One of the most fascinating aspects of travel to another country is learning more about the culture of the nation. Nepal has many cultural traditions and this article outlines a few of them.
In Nepal the family is considered the most important social unit and a high value is placed on family ties. Many families, particularly in rural areas are larger than in the West and are also extended. There is a very clear hierarchy and the patriarch is usually the father or older brother. In Nepal older people are given a lot of respect and are expected to be cared for by the younger generation. Families often live under one roof, and when a son marries his wife is brought to the family home to live. Having children is considered very important in Nepalese culture. Aphno Manche is the family support system in Nepal whereby if there is a problem it is sorted out within a few selected members of the family. Examples are where money is needed to buy a house and another family member provides it. The debt can be repaid through working for that family member or financially. Similar issues arise when someone is sick and the family rally around.
Respect is integral to Nepalese culture and is the factor that has enabled people from different religions and beliefs to co–exist side by side for centuries. The most common form of respect seen in Nepalese society is towards the elders. When someone is younger this is not a cause of embarrassment but they will defer to the elder. Expressions such as “didi” are used to address a person older than oneself and are added as a prefix to the person’s name by the speaker. Similarly western visitors who are more mature may find themselves addressed as uncle or auntie which is meant to be respectful.
In Nepalese culture disagreeing with someone is seen as bad form. The Nepalese do not like to contradict someone directly and to do so is seen as losing face. No is rarely heard directly, and visitors can expect ambiguity from time to time. Admitting to not understanding something is also seen as potentially losing face in Nepalese culture. Arguments are not something seen openly in Nepalese society.
Attitudes towards Work
In Nepal the caste system tends to dictate what work a person will do. Having a degree is considered very prestigious and it is not in the culture of a graduate in Nepal to do manual labour. The boss will always command respect regardless of the amount of work he actually does during the day. This extends to out of hours when someone in a professional role is unlikely to do tasks such as gardening. In Nepal having a long fingernail or nail signifies someone who is commercially or professionally successful and does not do manual work. Working in towns and cities is considered to have a much higher status than rural areas which are the reason why government workers sent to the country village areas sometimes do not turn up for work and why there is a shortage of professionals in these regions.
Tradition and Superstition
Nepalese people are culturally very superstitious and believe that doing things in a traditional way will bring good outcomes in future years. One of the best known examples of this in the culture of Nepal is the use of an astrologer to fix the date of a wedding.
Visitors to Nepal will be surprised to see cows wandering the streets, grazing on roundabouts and traffic doing everything it can to avoid these animals. In Nepal and in Hindu culture the cow is considered sacred. Cows are seen as the mother figure and are symbolic of both this and fertility. It is considered a great crime to kill a cow even if this is accidental, and is a very serious religions transgression. Likewise eating beef in a Hindu culture is highly offensive.
Attitudes towards Women
There are some Nepalese cultures where women are considered to have a high status in society but for the majority they are often disadvantaged from a social and legal perspective. Many women in Nepal are illiterate as they have never received formal education, although access to learning has improved in recent years. In Nepalese society giving birth to a son is considered far highly than having a daughter. Gender determination clinics do exist in Nepal. Wealthy women and those from a higher caste are not expected to work for a living. Widows are shunned in Nepalese society.
Visitors from Western countries will find that time is not as big a priority as it is in the USA or Europe. This can work both ways in that if you visit someone unexpectedly they will be very hospitable and entertain you with tea and conversation. However, if someone visits you they may not appreciate that you are busy and do not have time to speak with them. It can be very challenging to get someone to agree to a precise time in Nepal. This is because in Nepalese culture it is believed that it is important to be hospitable and there will always be time to do something. “Bholi” means tomorrow in Nepalese and can also denote a time in the future. The positive side to this is the laid back attitude is very pleasant in comparison to the frenzy and precision of working life in a Western country.
Understanding the culture of a country is an excellent way to comprehend why things happen in the way that they do and it also helps in getting accustomed to the way of life.