One of the most common questions you get in Nepal is “Have you eaten?”It’s so common, in fact, that some people use it instead of a greeting. People are obsessed with food. Remember when you were a small child and all the grannies would always tell you you are too skinny and need to eat more (even if you were definitely not a skinny child)? Yes, it’s kind of like that in Nepal. Everyone is always concerned with the amount of food you eat and look at you disapprovingly as you only put a handful of rice on your plate, instead of three heaping giant spoonfuls. Mr. B’s family always comments on my eating habits and disappointingly concludes I eat like a butterfly, only a pinch of rice. They are also convinced I lose weight all the time. I can assure you that is not the case. In fact, since moving to Nepal my cheeks have become rounder, and so has my belly. Not something to be really proud of, but definitely a reason to cut down on rice intake. When you visit someone you can count on being forced to eat something, even if you say No repeatedly. They will still bring out snacks, or tea, or both. It’s really lovely actually – it shows a true Nepali hospitality, but when you’ve just eaten a heavy lunch, fried egg with your tea is the last thing you want. If you’re a foreign woman, Nepalis are generally convinced you are weak. I guess, compared to Nepali women we are weak. Nepali women do everything, including carrying heavy loads, and foreigners just cannot measure up to that. But because they are convinced we are weak, women, more than men, are always forced to eat, and eat more. My suggestion, just go with the flow. It’ll save you a lot of time and convincing. Although, I am rebellious like that, and always refuse the food.
Another question that often follows the one regarding your eating habits is the one concerning your bowel movements. What Westerners find to be a very private information, something to be ashamed of, Nepalis will use as a conversation ice-breaker. Everyone’s bowel movements are discussed with remarkable seriousness and lack of shame. If you have diarrhea, you can count on your whole family and all of your friends knowing about it and wondering about the details. Same goes for constipation. Whenever the topic of my bowel movements comes up, I blush like a red autumn apple, but I also know there’s no escaping it. You just have to let it out (pun so very much intended). I am slowly learning to be comfortable with it – after all, it’s just another bodily function, like coughing or sneezing, but boy, it’s embarrassing.
Don’t be surprised when random people, strangers, start asking you private questions like “Where do you live?”. Umm, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with disclosing that kind of information to a person behind me in the grocery store check out line. But sometimes, you have no choice, you got to say it. And people here don’t ask those kinds of questions with any ill intentions. They are genuinely curious and interested in you. They will want to know where you’re staying, what you’re doing in Nepal, who your family is, what is your age, and sometimes even things like how much you earn. When you get grilled with those kinds of questions by your taxi driver, things get weird, I can tell you that. Sometimes your answers are not satisfactory enough so the grilling ends abruptly. This one one time I was in a taxi and the driver started asking me a bunch of questions; he was being really friendly until the question of my age came up. When I told him I was 30 years old the questioning, and the conversation ended. He did not say another word until my destination. I keep wondering what that was about. Was he looking at me as his potential bride, but then decided I was too old for him and didn’t want to waste words and smiles on me? I did feel a bit hurt, I have to admit.
If you come to Nepal and people start asking you very private questions, don’t be surprised. They are not trying to rob you or steal your identity. It’s just something they do. They are curious and interested in you, and you should embrace it and continue with the conversation until it becomes really weird. Then you should end it. And feel awkward for the rest of the week.