Been In Asia blog

Social Etiquettes for Laos

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Date: January 16th 2015
Traveller: Carla Rijnders
Every country has it’s own social etiquettes, and so does Laos. The Laotians are genuinely friendly people and interacting with them is one of the greatest joys of travelling through the country. Do keep in mind that Laos is a Buddhist country, and therefore it’s very important to dress and behave in a way that is respectful. As long as you’re being respectful to them all will be fine, but just keep in mind some important points while visiting this beautiful country.

Lao people traditionally greet each other by pressing their palms together to “Nop”, although for men it’s acceptable to shake hands nowadays. The Nop involves placing your hands together in a prayer position at the chest level, but not touching your own body. The higher the hands, the greater sign of respect - although they should never be held of the level of the nose and up. This is accompanied by a slight bow to show respect for people of higher status or age. The Nop is an expression of greeting, thanks, regret or used when saying goodbye.

True Lao Hospitality:
Laotians are very hospitable and will go out of their way to help visitors to their country - especially in rural areas. You may find yourself being invited to a persons home to join them for a meal or even to celebrate a birth or a marriage. This is a real privilege and it is considered very impolite not to join. Besides it will give you a chance to experience local life, that’s what we would call a win-win situation!

Head and Feet:
The Lao beliefs are often linked with the Buddhist beliefs. Therefore feet are considered low and unclean. When you want to enter a place and you see several shoes standing outside, make sure to take of your shoes before entering. Also be careful not to step over any part of people who are sitting or lying on the floor, as this is considered to be rude too.
While the feet are considered low and dirty, the head is considered sacred. For this reason it shouldn’t be touched, even if you see a lovely little boy or girl walking around, make sure not to touch their head…

Keep in mind that the Laotians dislike foreigners who come to their country and dress in, what they deem to be, a disrespectful manner. As appearance is very important in Lao society, conservative dress is always recommended. For women this means they should cover their shoulders and thighs, and men should not appear shirtless in public.

Besides dressing conservatively, there are other conventions that must be followed when visiting Buddhist temples in Laos, such as:
  • Your footwear must always be removed
  • Women should never touch Buddhist monks or hand objects directly to them. If you do want to give something to a monk, the item needs to be placed on a nearby table or passed to a laymen who will then hand it to the monk.
  • All buddhist images are objects of devotion, so always make sure to be respectful towards these objects.
  • When sitting on a floor of a monastery building that has a Buddha image, make sure to not point your feet in the direction of the image.
We hope that these points will help you to enjoy this amazing country even more. But above all enjoy your time in this beautiful country, where there is so much more to discover then the people that live there!


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