Doing Business in Nepal – Business Etiquette
Nepal is a culturally diverse country with one of the world’s friendliest populations. Foreigners have always been warmly welcomed, and you should not be surprised if you are treated like a special guest.
- If you are being picked up from the airport, expect to be welcomed by a group of people with garlands and flower bouquets.
- If you are travelling by yourself, take a pre-paid taxi or agree with the driver to go by the meter.
- Let your embassy in Kathmandu know where you will be staying and a contact number.
- If you are staying in someone’s home, a small gift from your country can be presented to the host.
- Nepal is an ethnically diverse country with over 100 languages and dialects. The official language is Nepali. However, most people you will meet in Kathmandu will be fluent in English and Hindi. You can easily find translators for French, Spanish, Japanese and German, if you need them.
- Basic words:
- Namaste: na-mas-tay – for ‘hello’ and goodbye’
- Dhanynabaad: dhan-ya-baad- thank you
- Ramro cha: ram-ro cha – it’s good
- Huncha: hoon-cha- yes, that’s ok.
Nepali people have a generally light disposition. They have a good sense of humour and take things relatively lightly. However, disrespect to elders and their families will not be tolerated. It is safer to poke fun at yourself than at others. Hinduism is the most popular religion, but most people tend to be secular and practice more than one religion. You shouldn’t be surprised if you are invited to a family gathering or wedding.
- It is polite to greet people by saying ‘Namaste’. You have to press your palms together in front of your chest and either nod your head or bow down slightly. Always greet the elderly with a namaste. If you are meeting prospective business partners, you can shake hands and use English greetings.
- If you are going into someone’s home, always take your shoes off at the entrance. Nepali people do no bring in footwear into the house. This is not necessary in offices or public places.
Wining and dining
- If you are invited for a meal at a restaurant, the host is expected to pay for it. It would not be considered polite if you offer to pay.
- If you are invited to someone’s home, a small gift like wine or flowers would be appropriate. Nepali people appreciate gifts from different cultures, so it would be a good idea to bring something from your own country.
- The food is considered to be ‘impure’ or ‘tampered with’ if you use the same cutlery to eat and to serve yourself.
- Newari restaurants are the most popular choice for businessmen to take their clients to. It is one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the capital and you might have to sit on the floor while you eat.
- If you do not have a strong stomach, avoid having red meat and salads.
- If dining on your own, you can tip up to 15%. If you invite your business partner for a meal, tip generously.
- If you are not being served, you should always offer the food to others before helping yourself.
- Since Hinduism is the predominant religion, you will not find beef practically anywhere. However, buffalo meat or buff is a popular substitute.
- When meeting a client or a business partner, smart casual dress would be appropriate. Nepali people are not very strict about dress codes as long as the attire appears to be smart. However, it is advised that women should avoid wearing short skirts and revealing clothing.
- All-white attire is worn only by someone in mourning, and hence should be avoided.
- Jeans should not be worn in business meetings.
Traveling in Nepal
- If you flying into the country, you will land at the capital city of Kathmandu. If you need to go to any other destination, domestic flights or private hire vehicles are the safest option.
- Public transport is very chaotic and it will be quite an ordeal.
- Taxis are the best way to get around the city of Kathmandu.
- It is definitely useful to you and your business if you can make friends with influential businessman, politicians, and bureaucrats. Not much gets done without the help of contacts with influential people. Generous wining and dining tactics are one of the ways to get such people to listen to you.
- There are many middlemen who might offer their services to get government work done in less than half the normal time. Make sure to run a check on them through your network before making any decisions.
- Saturday is the official holiday and Sunday is a half-working day.
- Business hours are from 9 am to 5pm and Nepali people are quite laid back and prefer not to work on weekends.
- Business cards must be exchanged at the end of meetings.
- It is always good to show up on time for a meeting, but don’t be surprised if your partner or client is late by 15 minutes or more.
- Most of the people have strong religious values. They do not work on religious holidays; therefore, they must not be contacted on such occasions.
- It is considered a sign of disrespect to touch any object with your feet, especially books, food and any religious artefacts.
- It is impolite to refuse food, and should be done tactfully by saying ‘maybe later’ or ‘in a while, please’.
- If you are visiting a Hindu temple, you must take off your shoes before you enter.
- Do not criticise or say anything offensive about the late king Birendra as he was very dear to most of the people in Nepal.
- Make sure you have made contact with influential businessmen and officials.
- Nepali people enjoy their pictures being taken, and they expect you to take a picture together before you leave.
- Garlands or Tibetan white cloth will be places around your neck, for luck and a safe journey.
- People are usually not used to hugs. Never make the first move, wait for others.
- ‘Pheri bhetaula’: phe-ri bhe-tau-la – we’ll meet again – is commonly used for farewells.
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