Volunteering Abroad? Proper etiquette: Culture.

Today I am going to kick-off “proper etiquette” week on the Edge of Seven blog.  Our first team of volunteers head to Nepal in four weeks so I thought that now might be the appropriate time to launch the series.  This week, we will cover proper etiquette in the following categories:

  • Monday – Culture
  • Tuesday – Living with a host family
  • Wednesday – Dress
  • Thursday – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • Friday – Blog


Developing countries will have numerous cultural practices that may appear unusual to a person on his/her first visit to the country. However, to enjoy your stay, it is important to take into consideration the differences so that you can embrace your experience.  Each country has their own set of cultural norms and today I’d like to share the Top 5 cultural practices to keep an eye on.

  1.  Public displays of affection
    Affection between men and women is seldom expressed in public in many parts of the world.  Kissing, hugging or hand holding in public can be offensive to locals so just refrain from making out on the street. 
  2. Use of body parts
    In Nepali culture, the feet are the most profane part of the body.  It is beyond rude to point your feet at someone.  In Thailand, the left hand is considered impure so you need to use the right hand for all transactions.  In India, you NEVER pat a child on the head because it is sacred.  Point: understand the do’s and don’ts of the body so you don’t unintentionally offend anyone.
  3. Taking pictures
    The money shot on any trip is the perfectly crafted photos of locals living everyday life.  My advice if you are seeking this shot is to get a big lens.  If people catch you taking a photo of them washing their clothes, working in the fields, or doing any other routine task while being photographed, they may feel like an animal in a zoo.  It’s always better to treat the locals with respect than to have the perfect picture.
  4. Connecting with the locals
    Learn the basics in any language BEFORE you arrive.  And then learn a little bit more once you have landed.  You should be able to say hello, thank you, and the food is fantastic everywhere you go.  You’ll also score huge points if you learn a funny phrase or two. 
  5. Greetings
    In our culture, we shake hands when we meet someone for the first time.  In many other cultures, it is inappropriate to touch (especially for men and women) when greeting each other.  Learn the local greeting since first impressions last forever.

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