The lifestyle, manners and customs of the Bhutanese are in many respects unique to the area. The strongest influence on social conventions is the country’s state religion, and everywhere one can see the reminders of Buddhism and the original religion of Tibet, Bonism. There are no rigid clan systems and equal rights exist between men and women. The majority of the Bhutanese live an agrarian lifestyle.
In 1989, it was made compulsory for citizens to wear national dress and failure to comply at official functions or in government buildings incurs a fine; the men wear a gho, a robe resembling a dressing gown with upturned white cuffs and knee-high socks, whilst the women wear a kira, a sari-like garment that is furnished with ornate brooches, and worn over a blouse.
As a traditional society, the Bhutanese follow a highly refined system of etiquette, which is called driglam namzha. This traditional code of conduct supports respect for authority, devotion to the institution of marriage and family, and dedication to civic duty. It governs many different sorts of behaviour, including how to send and receive gifts, how to speak to those in authority, how to serve and eat food at public occasions, and how to dress. A royal decree issued in 1989 promoted the driglam namzha as a means of preserving a distinct national identity and instituted a national dress code.
Men and women mix and converse freely, without the restrictions that separate the sexes among other groups in South Asia. The king and former king are accorded a great deal of respect in Bhutan. It is wise to bear this in mind when conversing with local people.
When visiting temples, remove shoes and head gear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site. You will need to wear pants and long shirts.
At monasteries, it is custom to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect; and also to the Buddhist statues as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. There are many places in each temple where you can donate, and it is expected that you donate to each place. Remember to have small notes for this gesture. However, this is not mandatory.
Always pass mani stones, stupas and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object, and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. Never sit on mani stones or stupas.
Bhutan has outlawed the sale of tobacco products, and also banned smoking in public places.
For years the country has deliberately isolated itself from visitors, a policy which is now to some extent being reversed. But Bhutan continues to bear the hallmarks of seemingly peculiar customs borne from legacy and legend. Giant phalluses can often be seen painted onto walls, etc. in order to ward off evil spirits and ensure good crops and healthy children. Climbing some of the Himalayan peaks is banned due to the belief that the mountains are the repository of the gods and all life, animal or plant, is treated with respect as a divine gift.