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Culture and Etiquette in Nepal
Hawrry Bhattarai comment 0 Comments access_time 6 min read

Nepalese Society

Society is about the people, their culture and lifestyles, every day patterns and their relationship with one another etc. The geographically varying regions: Himalayan, hilly and terai of Nepal have created diverse ethnic, tribal and social groups. They have their own unique culture, costumes, speak their own languages and follow their own religions. When you come across Nepal and dive into Nepalese society, you will notice two things in Nepalese- evolve or repeat. Nepalese are either evolving with time or repeating the same.

Nepali society is a fascinating blend of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Mongolian influences, sandwiched as it is between two huge countries with very different cultures.  It’s a harsh truth that when you see Nepali you may still consider him/her as Indian or Chinese. But to be honest, people’s assumptions or understanding of our country doesn’t articulate Nepalese. Nepali society has evolved over the centuries and it is a little different from other societies. I feel this way for some of its specific features such as social stratification, family and family values, unity in diversity and etiquette, which I will emphasize in the following article.


nepali society traditional cloths
Nepalese traditional clothes

Nepali Society and Ways of Living

First, the prominent feature of Nepali society is the layers of castes and classes.  Traditionally, the highest castes in society possessed the most land, wealth, and political power, while the lowest castes were unable to own property or receive an education. However, as caste distinctions are no longer supported by law, these divisions have shaped present-day social stratification, in which lower castes/ethnicities are socio-economically and politically disadvantaged compared to higher castes. For many people, land is the principal measure of wealth; while some castes specializing in trade and commerce have progressed better than the others. In the past, land and livestock ownership had been associated with prestige; modern status symbols include houses in urban areas, automobiles, trendy clothes.

Elite groups in city areas like Kathmandu Valley, are competing in sending their children for higher education or jobs in foreign countries like the USA, UK, Australia etc., while for people outside the valley a decent house in the valley will shift their status to a higher level. There have been recent changes in the economic and political system which have created new opportunities for people from traditionally deprived castes.

 The Government of Nepal, universities and many private sector organizations such as banks are frequently allocating special quotas for indigenous, backward, under-served and minority people in various job openings. Nowadays, caste-related identification is not as important as it used to be in urban Nepal when it comes to the workplace or educational institutions, but it still exists in more rural areas.

The family is one of the most important aspects of Nepali society. Strong family values are what make Nepali culture unique and special. Patriarchal families have been the traditional norm in Nepal for many years. While the majority of society is still patriarchal and patrilineal, gender roles have been changing gradually, but more noticeably in urban areas. This is because more women have been receiving an education and joining the workforce in recent years, compared to the discrimination and lack of opportunities they faced in the past.

High value is placed on joint family arrangements in which the sons of a family, along with their parents, wives, and children, live together, sharing resources and expenses. However, in urban areas an increasing number of couples are opting for nuclear family arrangements. Arranged marriages are generally practiced in the society where parents or other family members arrange a marriage for their children. Marriage is supposed to last for life and the divorce rate is extremely low. Since family connections are crucial in providing access to political influence and economic opportunities, marriage alliances are carefully planned to extend kinship networks and strengthen social ties.

Unity in diversity is another distinguishing characteristic of Nepali society. There are a number of cultural and ethnic groups speaking diverse languages, wearing different dresses and following different religions. Regardless of their cultural and racial differences, they have always lived in peace and harmony with each other and there has been no conflict that could threaten the cultural solidarity of the country. Also, the cultural practices are often mixed up and one cultural group can be seen practicing the traditions of others. Despite ethnic unrest, Nepalis have a strong sense of national identity and pride. The multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious groups of people are united under the same identity of being a Nepali. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are year-round festivals that they celebrate with a lot of pomp and ceremony. People from all over the world, as well as from various parts of the country come together to celebrate festivals like Dashain and Tihar.

Nepali Society: Etiquette and Morals

Last but not least, etiquette and morals are an integral part of Nepali society. The customary greeting is to press one’s palms together in front of the chest and say namaste (“I greet the god within you”). In mainstream culture, physical contact between the sexes is not appropriate in public; even married couples do not display physical affection in public, whereas some ethnic groups allow more open communication between the sexes. Hospitality is essential, and after-meal guests are only given food and are not permitted to assist with food preparation or after-meal cleaning. It is appropriate to eat with only the right hand, and the hand used to eat must not touch anything else until it has been thoroughly washed. Moreover, hitting someone with a shoe or sandal, pointing the soles of one’s feet at another, and stepping over a person is disrespectful.

Although globalization, rapid advancement in information technology and internet connectivity is transforming the lifestyle of new generations, the integral features of the society remain intact. Whether it is social stratification, family values or unity in diversity, Nepali society is evolving over time but, at the same time not leaving behind the essence present in it from historic times.



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