If you’re anything like me, then you like to learn a few words whenever you visit a new country. Learning Nepali words was extra difficult for me. Because the words are written in characters (not letters like we’re used to in the U.S.) the translations are often spelled 100 different ways. Trying to read them took a lot of practice on my end. I always try to learn “Hello” “Thank you” and “Delicious.” If you know those three words and can smile, then you can survive anywhere. The thing is, so few foreigners speak Nepali, which makes speaking it even more fun. Locals rarely expect tourists to know their language and when they do it makes them giggle and laugh. It’s so easy to form immediate connections in Nepal if you learn just a few basic words and phrases. Here’s the Nepali words and sayings I use the most.
If you need some help pronouncing these, I recommend downloading the “Simply Learn to Speak Nepali” app which has some recordings of basic words.
Must Know Nepali Words
Basic Nepali Greetings
In Nepal, greetings are important. In New York, we basically barge up to people and start asking questions. That’s rude in Nepal. Even after years, I still have a really hard time remembering to go through all the niceties before beginning the actual conversation. It’s proper to always do a formal greeting of “Namaste” along with prayer hands. The higher you raise your hands; the more respect you show. Your thumbs between your eyebrows is the ultimate sign of respect. It’s also proper to bow a little.
Manners in Nepali
While most Nepali people will be ecstatic that you tried to say anything at all in Nepali, they’ll be especially happy if you say it politely. The second saying I learn in every language is “Thank you.” In Nepali, I find “Please” goes a long way as well. For instance, say a taxi is trying to charge you triple the rate. Instead of getting angry and yelling, I’ll usually say the rate that I know is fair and when they shake their head no, I’ll throw in some prayer hands and say “Please” in a sweet voice. Works every time.
Nepali Words Used When Eating
Something I love about Nepal is that asking “Have you eaten?” is the same as asking “How are you?” As someone who loves to eat and is constantly thinking about what I’ll have for my next meal, I can appreciate this connection. If you’ve eaten, it means you’re good. If you haven’t, you’ll probably be rushed to a restaurant or someone will start cooking for you. Food is important in Nepal so using some etiquette will really impress people. When you are served food in a homestay, ask the cook if you may eat. When offered seconds, it’s polite to say yes, but it’s also rude to waste food, so I recommend asking for just a little each time.
Terms of Respect
There is a Nepali word for every relationship there is. I won’t go into specifics but even “my aunt on my mother’s side” has a specific word. Terms of respect are important in Nepal. Using them properly shows people that you respect them and their culture. The thing is, you don’t just call your family these terms. You use them for everyone. Even strangers. Say a waiter at a restaurant (a male who is slightly older than you) brings you a drink. It would be polite to say “Thank you big brother.”
Nepali Words for Feelings
One of the major attractions in Nepal is trekking in the Himalaya. While most guides speak wonderful English, it’s sometimes fun to tease each other in Nepali. My guides often skip ahead of me and look back with a big smile while asking if I’m tired. These sayings can also be helpful if you’re in a far off area where English isn’t widely spoken. Being able to tell someone you’re cold or hungry can be helpful for getting extra blankets or trying to arrange a meal.
Yes & No
Obviously, knowing how to say yes and no is helpful in any country. In Nepal, there’s a few versions of yes and no. If someone asks you “Do you have a pen?” the answer is “Chiyna” (I don’t have.) If someone asks if you want more food, the answer is “Bhayo” (I’m full/done). Of course, if you say yes or no, everyone will understand what you are trying to say.
Directions in Nepali
Directions are mostly useful if you are outside a major city and are lost. I use these words with locals on trekking trails if I’m not with a guide and find myself confused. They’re also handy for taxis in major cities if you are outside the main tourist area. A helpful hint to remembering left and right is to make a “b” and a “d” with your thumb and index finger. Your left hand makes a “b” for “bhaiya” and your right makes a “d” for “daiya.” Make sure to pronounce them clearly or repeat them back to make sure you heard it properly as they sound very similar. Hand gestures help a great deal.
Other Nepali expressions you may need…
“What’s to be done?” and “What happened?” are very common Nepali expressions that you may overhear people saying daily. These are just fun to know since you’ll hear them so often. Nepali people are extremely laid back so whenever something is going wrong, you’ll likely see someone shrug, say “Ke garne?” and go back to drinking their tea.
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This post was written by Michelle Della Giovanna and originally appeared on www.fulltimeexplorer.com