To help you avoid accidentally causing any offence or misunderstanding, we’ve put together a guide of things to do and not to do on Bali...
Bali is a beautiful island of welcoming people and exotic scenery, where you will generally be greeted with a smile and where you can be sure of a wonderful holiday.
There are some cultural differences from home though, and so to help you avoid accidentally causing any offence or misunderstanding, we’ve put together a guide of things to do and not to do when visiting Bali.
DO: Dress modestly if visiting a temple
Balinese people take their religion seriously and expect visitors to respect this if visiting a temple. This applies to both men and women. Knees and shoulders should be covered. For men, this means wearing longer shorts and avoiding tank tops, while for women, scarfs and sarongs are ideal ways to cover up appropriately. Some temples have sarongs available for loan, but not all, so make sure to take one with you.
Other things to remember during temple visits are to never walk in front of someone praying, and never stand higher that the priest or the offerings in a temple
DO: Be careful of the gifts for the Gods
A great Balinese tradition is to regularly leave out small gifts for the Gods. These are usually in the form of tiny fragrant parcels made from palm leaves, and they are usually left out early in the morning – you will notice their beautiful smell of flowers and incense as much as see them. The gifts are often left on doorsteps and sometimes on pavements, so be careful where you tread and take care not to step on them, as doing so is considered highly offensive.
DO: Remove your shoes where appropriate
If you are invited into a Balinese home, it is considered impolite to keep your shoes on – and the same applies for many local cafés and other business premises too. The general rule of thumb is to look down while entering a café or similar, and if you see a pile of loose shoes there, remove yours too. For this reason, it is best to always wear footwear that you can remove and put back on easily.
DON’T: Use your left hand for giving or receiving something
In Bali, it is preferred that you use both hands when giving or receiving an item, such as a business card or pamphlet, cash or credit card, or shopping items. Using your right hand by itself is also considered okay, but just using your left hand is considered disrespectful. This even applies to left-handed people taking a pen to sign their name; you should take the pen in your right hand first, and then transfer it to your left hand before beginning to write.
DON’T: Touch people’s heads
The Balinese consider the head the most sacred part of the body, and so touching somebody’s head – even the head of your travelling companion – is seen as extreme bad manners. Even ruffling a child’s hair in a playful manner is seen as impolite. In general, in Bali, if it belongs to somebody else and it’s above their shoulders, then just don’t touch it!
DON’T: Show the soles of your feet
The opposite to the head, the Balinese view the soles of the feet as the most unclean part of the body. This is because they are in direct contact with the earth, and are closest to the demons that live below the surface. Consequently, it is considered impolite to show the soles of your feet at any time – this may involve sitting cross-legged, with your feet tucked underneath you, if you remove your footwear. It is also considered disrespectful to point at somebody with your toes, or allow your feet to come into contact with them.
Balinese people are generally polite and accepting of other cultures, and it is unlikely they will create much of a scene in public if you forget any of these guidelines. However, they will notice if you adhere by them, and will respect you all the more for it, so please try respect their customs and beliefs too.
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