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ETIQUETTE in TIBET
When entering a temple, remove your hat. Most of the time, you do NOT need to remove your shoes, even though monks have done so. It is usually okay to come inside while monks are chanting. Sit or stand in the rear, or walk clockwise around the room-- unless it's a Bon monastery, in which case walk counterclockwise. Refrain from loud or irreverent conversation. Do not photograph anything inside without permission (photography outside is okay). Don't touch the murals, butter sculpture, or other things you see displayed. Do not sit with the soles of your feet facing the altar or any other sacred object or person. It would be a nice gesture to add some money to the little piles of cash you see around, but it's not required.
If you have purchased butter or oil as an offering, spoon it into the lamps yourself. You may follow the lead of other pilgrims in bowing to various shrines, but if your heart isn't in it then it's quite acceptable not to. In general, it's okay to wander around the building, and you can go to the roof or enter any room that's not locked--however you should stringently avoid entering chambers on the roof of the monastery where monks may be in retreat. Don't worry a lot about committing faux pas in a monastery, because if you're about to do something wrong, and there's someone around, then they will stop you. Tibetans are really very good natured and will not take offense.
Like other Asians, Tibetans warmly and amply extend hospitality to visitors. It is the norm for them to try to overfeed you, even if they have to bankrupt themselves to do it. You must be prepared to make loud, repeated refusals of excess food, lest you seriously dent the supplies that your hosts need to get through the winter. One effective but polite way to refuse is to press your palms together and bow, as if praying to your hosts for their forgiveness. They will keep on refilling your tea-bowl all day, and if you stop drinking and let the tea grow cold they will dump it and refill it with fresh tea. You should not refuse tea, although you may wish to ask for clear tea (jah-no) or hot water (chuki) in preference to butter-tea. It will not offend them if you pull out a cloth and wipe down the bowl before using it, or if you use your own bowl. They may place a lot of beverages in front of you: soda, beer, etc. You can safely ignore these if you don't want them.
When offered dried yak, you should take a sharp knife and shave thin slices. These are really quite delicious. The deep fried dough fritters (droju or kaseh) are nice when fresh, but to be avoided when stale. When eating tsampa, try to get a large bowl and underfill it--this will minimize embarrassing spillover during kneeding.
Many families keep separate washbasins for face and feet; it would be a major faux pas to mix them up. If the family has to fetch water from a far distance, be modest in your consumption. Don't put trash in the fire. You may wish to go out and bathe in a nearby stream; however Tibetans do not normally do this except during the peak of summer. They expect--and will be quite happy--to heat some water on the stove for you to wash with.
If you stay in, or visit, a Tibetan home, the family will usually refuse cash payment of any kind, but they would love to have a souvenir of your stay. If you have picked up a khata (ceremonial silk scarf) somewhere along your journey, it's nice to present it to your hosts. It's a good idea to have a stock of small items to give away; see the FAQ for some suggestions.
Those you have traveled around the heavily-touristed Lhasa region have seen the results of misplaced generosity to kids. In a short time, children come to think of foreigners not as honored visitors to be respected, but as sources of freebies to be pestered into submission. Giving things to children encourages them to be aggressive, to disrespect foreigners, and to skip school. If you want to give pens, candy, and the like to children, we strongly urge you to find a responsible adult (such as a teacher) who will distribute them equitably. We would not like to see Tibetan parents sending their children out to beg for the family, or purposely mutilating them to make them more pitiable.
The same reasoning applies to monks. According to the economic system practiced by most monasteries, there is no need for monks to beg to support themselves. Those monks who you see with begging bowls are probably free-lancers, or opportunists. If you want to support and encourage the practice of Buddhism, give to monasteries, not individual monks.
We do encourage you to give to adult, lay beggars. China offers no safety net for the destitute, and often begging is their only way to survive.
Tibetans don't engage in public displays of affection, so you shouldn't either. Don't wear shorts or go barefoot. Keep expensive gear covered up when not in use. Ask permission before taking people's photographs.
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