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Tibetan Etiquettes and Taboos
Written on 16th February 2017

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. 


Traveling Taboos

1) Do not spite or claps behind people

2) Do not step on the threshold any where

3) Do not touch the head of a Tibetan as it is considered a sacred part of the body. 

4) Do not put your arms around someone’s shoulders.

5) Do not display publicly of affection.

6) Don't do harm to any animals or creatures in Tibet

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

8) Don't photograph people or monastery statues without permission

9) Do not try to watch or photo any Sky burial.

10) Do not talk about sensitive topics like politics when in Tibet.

11) Do not try to talk with lamas about their lives and religions, secret policeman is around

12) Do not eat dog, donkey or horse in Tibet!

13) Walk clockwise around Barkhor Street

14) Do not enter monasteries or special places of a monastery without permission. 

15) Do not smoke in Tibetan monasteries.  

16) Do not wear sunglasses when visiting the monasteries,.

17) It is suggested that you prepare some RMB1 small bills if you want to give to beggars when encountered.

18) Do not buy anything made from wild animals' skin or bones, or irony knives as these items may cause problems when passing the airport customs

19) Do not urinate or defecate in some special places, inquire your guide for this otherwise you will be charge for a lot of money

20) Do not try to watch the “Heavenly Burial”, it is forbidden by government, and local Tibetans hate people watch it secretly. 

21) Do not turn the prayer wheel clockwise rather than anticlockwise 

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

Visiting a Tibetan Family

1) 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.

2) 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. 

3) Don’t eat with your mouth overfull, and do not chew or drink noisily if you have a chance to have dinner with Tibetans,

4) 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.

5) 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.