B​ridging the Gap between Bhutanese Community, specifically from Nepali speaking people and the Providers in US

by Gopal Acharya, Case Manager


'Namaste' (hands held together below chin) translates into greeting as hugging or kissing in western society; same as Nepali-Indian culture. Nepali speaking Bhutanese people were native of Bhutan and their ancestors were from Nepal before four centuries. Bhutanese, mostly belonging to Nepali lingual societies have enormous contribution to the richness of modern Bhutan. The country itself is rich with diverse culture, mainly dominated by Nepali, Sarchop and Ngalong communities. Bhutanese Refugees communities have clearly shown to the world by accepting third country resettlement as they are peace loving people. Bhutanese people have positive input and impression, being one of the best community been resettled in US in short period of time, despite of its education, illiteracy, poverty, mental illness and national level high suicide rate, since the resettlement began in 2008 in United States.

Similarities and differences between Nepali speaking Bhutanese and Nepali citizens.

Nepali speaking people in the Himalayan regions such as Nepal, Bhutan and India shares same dress codes, religions, religious sites and traditions. There is no mistake to say that it is common to most Nepalese living in any part of the world.

The differences would be the way of life they had experienced in different parts of the world or even the same country. So, Nepali speaking people of one country or region cannot be considered as cultural experts for all.

Nepali interpreters and Bhutanese Nepali interpreters:

In many circumstances, local Bhutanese Nepali language differs from original Nepali language due to regional barriers; hence, it is efficient to provide Bhutanese community professionals to interpret for Nepali lingual Bhutanese. It might be compared with Arabic languages in different countries to understand more.

Despite of above fact, Nepal is a diverse cultured country. Majority of Nepalese have similarities with Indian culture as' Sanskrit' is the common origin for both.

Bhutanese Refugees resettled in US have mostly spent their lives in confinement in refugee camp in Nepal with the support from UN from 17 to 21 years. Before arriving to refugee camp in Nepal most of the elder people, older than 35 years have spent their lives in remote villages and farmlands in Bhutan. These people have either never admitted in the formal schools or have very limited education in their native languages in the country. People under the ages of 35 have received formal education in the refugee camps.

It is extremely important to note the following culture to respect Nepali speaking Bhutanese and Western societies and vise-versa:

Nepali lingual Bhutanese Community in US:                                       

1. Greetings: Greetings are done by pressing both hands together at the chest level and saying Namaste "I salute the god/goddesses in you". Handshakes may be done with men and women who are westernized after the Namaste. Western Man with Bhutanese woman and western woman with Bhutanese man is expected not to initiate handshakes by western man or woman. However, if a Nepalese offers a hand, please shake. [Majority belongs, both Hinduism and Buddhism]

Hugging is acceptable between family members and intimates, but not publicly.

Untouchability: Hugging is never done with father-in-laws and brother/sister-in-laws hierarchically. Mostly, not practiced by seniors. (Described as majority of people belongs to Hinduism)

Male and female must not live together or touch each other during funeral rites and members of funeral rites must not be touched by other people including visitors which lasts for 13 days.

Scientific reasons: Besides scientific studies, it is more about beliefs in “purity”, immediate family members mourn for 13 days keeping their physical body as clean as possible as well as feelings and souls to assist the deceased soul to connect to heaven. Not touching between male and female is to avoid emotions and tears which impure the body.

2. Visiting Bhutanese Homes: Common to many cultures, visitors are highly respected in this community. People consider visitor as the form of the God or saints and these people become happy to offer delicious foods and respect during their visits. Tea is at least a common offer for the short term visitors.

When visiting a Nepalese or Nepali speaking Bhutanese home, you are expected to remove your shoes and same as before entering a Hindu temple or Buddhist sanctuary. 

Scientific reasons: Removing shoes is about sanitation, as the temple place is physically and spiritually clean. Some shoes might be made from leather or animal skin and considered as the substances of impurity.

3. Food and Beverages: Since, majority of Bhutanese refugees' belief in Hinduism, alcohol is prohibited in this community. Within this community, people practicing Buddhism or belonging to Mongol origin community take alcohol as a part of their tradition but mostly not as a substance. Many Hindus are vegetarian; those who are non-vegetarian prohibit beef and pork for religious reasons as cow is considered as the sacred animal in this community and pork is raised in unhealthy environment in that region since, many generations. Bhutanese foods are very spicy, same as Indian. National curries, Bhutan (hot pepper 'chilly' and home-made cheese) and Nepal (Gundruk, the fermented leafy green vegetable) are both consumed by this community, which are unique and commonly available for any people.

Scientific reasons: Alcohol and meats are scientifically, proved unhealthy as compared with vegetables.

4. Medical: Except for emergencies, people in this community try their best to practice traditional medicines as the alternative healing. For an instance, “puja” ceremony and summons treatments are common. People have high trust through their experience about homeopathic, which is a treatment using herbs, shrubs or flowers, readily available at homes and neighborhoods. They consider this as the best treatment for any medical issues. Still, people accepts western medicines if the alternative healing does not become successful. People are less open to inform their medical problems to new person or places, they become more confident to explain their problems to their immediate family members or community advocates and other familiar people.

Scientific reasons: During “puja” and “summon”, there are rules of purity and exercises which can assist the patient towards recovery. Positive psychological impacts are generated during these performances. Homeopathies are first aids and have mostly no side effects for the recovery of sickness. People using homeopathic are scientifically proved to have less susceptibility to the diseases. Homeopathic and yoga avoids surgery in many cases.