet

Because of its unique culture and religion, Tibet has different standards of appropriate behavior, an etiquette that must be observed if you wish to be considered a polite guest. When in Rome, as they say.

Tibetans with Haha
  • Remember not to step on the threshold when entering a tent, house, or temple.
  • The particle "la", pronounced at the end of a person's name, is used to express respect.
  • If you are asked to sit down, cross your legs - do not stretch your legs forward with the soles of your feet facing others.
  • Gifts should be accepted with both hands. When presenting a gift you should bow forward and hold the gift with both hands held higher than your head. When offering tea, wine, etc., you should present the cup or bowl using both hands, making sure your fingers to not touch the inside of the bowl.
  • Do not touch, walk over, or sit on any religious texts, sacred objects or prayer flags.
  • When your host presents you with a cup of wine, you should dip your ring finger into the wine and flick the wine at the sky, into the air, and at the ground to express your respect to the heavens, the Earth and the ancestors, before sipping your wine for the first time. After your first sip, your host will fill your cup back up to the top, at which point you are expected to take another sip. After the host fills your cup again, you should drain your cup to the bottom.
  • Tibetan people do not eat horse, dog, or donkey, as well as fish (in some areas). While in Tibet, you should follow local dietary restrictions.
  • It is not polite to clap your palms and spit behind the Tibetan people.
  • Tibetan people stretch out their tongue to say hello to you. Also it is a courtesy to put their hands palm in front of breast.
  • Do not smoke in monasteries. Also it is not permitted to touch or photograph Buddha statues and religious articles. In addition, when walking around the monastery, you should always walk in a clockwise direction (with the exception of Bon temples).
  • When walking around dagobas, monasteries or Mani piles, please go around them in a clockwise direction (with the exception of Bon sites), without crossing them.
  • Eagles are sacred birds in the eyes of the Tibetan people. Do not disturb them, drive them away or injure them. You should also not disturb sheep or cows decorated with red, green or yellow cloth.

With increased tourism in Tibet, Tibetan people are becoming more used to the habits of the "Big Noses" (western people), their jeans, sun glasses and shorts (note: Among Tibetan people, shorts are prohibited). Because of this fact, modern-day Tibetans are more tolerant of foreign customs. Nonetheless, we still suggest you take the above advice in order to show respect for local traditions.

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