Tibet is an ancient place with many unique customs and traditions. Because of this, there are many unique etiquettes and taboos that should be paid attention to by visitors.
When visiting monasteries or temples:
When entering a temple building, visitors should always remove their hats. Monks remove their shoes when entering a temple, but for the most part, it is not necessary for visitors to do so. Do not talk loudly or about irreverent topics. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol are also taboo. Do not take photographs inside a temple building without permission. It is ok to take pictures outside though. Don't touch anything displayed. Do not sit with the soles of your feet facing a person, alter, or sacred object. Visitors wishing to enter a temple while the monks are chanting should stand or sit in the rear of the building and walk around the building in the clockwise direction unless it is a Bon Monastery, where people need to walk counter-clockwise. For visitors who purchase butter or oil for the lamps, it is important that they spoon it into the lamps themselves. Visitors are not expected to bow in the temples, but if you wish to, just follow the lead of other pilgrims. It is ok to wander around buildings and enter any room that is not locked, except for rooms on the roof of monasteries where monks may be in retreat. Do not worry about committing a faux pax because there are usually people around who will stop you from doing something wrong. Most Tibetans understand that visitors may not fully understand their traditions and are quite forgiving.
When visiting a local home:
Tibetans are famous for their hospitality, and warmly invite visitors into their homes. It is important not to step on the threshold when visiting a local Tibetan family's home. Hosts will normally try to overfeed visitors to show their generosity. They will offer food until they bankrupt themselves, or eat into their supplies store to get them through the winter. Visitors must be prepared to make repeated refusals of excess food. Many Tibetans will offer food until forced not to. One polite way to refuse food is to press your palms together and bow as if praying to the hosts for their forgiveness.
Tea is an integral part of every Tibetan day, and when visiting a home, your bowl of tea will be refilled continually. If you stop drinking and allow the tea to grow cold, the host will dump out the cold tea and refill the bowl. It is important not to refuse tea, but it is all right to ask for hot water or clear tea instead.
Many families keep a separate washbasin for washing their face and feet. It is important not to mix them up. Some families need to travel quite a distance to fetch water. If this is the case, be modest in your consumption.
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 you travel to Tibet.
Tibetans do not show public displays of affection. Visitors should be aware of this when visiting Tibet to not seem rude. It is important to not wear shorts, or go barefoot when visiting. It is considered extremely rude to take someone's photo without asking permission first and if visitors promise to send photographs to someone it is very important to send them because they will be waiting in excited anticipation for them sometimes for years.
Tibetan people are some of the warmest and most generous on earth. They seem to smile more than any other people on earth. Many faux pas can be forgiven, but it is better to follow the items listed to make yourself seem more respectable to their traditions with will ingratiate visitors to the locals.
Contact us if you want to explore more of Tibet or other cities in China.
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