Nepalese Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: The Nepalese communication style is generally indirect to avoid confrontation or offence. Conversations are usually long and drawn out, as people tend to speak in a roundabout way that reaches their point more delicately. This speech style is to be taken with patience; Nepalis may say the same thing several different ways, adding more detail as they repeat themselves. It is advisable to pay attention to the subtleties in conversation to draw meaning. For example, the absence of a fervent response can reflect more than what is actually said. Expect a lot of meaning to be conveyed through body language and facial expression. Direct communication is reserved for relationships with a high level of trust or for crucial situations.
  • Agreement: Nepalis are known to say “yes” as a way to indicate that they are listening to the speaker and simply acknowledge what is said. Therefore, do not interpret every “yes” spoken as a sign that they agree with you.
  • Refusals: To questions and requests that require a yes or no answer, a Nepali may answer “yes” – whether they mean this or not. This is because a flat ‘no’ is considered too abrasive, hostile and impolite. A way of navigating around this is to check for clarification several times and use open-ended questions that give them the ability to answer questions more indirectly (e.g. “maybe” or “I’ll do my best” as a way to express ‘no’).
  • Language Style: While Nepalis have an indirect communication style, they tend to have quite a forward way of asking questions. You can expect to be asked about personal matters in the initial stages of meeting someone. Non-Nepalese can be taken aback by how bold these comments can be. For example, they may enquire into your marital status, your age, weight or how much an item cost. Consider these to be made out of curiosity, not as an assault.
  • Soft Voices: The Nepalis generally speak at low volumes and do not raise their voice out of excitement or heated emotion often.


Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: Nepalese society is quite conservative and modest in regards to contact between the genders. Public displays of affection (such as handholding) are not common, even among married couples. One should generally avoid touching anyone of the opposite gender. Some younger people have started holding hands, but this is still uncommon to see. Nevertheless, physical affection is generally permissible between people of the same gender. Nepali men commonly hold hands and embrace each other in public. It is also common for them to share beds. Women may walk with their arms around each other. All same-sex expressions of affection are perceived as gestures of friendship as opposed to homosexuality (which is strongly stigmatised).
  • Personal Space: People tend to keep slightly less personal space between each other in Nepal than is common in Australia. However, the distance widens when interacting with a person of the opposite gender.
  • Eye Contact: It is appropriate to meet someone’s gaze during conversation when they share the same status as you; however, eye contact is usually kept to a minimum when talking to anyone of a higher status. People are expected to lower their gaze when talking to elders. Staring at strangers is not perceived as impolite in Nepal and it occurs commonly.
  • Expressions: People generally express thanks and gratitude through their facial expressions. A verbal “thank you” is not always necessary. It is good to consider this to avoid perceiving Nepalis as rude.
  • Head Tilt: People may tilt their head to the side or shake it to both sides to indicate agreement and understanding. This head movement is similar to the Australian gesture that indicates “I don’t know” with a shrug of the shoulders, tilting one’s head to the side.
  • Refusals: People refuse offers and say “no” politely by holding one hand up in front of them, palm forward, and swivelling their wrist subtly, as if adjusting a bracelet.
  • Pointing: It is best to point using the chin rather than a single finger.
  • Head: The head is considered to be the holiest part of one’s body. Touching someone on the top of the head is considerably insensitive and offensive.
  • Feet: Feet are thought to be the dirtiest part of the body, and displaying the soles of one’s feet or touching people with one’s feet is considered rude. See Etiquette for more information on this.
  • Silence: You may find that conversations are interrupted by silence periodically. Nepalis are largely comfortable with this and do not necessarily find it awkward when no one is speaking.
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