Nepal - Culture Clash

Culture Clash: Nepal v America

Alright, so I've had a few questions about cultural differences between Nepal and America. Totally fair. I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to address them all, but I'll give it a shot.


Like I've said in my previous posts, the Nepali start their day very early. People are out and about by 5 (at least by my best estimation). This means that they also end their days pretty early. Once it's dark out, most people stay inside since there are no street lights. Shops tend to have more or less standard Western opening times, but may stay open a bit past the traditional 5 o'clock closing. They're also a bit more relaxed about being "on time" than Americans, but that doesn't mean they'll show up hours late.


Traditionally, Nepali eat dal bhat (a lentil and rice dish, sometimes accompanied by vegetables) twice a day. Doesn't sound like too much? Well, they eat a mountain of rice each time, so it keeps their stomach full. There are also a few snacks that they'll munch on in the middle of the day. My favorite is momo. Momo are like dumplings; you can get veggie, chicken, or buff (buffalo). They come with a special momo sauce for dipping, and can be found super cheap if you know where to look. A plate of 10 costs less than $1. Oh! And they typically eat everything with their right hand- no silverware.

In the volunteer house, they serve us a "western" breakfast, which is toast with peanut butter and nutella 90% of the time. We'll also get some fruit and Nepali tea, which is similar to chai and can come with or without milk. Our dinners are made by a Nepali woman who lives in the house and the majority of the time we do have dal bhat- not the mountain of rice that the Nepali eat though. We've also had noodles, chow main style, and some pasta.


The one thing I most definitely will not miss when I'm back in the States is the hacking. Here, it's socially acceptable to clear one's throat and spit it in the street, out the window, etc. I get that it's a cultural difference, but the sound disgusts me.

They also have a few different gestures. The one that's been the hardest to get used to is how they indicate "yes" with their heads. They don't nod or shake their heads, but they kind of tilt it side to side. It looks a bit like they're confused, but apparently they're not. The monks do it all the time, and I'm still getting used to it. Whenever I ask them if they understand, they'll tilt their heads, and my mind immediately thinks that they don't when they really do. It's been a bit of a challenge to get it right.

I think one of the cutest things that the Nepali do is call everyone "sister" and "brother." It's precious, nothing more than that. Especially when they say it in English to us with their accent. Too adorable.


The Nepali dress conservatively. I was told before I came that I would have to have my knees and shoulders covered at all times while in public. I originally thought that was just to be a bit cautious, but no, that's what people do. Most women wear clothes that are similar to Indian style-- either a sari, or flowy pants and a tunic. Younger women (read: around my age) will sometimes wear more Western fashions, but still cover their shoulders and knees. Men will usually just wear pants and a shirt, nothing too different there. Kids are more all over the board. Every now and again, I'll see a child in more traditionally clothing, other times they're wearing a t-shirt with English words on it.


Okay, so working in an orphanage and a monastery has shown me two ends of the spectrum of how kids are treated here. At first, I was completely shocked by how often they were hitting each other at the orphanage, as well as the fact that the owner of the orphanage would smack them too. We tried to get them to stop, and it has subsided a little bit, but not completely. One of the office staff here recently told us that it is acceptable to smack a kid upside their head to get them to behave- something I'll never be able to bring myself to do. So this kind of explains why the kids are hitting each other, but it still irks me. The kids could either turn out to be completely fine, or serial killers. Either way, I don't really agree with it. Other than the hitting, the kids at the orphanage seem to behave similarly to those you'd find in America. They can be a bit loud and unruly, but even if you yell at them, they'll still hug you the next time you come back.

At the monastery, there wasn't as much hitting. Just one who's the oldest did a bit at the beginning. I think they act very different than those at the orphanage though, because it's class time not play time. Sometimes they don't pay attention or don't shut up, and other times they're perfectly fine. I just attribute not following instructions to the language barrier, and not because they don't care what I have to say.

At each place there is definitely a pecking order, usually determined by age. A few times an orphan has tried to claim he's the leader, when clearly we're older. That's usually annoying since they'll use that when we're trying to get them to stop beating each other or quiet down.

Alright- that's all I can think of now, but if you want to know anything else, ask or leave a comment!!

Visit Lena's blog

Learn about our programs in Nepal

 goabroad logo posner logo