Balinese society has a number of different levels and some would even say like all Asian societies. It is highly stratified. There is an underlying respect for elders and for people of a higher caste of greater wealth and social status.
Balinese also differs when speaking to people of different standing. The safest way for visitors when addressing people, except for children, is to use Ibu for women, which means Mrs., madam or mother and, to use Bapak Mr., Sir or father for men.
Greeting someone for the first and subsequent time has taken on a western trait, that of shaking hands. The traditional salutation however, is the Asian "sembah" with fingers joined and hands clasped together at chest level. It is practiced on Hindu festivals and one can say "Om Swastyastu," may peace be with you.
There is also the Balinese wink for informal greetings between the best of friends. Love emotions are never displayed in public, except the occasional hand holding of young lovers. Never kiss or hug anyone except the very best of friends and only on rare occasions.
Smiling is a universal way of communicating or at least breaking the ice. For the Balinese it is no different. In Bali it is always the group that matters not the individual, so be sure to smile broadly and widely. Balinese women are as eager to smile as the men but do not mistake the smile of friendliness for something it is not.
Social etiquette plays an important part in the Balinese's daily life and willingness to conform to their traditional manners is always respected. Like in any other countries, there are cultural pitfall however, mainly social and religious taboos, the breaking of which may cause social and religious offence.
It is considered rude to point with your toes at a person or object and it is not acceptable to walk in front of praying people. For those who do not know each other well, it is considered impolite to touch some one's head since head is regarded to be the most significant part of the human body. It is totally unacceptable to take picture of women or men bathing in public bathing place or river.
Visitors wishing to see a temple festival are always welcomed. But they should follow basic rules of etiquette, for the Balinese appreciate those who show respect for their customs. Bathe first and then dress in Balinese style or at least decently in clean clothes - no shorts, unsleeve shirt or skirts above the knees. A sash must always be worn above the waist.
Entrance is forbidden to women who are menstruating or who recently gave birth, and to anyone with a bleeding wound or who had a recent death of a close family member.
Do not climb structures, even walls, to take photos. If making a close-up, ask the person's permission or show your intent. Avoid using a flash. Do not stand in front of anyone praying or bringing offerings. Do not bring outside food and drink into the temple.
Be on good behavior and avoid sudden actions, which may be disrupting, for this is an important event and visitors are welcomed only if they make themselves properly welcomed.
When meeting Balinese, the formal greeting is done by clasping the palms of your hands, place them in front of your chest, the finger tips under the chain, and say: Om Swasti Astu (praying for safety and health). When you leave say: Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (peace, peace, peace).
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