I’ve traveled outside the United States just three times: to Costa Rica, South Africa, and now, to Nepal. While daily life was laid back in Costa Rica and relatively similar to the U.S. in South Africa, life in Nepal is… well, utterly confusing—on the best of days.
But in my six weeks here, I’ve learned a few skills, customs, and simple manners that have made my life in Nepal a little easier. Here are a few ways you, too, can do as the Nepalis do.
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On the morning I arrived in Kathmandu, the taxi ride from the airport taught me my first lesson: traffic is crazy. But once I got used to the craziness of the system, I found it’s not so hard to cross the street with confidence. When you approach the road, look right first because in Nepal, we drive on the left. Find your opening, and quickly cross to the middle of the road. Look left, and cross again when it’s safe. Sometimes you’ll have to dodge cars, bikes, or buses, but don’t worry: most drivers will slow down for pedestrians.
Also—mind the honking horns. Drivers in Nepal honk (frequently) to alert you and other drivers they’re coming. They’re not being rude, but they do want you to get out of the way.
As a man, I can usually get away with shorts and a tee shirt in the city during the hotter months. In Kathmandu, women can wear casual shirts and shorts or pants that extend below the knee. Everyone should avoid ripped tees or jeans, tank tops, short shorts, or tight clothing.
If you’re visiting the villages, women should wear cultural outfits like kurtas with leggings or pants. Men can wear more casual clothing, like shorts or jeans.
Walking shoes are essential here, as you’ll walk most everywhere you go. Many people like to wear athletic sandals like Tevas or Chacos to keep cool. If you’re trekking, bring good hiking boots or well-supported tennis shoes.
Sampling the food at many restaurants near the Five14 Guesthouse has been a highlight of my time in Kathmandu. The classic Nepali dish is dhal bhat, lentils and cooked rice with varied vegetables (and it’s particularly good when you’re hungry, because they’ll keep bringing more). Tibetan mo-mos, which are a bit like dumplings with meat or veggies inside, are another favorite snack. Most Nepali food isn’t spicy, and it’s fairly healthy, too!
To avoid getting sick, drink only filtered or bottled water and eat at clean restaurants—usually busier is better, and avoid street vendors. Avoid ice in restaurants, as it may have been made with unfiltered water. Any travel can create mild digestive problems (I can attest to that), but medicine to cure an upset stomach is inexpensive and easily found in Kathmandu.
Use your manners:
I’ve found that Nepalis are incredibly gracious, and most cab drivers, waiters, and shopkeepers speak English—so communication is not too difficult, usually. Showing respect for local customs, though, can make a positive difference. Try the following:
To greet someone, fold your hands as if in prayer, raise them to your chin, and say, “Namaste” (na-ma-stay).
Avoid using your left hand to eat or give things to people.
When paying for things and receiving change, use your right hand, palm up, while gently touching your forearm with your left hand.
If giving or receiving something of great value, use both hands, palms up, arms extended.
Remove your shoes before going inside a home or carpeted rooms.
Don’t point the sole of your foot while sitting down.
Be careful not to step on others’ feet or over their extended legs.
Single men and women should not be alone, and avoid touching the opposite sex.