When you think of Iran, you often associate with it veiled women and a female image that is not equal to that of men. As a European woman, who wants to travel to Iran, one should deal with a few things in advance.

 How safe is Iran for women?

 

In general, Iran is considered a fairly safe country to travel, and many women even travel alone without any problems through Iran. Most women who travelled alone report that Iran has been experienced by them to be one of the safest travel destinations.

As a Western woman, one has to expect to be stared at in public. Mostly, this gaze has to do with interest and curiosity. We advise you to ignore the stare and, above all, not to pay too much attention to it.

Iranian cities have their own tourist police stations, which you can contact if you need help or information. In larger cities the sight of foreign women traveling alone or in groups is more common and you are greeted by locals and families friendly. Nevertheless, one should abide by a few rules.

 

Not all women in Iran cover themselves so much

 

How to dress

According to the present Islamic rules, women have to cover all body parts (and hair) except face and hands. Religious women in Iran usually wear a chador, a black robe that covers the body from head to toe. Most women, however, prefer to wear a kind of coat, the manteau, which can be long, short, tight, loose, and in different colors (but not too short or too tight). In any case, the manteau must not be shorter than 10cm above the knee. The shawl women use to cover their head can also be colorful. In fact, the clothing of women in Iran has a great variety of shape and color. Many women prefer to wear black because it is more formal, especially at work.

Foreign women need to cover their hair with a scarf or cloth and should wear long and loose blouses with long sleeves. Pants and skirts must cover the body to the ankles. Modern Iranian girls prefer to wear jeans. Both sandals, boots and other shoes are okay.

No body contact with men

Men and women do not shake hands when greeting each other, they only greet each other verbally. In the bus, the woman is sitting next to another woman, her husband or alone. In the subways there are compartments for women, which you don’t have to use.

Any physical contact between a man and a woman is forbidden in public and should not be done even as a foreigner.

 




When visiting a family home in Bhutan

By Ulrike Čokl

Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has
conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices,
travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very
familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves
developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich
cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

The load of merit that is accumulated through pleasing a single guest cannot be carried by a horse.
(Bhutanese saying)

“Come in, come in!” This is how I am usually ushered into a village home in Bhutan. Depending on where I am regionally, ara (local moonshine) or tea will be served together with snacks. Usually a meal will be prepared or at least offered. The reception, donglen, and the way guests are managed, goemgi shongzhag, depends on the type of guest one hosts. From official visits and high level guests to a neighborly stop by, a good host must always be generous and compassionate. However, there are variations in regard to etiquette depending on the degree of familiarity and status of the guest. Lamas and high level officials for instance, will often be met on the way and given offerings of ara and snacks sometimes accompanied by the sound of trumpets. They will be directly escorted to the choesham (altar room) and seated on a soft mattress. However, here I want to talk about how you, a tourist from a foreign country, will be received and treated, so as to help you understand some basics about Bhutanese hospitality.

Ara – the welcome drink. Photo: Wulff Hoerbe

Taking a meal at a Bhutanese home

When you arrive at a village house, your guide will approach the door and call the nangi aum’s (housewife’s) name, or, in case he or she has called the family in advance, they will come and greet you outside. We usually arrange for you to be seated in the kitchen area as you will be able to observe the family going about their chores. Additionally it is the warmest room in the house due to the mud or metal ovens where, in many places, the fire is kept going throughout the year. There are no chairs or tables in traditional homes and you will be seated on the floor on flat cushions or carpets. Some wealthier families do have separate rooms with sofas and low tables to accommodate guests. Nevertheless it is nicer for tourists to sit in the kitchen where the family is always engaged in some activities such as butter churning, food preparation or other tasks. We encourage our guides to properly introduce the family by name but this doesn’t seem to be a tradition in Bhutan. Don’t hesitate to remind your guides in case they forget. While taking a seat do not worry if you cannot sit cross-legged. Again, just ask you guide or, if the family speaks English, ask them which direction to stretch your legs without offending anyone. Usually the soles are not shown towards the alter room or towards other people. However, Bhutanese are flexible and understand that sitting on the floor in such a position is tough for most foreign guests and they will be happy to make you feel comfortable. Ultimately, treating guests with compassion is more important than being fundamentalist about traditional etiquette. In general you should always feel free to ask your guide about anything that you might feel doubtful or insecure about.

Prior to your arrival, our guide will have organized a gift, chom, to offer to your hosts upon arrival. It usually is something that is needed and depends on the time of the year and location of the home. From oil, sugar, salt, biscuits, vegetables, candles and meat to incense and oil for butter lamps, it can be a variety of items. Of course you can bring your own gift from your home country which will be highly appreciated. Gifts must not be handed over the threshold of the house as this is considered bad luck and will turn you into enemies. Wait until you are seated and ara or tea has been served before handing over your present. Most likely the family will take it and put it aside, not showing much interest in front of you as this would be considered immodest. One should not show too much excitement about gifts or else it might seem greedy. Of course in contemporary Bhutan such rules are not written in stone, as they may have been in the past. So, in case you experience such behavior it has nothing to do with your hosts not being happy about your souvenir. On the contrary, once you have left, they will look at it with curiosity.

When food is being served you will encounter your next surprise. The variety and amount of dishes are amazing but moreover the family will not join in and share lunch or dinner with you. This has nothing to do with your hosts feeling inferior as is often assumed by guests. It is strictly in accordance with local traditional etiquette and ideas of politeness. No need to feel bad or weird. You can make it a point that the family join in during your next meal in the same house, in case you stay overnight. Bhutanese eat with their hands, and you, too, can have a try with your fingers if you want but you can also use a spoon or a fork which is available in most households.

It is a very important aspect of Bhutanese hospitality that the host encourages, even forces, guests to eat more. However, most homestay hosts have noticed that many tourists cannot eat as much as the average Bhutanese, especially rice and chilies. Nevertheless they might still insist on re-filling your plate and cup. True, the more you eat the happier the hosts are but they also will understand if you eat less. I personally would recommend taking less the first time and going for a re-fill as that makes them happy. Similarly with drinks one or two re-fills are a must. The trick is not to empty your cup completely before your host offers the re-fill. Just take a little sip instead and don’t do bottoms up.

After you have completed your meal some guests feel the urge to jump up and help clean the dishes, but don’t do it! It might make the family feel awkward as you are the guest and not supposed to help with such tasks when newly arrived. This will be different for the guide and driver as they are not new to the householders and are familiar to them. As mentioned above things might be different after you have stayed a night or two and etiquette will loosen up a bit. But during your first meal, just go with the flow.

Whilst in many European societies, people relax after food and continue with drinks and chatting, this was never really a tradition in Bhutan. There you would chat and drink before dinner or lunch is being served and bid your farewell rather quickly after the meal is completed. However, this is also slowly changing.

The traditional farewell gift, soera, is usually a tip to the householders for the received hospitality. In your case the guide will handle this but if you wish you can tip the family directly while squeezing a bill or two into the nangi aum’s hand during good byes. She might refuse but you have to insist, that is the game. In return they might present you with some local produce such as cheese, butter or fruits.




Wherever you travel, there are local rules and customs that you should research and know in advance. At least rudimentary. It is not necessary to become an expert in the local culture. But striving for correct behavior is something that should be in the list of priorities when traveling. Of course, small faux pas can always happen, but the Mongols are a hospitable people and are quick to overlook unintentional mistakes.

18 for Mongolia

 

  • Give presents with both hands. It is considered polite to use both hands when handing over or accepting gifts, money or anything else.
  • Always climb on a horse from the left side.
  • Do not step onto the threshold. Always step over it and to the other side. This applies to monasteries, houses and gers (yurts).

  • Never whistle when inside houses and gers.
  • Always accept offered drink and food. Even if you are not hungry or thirsty at the time, accept it and at least taste it.
  • Throw no milk, no water and no garbage into the fire. The fire is sacred to the Mongols.

  • Never touch the head of a person. Not even a child’s. Patting children’s heads is a widespread custom in the Western World, but it is not welcome in Mongolia.
  • Never point at someone with an outstretched forefinger, and especially not at a Buddha statue or an altar. If needed, you can use the entire palm to point to something.
  • Never urinate in water (streams, rivers, lakes). For Mongols, water is sacred and alive.

  • Never pour milk nor milk products into rivers, streams or lakes.
  • Even if you think it is important, do not ask drivers and locals about driving, riding and in general traveling times. Doing this is to bring misfortune and put the journey in danger. Alternatively you can ask your travel guide. They are already familiar with this western “bad habit”. 😉
  • Always move around a stupa in a clockwise manner.
  • Take off your shoes when entering a yurt or a house. This is especially true for monasteries.
  • Never step over the outstretched legs of a Mongol.
  • Never stretch your legs in the direction of people, altars or Buddha statues.

  • When eating, use your right hand or both hands.
  • Never turn your back on an altar or a Buddha statue.
  • Never go in front of an older person.

 

 




Foreign countries, foreign customs. Whenever you travel, always try to research in advance about the local customs at your destination. This will help you avoid awkward or unpleasant situations, and make friends quickly. Kyrgyzstan is no exception, and it has a few rules worth knowing. Of course, small faux pas and unintentional mistakes can happen, but the hospitable Kyrgyz are quick to forgive them. So don’t worry too much.

1o Rules for Kyrgyzstan

1 Gifts make friends

If you are invited to a Kyrgyz house, it is a nice touch to bring a small gift. Fruits and/or sweets from your home country are always well received.

2 Proper handling of bread

Bread is the most important food for the nomads. Never put it upside down on the table; that is especially disliked. Bread is preferably hand-torn, not cut with a knife, and it is usually put on the center of the table so it can be shared among all diners. Above all, do not throw bread away! If you are satisfied or consider it no longer edible, at least give it to the animals. There is an ominous saying whenever bread is thrown away: “kesir bolot”, which means “famine comes”.

3 Accepting and tasting

If you are invited to dinner with a Kyrgyz family, try tasting a little bit of everything. This shows that you appreciate their hospitality. Besides the bread, the butter is especially important. So try them (if you can). Often, a family member will offer you something from his or her own plate. Take it. It would be rude to refuse. This is especially true when coming from the elders, because it is a sign of affection.

4 Eating with the right hand

Even though nowadays cutlery is widely used, many Kyrgyz still eat with their hands. It is important to eat only with the right one!

5 Empty plates are refilled

If you eat everything on your plate, your Kyrgyz host will give you more food. So, if you’re satisfied and don’t want anything else to eat, it’s good to leave something on your plate.

6 Shoes off!

In Kyrgyzstan you take off your shoes before entering a house. Take them off, put them nicely next to each other and never with the soles up! Superstitious Kyrgyz assume that upside down shoes bring bad luck into the house.

7 Spit

Sometimes an elderly woman will greet you with a bowl of water and ask you to spit in it. Then she’ll move the bowl over your head and empty it or put it in front of the house. Water has a purifying effect and when you spit into it, evil spirits and their negative aura are chased away and dissipated. This is a custom in Kyrgyzstan with people who come from a long journey.

8 Alcohol

The Kyrgyz people like to drink. A lot. As a guest, this is also expected of you. The most common drinks served are vodka and Kymyz (fermented mare’s milk). If you don’t want to drink, it’s better to say so from the beginning and not accept a single glass. As soon as you accept a shot, it will become harder to refuse the following. A “no” coming from a woman will be easier to accept than the denial of a man. And if you are the one serving, always fill the others’ glasses first, before pouring yourself something.

9 Toasts

When Kyrgyz people sit together to drink, they also toast. The longer the toast, the more respected the speaker. It signals the desire to express big, deep wishes. So try to come up with a long speech!

10 Offer and insist

If you offer food to Kyrgyz people, they will usually politely refuse at first, even if they really feel like tasting what you have to offer. If so, insist. Only then will they accept it and enjoy it.




When traveling, you can’t and you shouldn’t try to completely behave as a local, but you should check out the customs and rules of your destination before each trip. This saves you and the locals many uncomfortable moments. The people in Sri Lanka are very friendly and you are always welcome as a traveler, but if you want to make friends, here are some important things to keep in mind.

 

 

Sri Lankan etiquette: what to avoid

 

1 No Selfies in front of Buddha statues

For many travelers, selfies come almost automatically – they naturally want to be part of each captured memory, and share every new sight, landscape, building or event with their friends via social media. BUT please take care when taking pictures of Buddha statues: turning your back to a Buddha statue is a sign of disrespect. Better yet, keep your distance and save (and savor) the moment in your heart and your mind.

 

Photos – also selfies – are of course ok. Just not in front of Buddha statues.

2 Dress properly on beaches

Sri Lanka has many wonderful beaches perfect for sunbathing. But keep something on! Full nudity or even topless bathing is not a welcome practice and can turn problematic. Back on the streets, or anywhere that is not a bathing place, try to wear more modest clothes: ideally, shoulders and knees should be covered! However, you will find that many young Sri Lankans, especially in larger cities, are already a bit more liberal. It is not that important anymore. But try to adhere to this rule always anyway, and especially when travelling through rural areas.

 

3 Correct clothes in the temple

When visiting a temple, you should take off your shoes and keep your shoulders and legs covered. In many Buddhist temples, it would be nice if you also can wear white (or at least light-colored) clothes – for example, in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy or in Anuradhapura. You will also see that most locals done their whitest clothes! Many temples can have stricter or additional rules and check at the entrance whether one dresses correctly.

 

White clothes are the perfect choice when visiting Buddhist temples!

4 No public display of affection

Traveling with a loved partner is wonderful, but not all countries like to see couples kissing in public. Dial back a bit and save it for later: kisses, hugs and other gestures of romantic affection are better left for private moments behind locked doors! Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka homosexuality is still a punishable offense… therefore same-sex couples should for their own good be especially careful and avoid public displays of affection.

 

5 Greeting properly

In Sri Lanka one traditionally greets with folded hands at about chin height and a slightly bowed head. The Sinhalese greet each other with the word Ayubowan, and the Tamils with the word Vanakkam. Young men greet each other with the usual western handshake, but women are a bit more reserved still.

 

6 Legs away from Buddha

While not as rigorous as Thailand or other Buddhist countries, it would be nice if you could avoid putting your legs pointing at a Buddha statue. Whenever sitting in front of a Buddha statue, if possible, sit cross-legged or in a position where your feet don’t point towards the statue.

 

7 Stay polite

Western concepts of privacy are not well understood or appreciated in Sri Lanka. In effect, one is often suddenly asked by complete strangers personal questions like “Where are you going?”, “Where do you come from?” or “What’s your name?” This may annoy you after a while, but please try to stay polite! A smile and short answers are more than enough.

 

The people or Sri Lanka are usually polite and curious.

 

8 Asking before taking a picture

Most people in Sri Lanka like to be photographed. But out of politeness and because you wouldn’t want it for yourself, we recommend you to get an OK in advance (especially for close-ups). A bit of body language, facial expressions and a friendly smile are often enough.

 

9 Keep a right hand or use both hands

Sri Lankans use no cutlery and eat with the right hand (the left one is considered unclean). You do not have to do without cutlery (which is offered almost everywhere), but you should avoid using your left hand when handshaking or handing over things or money. If you want to do it correctly, hand over money and smaller objects with the right hand while touching the right forearm with your left hand.

 

10 Don’t make a big deal of it

The Sri Lankans are very welcoming hosts. If a faux pas happens to you, apologize but don’t worry, people aren’t going to get mad over a candid mistake.

 

Hast du Lust auf Sri Lanka bekommen? Weitere Infos zu Sri Lanka findest du hier: Destination Sri Lanka

Gerne arbeiten wir an deiner maßgeschneiderten Traumreise nach Sri Lanka. Ein Mail genügt.




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When in Rome, do as the Roman do. You do not have to adapt to everything what the Romans do, but knowing a little bit about how to behave in their country while on a visit can avoid annoyance and disrespect to the local customs and hence earning some unexpected friendly treatments. Some experiences and acquaintances might last for lifetime.

Von Tashi Wangail

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10 things you should not do in Ladakh

First of all, Ladakh is not a difficult place to travel. Most of the people will tolerate and forgive the awkward situations of a stranger quite naturally. However it is simply a noble sign to make an effort to understand and know some local customs before venturing into a new country.

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1. Tables are tables and no benches

The Ladakhi people sit on the floor in crossed leg positions and for this reason, the Ladakhi Table (Choktse) is even lower than the western chairs and therefore quite appealing to sit on it, especially people with Joint and knee problems. But sitting on a table or walking over it is considered quite unpolite. Anyone in such conditions (Joint and knee) can always ask the host for something to sit on or at least a raised platform, if a western type of chair is unavailable

(c) Roland Amon

Don’t sit on the small tables (= choktse) in Ladakhi houses and monasteries. Photo: Roland Amon

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2. Observe sitting hierarchy

It is important to note that a lay person do not sit on the seat rows meant for the monks and also refrain from sitting on the tables where food and tea are served. Lay person sit in accordance with the local custom and never above or on the seat meant for a monk unless a monk offer you to sit, which they do often, especially by a young monk running around and serving tea and food to the assembly of monks and visitors.

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3. Stepping over legs

While moving among people sitting in a raw, one must not step over a table (Choktse) or over people’s leg who are sitting in outstretched positions. Walking behind the people sitting in row to the desired place is always polite.

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4. Direct your feet correctly

Most Ladakhi sit cross-legged and solve the issue within itself of where to direct their feet. We “Westerners” often find this sitting position hard and have to stretch our legs. In this case, please be careful not to stretch your legs in the direction of a person, and certainly not in the direction of a Buddha statue.

Maitreya-Statue (c) Roland Amon

Please don’t direct your feet at a Statue of Buddha. Photo: Roland Amon

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5. Never step over books

One should never step over books, especially not when it comes to religious writings!

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6. Keep your spoon in your own plate

A Ladakhi does not like, if their food gets touched with the spoon of others. Whereas in the west, it is quite common to ask your friend or colleague: May I try your food? And dig into other’s plate. There will be always an extra cutlery for each dish to serve your plate. Ladakhis, while cooking, never taste the food with the cooking spoon. They always take out a little bit with the cooking spoon and put on the palm or on an extra plate and try it, but not directly with the cooking spoon. If you are offered Tsampa (roasted barley flour) please never wet your finger and try it that way! Take the spoon, put it on your palm and then into your mouth. If you are well trained you can also throw it into your mouth directly from the spoon – but this is only for experienced people. Ladakhi will never drink from your bottle, if your mouth touched the opening. They will always drink in such a way that their mouth does not touch the bottle at all.

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7. Dress appropiately

Dress appropriately especially when you visit a monastery: Please avoid shorts and shirts that do not cover your shoulders. The most monks will not say a word if you don’t dress correctly, but still why one should invite dislikes when it is not such a hard work. For the ladies: Also avoid to show too much of your cleavage and other distracting parts.

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8. Bend while entering a room

When you are about to enter a room take care not to hit your head. Sometimes this is difficult as a lot many doors in ladakh are really low. In many monasteries, especially at the entrance to certain temples, you will often find a note “Mind your head! In this case you show your respect to the sacred space by lowering head while you avoid your head against a good chance of hitting one of the door frames. Although Many Ladakhis do believe if you hit your head it is an obstacle forbade, of course not by intention.

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9. Kissing forbidden

Please don’t kiss in public. This is something uncomfortable and causes uneasiness. Even holding hands between different sexes is something you will hardly see. Whereas you will see many of the same sexes holding hand in hand or walking hand around shoulders. Do not perceive them as you might do at home. So if you come with your partner to Ladakh, simply keep your signs of love strictly to yourself and when possible away from public places.

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10. Don’t urinate in/next to water

Ladakhi do believe in lhu (serpent spirit) or spirits living in the water. So peeing in water or next to a water body is considered polluting which will cause wounds and sickness onto yourself and the people living nearby. So please – even when you think this is superstitious – don’t do it! You generally do not pee in water as people drink from the streams rivers.

Pangong