Do’s & Don’ts
In each country worldwide are certain Do’s & Don’ts. Things that have to do with culture, with being respectful, being polite, friendly, warm, helpful, attentive, understanding or just the lack of that. In this post we try to inform you about some of the Do’s & Don’ts in some of the Asian countries. About some of the respect forms or habits. We can say with certainty that the definitions of some words alone already differ per country or continent.
Probably the most well-known topic that has to do with Do’s & Don’ts is regarding shoes. That you keep your shoes on when entering a church in any country in the world, doesn’t mean that that is the standard. It’s an absolutely total NO to keep your shoes on when entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple. Leave them at the spot where a sign is or there where you see other people’s shoes. Don’t be nervous or bothered by the idea that someone could steal them. You can count on it that that won’t happen.
You could see someone’s house as their own temple. In Asia the norm is usually to keep your shoes outside the door and house. Even at shops it’s often required. In case you’re in doubt if you should take them off or not, take the safe side. Or call it better safe than sorry. Either take them off or ask politely to someone in the house or shop if you should. Let there be no misunderstanding about what exactly falls under the category shoe. Anything you wear on your feet. From sneakers to bootz and from flip flop’s to sandals.
One other important category of Do’s & Don’ts are the feet. In temples you never point your feet to a statue of some God or holiness but also never point your feet to monks or teachers. It’s simply not done. The safest way to sit is in the lotus posture, meaning cross legged. Being it in a temple or at someone’s home. Most tall foreigners aren’t used to sitting in that posture and certainly not for long periods of time. You can keep your legs bend. At least keep in mind that when you stretch your legs that the feet point to no person at all.
In Nepal and India is another unwritten rule. It’s very rude and disrespectful to show the bottom of your feet to persons and holy statues. To give you a specific example; when you’re as a guest in a house with more people than beds and you have to share a room with others. Make sure that your feet, or the bottom of them, don’t point to any other person, not even when sleeping.
In general make sure to never touch anything with your feet. If something on the floor stands in your way, don’t move it with your feet. Not even for a cm. Also not with chairs. Pick things up with your hands and never use your feet.
In Thailand it’s not done to touch someone’s head. It counts mostly from younger to older people but stay away from touching heads overall. Even touching a childs head out of affection. Out of appreciation for bringing you a coffee or anything innocent is not at all welcomed by both the child and its family. In some cases they let it pass as you’re foreigner and might not know that rule or because you’re older than the child. Still, you can often feel the sphere changing or notice negative facial expressions. Therefore it’s certainly not reccommendable to touch anyone’s head.
Touching can be a sensitive topic in several ways as you can read above. Touching each other in passionate or sensual ways is in Asian countries usually out of the question. Not even a normal hug in public or to kiss as a greeting on the cheeks which happens in some European countries cannot be done.
In case of talking about dating, it’s not the standard to show public affection to the other gender. You often see two guys arm in arm but never a boy and girl hand in hand. That’s not a sign of a gay thing but should be seen as brothers or good friends, while a girl and boy can get themselves in trouble by walking like that in public. Cultures of arranged marriage are one of the reasons. Furthermore is sexual affection or feelings often not an open and direct topic. Not to make matters worse, never even use the word sex. Families with 8 children do not mention that word at all.
In Vietnam most neighborhoods have streets full with local hotels with signs on the sidewalk in front with a price for 1 or 2 hr. That is because in most countries you can’t bring a bf or gf home. Not to mention going together to your own room. Erotic, sensual feelings are (often public) secrets.
Money talks is an expression but one that doesn’t count for everyone. When in Thailand, it’s hard to find people who are willing to do anything for you without charging you or at least making ‘a joke’ about paying. From friends dropping you at a bus station to a coffee. In other Asian countries the rules can be such that if you offer to pay, it will be taken as an insult. You’re their guest which is the level of a God. How dare you mention money paying. It’s often a sensitive topic at such places so try to be aware of their culture. When you’re not sure, try to ask or mention it in a soft and humble manner.
In Thailand you should beware of the way you pay something. Keep in mind to always pay in a way that you slowly and softly lay down or hand over the money. Preferably with saying ‘kap/krap’ f/m (please). The way most foreigners put money down to pay a bill is taken by them as throwing which can easily bring up irritation and blame from their side. The king is printed on the money and you handle that with extreme care. What is polite and gentle paying for you, is for them often throwing and disrespectful.
Westerners are often blamed by Asians for a bad mouth. A part of that idea comes from Hollywood movies or (rap) music but surely also from just keeping your ears open in bars or on streets. You probably hear the F word more than you ever hear sorry. If we talk about do’s & don’ts, bad words and foul mouth are not appreciated. The F word alone can drop mouths of some Asians. Don’t even think about words like M*therf… .
Don’t get this wrong. From knowing these words in some local languages this reporter knows that the words are often used by locals in their respective languages but they can freak out when you use them. You might call it hypocrite but it’s always better just to be humble and polite. Watch your mouth is what we can suggest. There are plenty of individuals that ended up in a hospital for using bad words in someone elses country. As mentioned in the beginning, people have different definitions or meanings of words.
As mentioned above, it is not common to touch people. Shaking hands, kissing the cheek or hugging is not appreciated. Greeting other people is often done in a religious respectful way, like the well known “Namaste” greeting. The origin of “Namaste” is in Hinduism. It is used to greet people at arrival and depart. People put their hands together before the chest, fingers up, bow the head or upper body a bit and say “Namaste”, which means “I bow to the divine in you”. This in India and Nepal but in Thailand and a lesser extend Cambodia they use this method of greeting too.
For most Asian people religion is one of the most important things in life. Expressions of religions are everywhere, in temples, in public places and at people’s homes. Be respectful for all things that have to do with religion and don’t touch it unless you’re invited to. Especially be respectful to holy persons like Monks. Most obvious religious objects are the temples and statues, but many other objects are seen as holy, like small places for offerings, Buddha figurines, jewellery, bowls and religious art. Then there are the many offering people do in public or at their own home, which should not be disturbed.
At religious places like temples or Angkor Wat it is required to cover the knees and sholders, and to leave the shoes outside as mentioned before.
In some countries, like Thailand and Myanmar, disturbence of sacred acts, religious objects or ceremonies are punishable by imprisonment. So being respectful is not only a social issue, but also for your own wellbeing.