Virtual Vacation: How to Mind Your Manners In Bali, Day 20

One of the things I love about using Judy and Surya as our tour guides is that they everything they show us and teach us is deeply grounded in their love and respect for Balinese people and culture.

The other day over lunch, Judy taught us how to avoid insulting or alienating the Balinese by doing something they would find offensive. Judy said the Balinese are incredibly forgiving, and that most Westerners visiting Bali and continually making social or cultural faux pas. In order to avoid some of the most glaring, Judy advised:

  1. Don’t express anger in public.
  2. No public displays of affections between couples in public
  3. Don’t call out in public when you want to get someone’s attention; clap instead.
  4. Don’t blow your nose in public. Bali is a paperless culture—no toilet paper, tissues napkins. When the Balinese want to blow their nose, they hold one nostril closed and snort out whatever has to come out through the other.
  5. Don’t stand with your hands on your hips. To the Balinese this is an insult and sign that people are “very full of themselves.”
  6. Beckoning someone with your index finger as we do in the US has a sexual, salacious connotation in Bali. To beckon someone, you wave toward yourself with the palm of the hand facing down.
  7. Pointing directly toward a person, for the Balinese, would be like you pointed a gun at them.
  8. Don’t ever say you’re an atheist. The word for atheist is the same as the word for Communist and devil.
  9. Feet are considered the lowest part of the body, especially the soles of the feet. Ever worse are shoes. These are considered dirty by the Balinese, so never point your feet directly at someone in the way you sit.
  10. Don’t pick your teeth in public unless you cover your mouth with your hand.
  11. Don’t ever shake someone’s hand with your left hand. Don’t ever offer food or a gift or anything else with the left hand. The left hand is used to clean the genitals after the bathroom (along with water that’s there for that purpose). So it would never be used for anything else (like eating). In Bali, “lefties” are trained out of it.
  12. Don’t ever take pictures of people bathing.


  1. Myra Goodman says

    Thanks Laura. Very interesting. My husband hates it when I point at him/shake my finger at him when I talk, and its a habit I can’t seem to break. I’ll pretend he’s Balinese now, and assume he sees my finger as a gun. Maybe that will do the trick!

  2. Polly says

    I think I could handle everything except the nose-blowing technique! I’d have to sneak a kleenex in private. Interesting stuff anyway :)

  3. Bobbie Anne says

    Laura, Thanks for posting on manners. It really comes down to respect and common courtesy. All cultures ought to be respected.

    However, It’s interesting to find that feet aren’t that popular. What if you pointed your feet in someone’s direction by accident? Better to be barefoot and shoeless? When I was a child I walked on a bee. I didn’t see him in the grass. Yes, I got stung. His fate was worse.

    More interesting stuff with left-handed people. Use of the left hand is considered “dirty” and only used for things like washing genitals and not eating or offering gifts or shaking hands. I guess you can’t receive communion, cook, clean, write or sign marriage licenses with it. Wow, that’s a lot of restrictions on one hand. Is it easy to be trained to use the other? Its a good thing I have two perfectly fine hands! :-)

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