Tibetan Etiquettes & Taboos: how to travel in Tibet politely

Tibetan people have unique cultures and strong religious beliefs. Though they are friendly and easy to get along with, they have different ways of behaving in many aspects. Please be sure to respect local customs and be polite.

It is a good idea to know what should to be done or not to be done before you plan to visit Tibet. Below are etiquettes and taboos for travelers to Tibet, including traveling, ritual, food, religion and other aspects.

Traveling Taboos

1. Do not put your arms around someone's shoulders, when greeting each other or chat with Tibetans. Do not touch the head of a Tibetan, because the head is considered as a sacred part of the body.

2. Do not enter a monastery without permission. Do not smoke, drink, touch the Buddha statues, turn the Buddhism scriptures and toll the bell. Please pick off your hats at the entrance to show your respects.

3. Do not take photos without permission. Most Tibetan monasteries are not allowed to take pictures or you need to pay.

4. Do not step on the threshold when entering a monastery, a house and a tent, etc.

5. Do not drive away eagles, the sacred birds for the Tibetan. Do not use red, green or yellow ribbons to drive or disturb the sheep or cows, the Tibetan's sacrifice to worship gods.

6. Walking around monasteries, temples, prayer wheels and other religious structures in clockwise, but in counter clockwise at Bon sites.

Ritual Taboos

1. Do not call the first name of the elders, monks or teachers, please add "la" behind the name to express respects.

2. Do not rush in front of others, especially for the elderly, monks and teachers when you walk along the road.

3. Do not speak loudly when crossing snowy mountains or passing by lakes.

4. Do not use dirty bowls or put your fingers on the rim of the bowl when pouring tea for guests.

5. Do not whistle indoors or at night time because Tibetan people believe that whistling will attract ghosts and nocturnal spirits.

6. When entering a house or a tent of Tibetan, travelers should sit up with their legs crossed, men sit on the left and women on the right, and men and women are not allowed to sit together.

7. When accepting gifts with your both hands, and keep your hands clean to express the respects.

8. Tibetan people stretch out their tongues to express respect, and it is courtesy to put their hands palm to palm in front of chest.

Food Taboos

1. When eating meal, do not eat mouthful, munch, or make any sound when chew and drink. Do not turn the bowl's bottom up because Tibetan only place the bowl's bottom up when people died.

2. Tibetan people do not eat the meat of horse, dog, donkey or other animals with round hoof, and also eat fish in some area.

3. When the host presents you a cup of wine and buttered tea, travelers should dip ring finger in the wine and flick the wine into the sky, in the air and to the ground respectively to express your respects to the heaven, the earth and the ancestors before sipping the wine. When the host fills the cup in the forth time, travelers have drink it all.

4. It is tabooed to stride over other travelers' kitchenware and food, and it is impolite to spit or clap in front of or behind others.

Religious Taboos

1. It is tabooed for religious people to kill anything or kill living things in front of them, especially for Buddhist monks and nuns.

2. It is tabooed to speak loudly, sing songs, dance and play in monastery and near monastery.

3. When entering monasteries, it is tabooed to wear a hat, smoke, touch statues and other religious articles, turn over the Buddhist books and knock bells and drums.

4. When inside monasteries, it is tabooed to point Buddha statues, Thangka, scripture and fresco with single fingers. Travelers should use palm to point for respect. Please go around them clockwise ( except Bon's sites ). Do no wear hats, skirts or shorts. Keep quiet.

5. When meeting a lama, it is not impolite to hug him or shake hangs with him. The proper way is to hold the two hands upright, palms together in front of the chest and lower the head. Do not talk about sensitive topics like politics, religions with the Dalai Lamas.

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