When we live abroad we come to challenge our understanding of normality on a daily basis. To not be able to challenge oneself in that way, actually, might be the same as missing the point of adventuring after all. Of course it takes some courage to get out of the cultural comfort zone, but it may also be the most rewarding part of the adventure. Or at least it can grant some funny stories and unexpected embarrassing moments for the unprepared traveller (that was totally our case coming to Nepal). Its the little daily things you learn by ‘being there’ that make up an experience one cannot get from reading books. And that is awesome.
So, let’s get to it. 7 culture shocks that are making our life in Kathmandu even more interesting:
(1) Spit it out
Spitting in the streets is a truism of life. We are talking loud throat-clearing, unapologetic spitting that one can hear from the next block. Yeah. But you know what? With the pollution in the air we came to gladly accept the need for it and even came to participate in that ourselves (Kathmandu’s air is one of the most polluted in the world!)!
(2) I wanna hold your hand
While homosexuals are stigmatized, it is more than normal for men to hold hands on the streets, hug, sit on each other’s lap and touch each other in ways that may look very intimate, maybe even romantic (at least to us, it does). The same is true for women. No big deal, friends look like couples. Free love and affection to all. Nice.
(3) Excuse me, I was here first.
Staying in line is not a thing. I mean, cues are not respected. At all. They don’t exist. So people unassumingly step in front of you, unapologetically. At the supermarket you can expect someone(s) to squeeze in between your basket and the cashier, for example, when a person has 8 items while you have 10. It happened to us several times. We were happy to give our place to someone with less stuff; the thing is: we stood there expecting a look, maybe a smile, possibly a thank you, ready to smile back and say ‘sure, go ahead!’… Nope. Did not happen. They just go for it real quick, you are left behind, end of story.
(4) Getting to know Karma
Giving charity is not necessarily looked upon as positive, as it is often the case in the ‘West’. Here, the beggar often scorns you for how little he received or simply does not respond to the gesture at all. Here gifts are meant to be fully intentional, and not needing the reciprocation of a smile or a ‘thank you’ from the receiver of the gift. This is because behind the act of giving lies the mechanism of karma. And karma involves a whole different kind of mentality. It shows that sometimes these arbitrary differences have deep roots in cultural understandings of life.
(5) More than fifty shades of red
Spiritual rituals are everywhere, constantly practiced, and not only during big festivities. Shops put vermillion powder and rice outside the door to welcome wealth and prosperity; bells on the streets are ‘dong-ed’ to welcome the favour of the god that one is worshipping; houses welcome desired guests and keep away bad spirits with red and yellow powders and the symbol of the swastika. Cities are a fascinating combination of shades of red, yellow and gold, and everything has a meaning, every colour has a purpose. Spirituality is literally everywhere you look at. It is beautiful.
(6) Full-time Dress code.
While women often wear traditional clothes (such as saris), even their informal, daily choices might be full of meaning. Mind the colour: when women dress in red it usually means that they are married. While men in white, with a shaved head, signal that they are going through a long-term mourning. Interesting daily colour coding.
(7) The right hand is the right hand
“Right hand,… very good. Left hand, hmm, no,no good!” – Said a local once when I was about to pay a bill using my left hand. Apparently, the left hand is used for all private things (like cleaning yourself in the toilet), and is metaphorically understood as being the ‘bad’ hand, the one used for impure acts. So much so that the expression ‘left-handed practice’ is actually a thing, and it stands for improper behaviour.
Hopefully, this assemblage of daily-life impressions will help you get to know this fascinating culture through the lenses of ‘being there’ and, if you plan on visiting Nepal, help you start off your journey on the right hand.