Etiquette and Taboo in Tibet

Tibetans is an old ethnic minority with unique culture and living-habits; Tibet is a religious region, which is influenced by Buddhism factors. Through the ages, Tibetan people have formed their own customs and taboos. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." There are some advices for you to know how to behave well in Tibet. 

Social courtesies
1. Hada, Pronounced as "kha-tag", is a long narrow white scarf made of silk. It is regarded as an honorable gift of Tibetans. The Tibetan people express their best wishes on many occasions like wedding ceremonies, festivals, visiting the seniors and the superiors, and hosting guests. When presenting a hada to a shrine of a high-rank lama, lift the hada above your shoulders and bow to the receiver. When you receive a hada, it is proper to accept with both hands.

2. 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.

3. When you call somebody, please add a "La" after the name to show your respect - Tashi La, for example.

1. Remember not to step on the threshold when entering a tent, house, or temple.

2. Never touch the head of a Tibetan, for head is considered a sacred part of the body. And, don’t put your arms around someone’s shoulders.

3. If you are asked to sit down, please cross your legs - do not stretch your legs forward with your soles facing others.

4. It is impolite to clap your palms and spit behind Tibetan people.

5. Do not engage in public displays of affection.

6. Don't do harm to any creatures in this land: yaks, dogs, vultures and sheep.

7. Don't throw any bones or trash into fire.

8. Don't photograph people without permission, and be aware that some locations prohibit photography without a fee. Sky burial sites are obviously off-limits.

Visiting a Tibetan Family
Tibetans are famous for their hospitality, and warmly invite visitors into their homes. When you visit a local Tibetan family, the host may entertain you with their home-made barley wine. Please receive it with both hands. Before sipping, guests are expected to use the forefinger to dip in the cup and flick the wine in the air three times to show respect to gods of heaven, earth and dragon. After your first sip, your host would fill your cup back up to the top. And you have to bottom it up.

Drinking butter tea is a daily must-do for all the Tibetans. When the guest offer a bowl of butter tea, you’d better not to empty it at one gulp, but leave some in the bowl to get more refilled. Once you have enough, please pour the rest of the tea on the ground gently.

If you visit or stay in a Tibetan home, the family will usually refuse cash payment of any kind, but they would like to have a souvenir of a visit. It is recommended to have a small stock of gifts from your home. When presenting a gift, you should bow forward and hold the gift with both hands held higher than your head.

Visiting Monastery/Temples
1. Don't enter a monastery without permission. If permitted, you should take your hat off at the entrance to show your respect. Walk clockwise around monasteries, temples, shrines, stupas, and Mani stones, and other religious structures. However, if you visit a Bon monastery, then walk counterclockwise! 

2. Inside a monastery, do not smoke, drink alcohol, or take any photos; do not Please don’t touch, step over or sit on any religious texts, sacred objects or prayer flags in monasteries.

3. Entering a chamber during the chanting session is allowed on condition that there should be no disturbance to the monks. It's okay to enter a chamber without removing your shoes, although monks do.

4. Women should not wear skits or shorts.

5. Please keep quiet when you go sightseeing around a temple, especially during religious ceremonies.

6. When meeting a lama, please hold the two hands upright, palms together in front of the chest, and lower the head. It is not appropriate to hug him or shake hands with him. And, address a high lama with "Rinpoche" and a common lama with "Geshe La" although he might not be a Geshe.

7. Do not kill any animals or insects in monasteries.

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