Traveling to another country is a life-changing experience. While learning new culture and language, and tasting new food can be fun and educational, most of the times it can be confusing too. You don’t understand the new surrounding or how to react to it. That is culture shock, a traveling phenomenon that should be expected with every flight you take. When traveling to Nepal, prepare to experience a flurry of culture shock, starting from the airport. Here are a few common episodes and information to help you through the trip:
- Start at the airport: Expect to see a lot of commotion and yelling and shouting, and for no specific reason. Organized chaos is generally the theme for airport. And it will prepare you for the rest of the trip. Expect the people in Nepal to be loud but generally nice, and any crowded place to have no sense of order or discipline. The same goes for the roads and the crazy traffic.
- Body language: Nepalese are expressive about their feelings with their body and their face than with words. They have one of the most infectious smiles and they use it to bridge the communication gap. And while a lot of it is easy, a simple “yes” and “no” can be very confusing. A head wobble from side-to-side means a yes while a horizontal head shake means a no.
- Cleanliness: The Nepali concept of cleanliness is different from the west. Generally, the left hand is considered the dirty one, used only for toilets. Hence, avoid eating with the left hand. Speaking of eating, people in Nepal eat with their hands! When you are over that one, also learn to use your right hands when shaking hands or giving gifts. You will soon realize that you need to take off shoes before entering homes or rooms. The biggest shocker however is how comfortably people will spit out phlegm in public or blow their nose; it is not considered impolite. It is not nice whatsoever to point at people with a finger or pointing the soles of the feet towards people.
- Nothing is on time: Punctuality is not key to life in Nepal. In fact, not a lot of people here wear a wrist watch. Don’t expect events to start on time, or people to arrive on time. Ambiguity is the rule people go by and it is not to be taken as an offense. People may often use ambiguity instead of a negative answer too. During the trip, embrace this culture, go with the flow and be open-minded, if not flexible!
- Parents hitting children: If you see parents beating up their kids in public, try not to be surprised. It is not considered wrong to use physical strength to discipline a child. It happens everywhere in Nepal and is very common.
- The dust: This is truer for Kathmandu than for all of Nepal, but it will come as a big shocker. With the road expansion project in full throttle, the air in most areas of the city is infiltrated by a cloud of dust. It is recommended to wear a mask or a shawl when outside on the streets. For foreigners usually visualizing an untouched land when they buy a ticket to Nepal, Kathmandu will be part disappointing, part shocking, with a curve ball of pleasant surprises.
- Marijuana plants everywhere: Although smoking weed, and other drugs is illegal and punishable by law in Nepal, you will get to see plenty of marijuana plants growing in random spots all over Nepal. While it is not grown purposely, you will be purposely approached by drug peddlers to sell you some hashish. Don’t fall for them! You don’t want to be in any situation with the police.
- Beggars: Begging is a huge scam in Nepal, but that is not the first thought to cross your mind when you come across it. You are bound to feel terrible for the street urchins and be heartbroken to see women with babies in their arms begging for food. It is not an easy concept to digest, but it is real. We’d recommend you to not give them money, but we’d absolutely discourage you from accompanying them to any location.
Besides the ones mentioned above, there are plenty of sights, sounds and smell that could easily pass off as a culture shock. There is no sure-fire way to overcome it, but be aware of it and embrace it with a pinch of salt.