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Things you probably didn’t know about Bhutan

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

1. The third “no thanks” is the only “no thanks”

A lot of Asian countries probably have this culture where one has to say “no", three times instead of one time to decline someone’s offer, especially in terms of food. If you decline the first time, they’ll ask you for the second and the third time because people believe the first and second “no” are out of courtesy. This is why people in Bhutan are usually insistent on offering or asking you again and again. I have had some friends who were studying outside of Bhutan and found it unusual when people didn’t do this. Similarly, or as opposed to my Bhutanese friends, foreigners who visit Bhutan find it odd when they experience such a culture.

2. Spice is a flavor you need every day:

Bhutanese people are known for their high tolerance to spicy food. One of the most common and popular Bhutanese dishes is “Ema Datshi” which translates to chili cheese or cheesy chili. People also eat “Ezay” which is a spicy Bhutanese pickle that is either fried or prepared like salad in the morning with fried rice as breakfast. Although excess spice intake is bad for the digestive system, people in Bhutan are seen enjoying Chilli and other spicy food items, especially during cold winters. People in the olden times chose spicy meals as a means to stay warm. Today, this culture is still cherished.

Picture of Red dried Chilli Datshi

Picture of Green Chilli Datshi

Picture of fried spicy Ezay put in a small jar

A picture of spicy cheese salad Ezay

3. Cheap Beer and alcohol.

Alcohol is highly available in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and is considered to be cheaper compared to other countries. Shops and bars sell local brands of wine and beer such as Zumzin, Highland, Druk 11000, K5, takin, and more. The Legal age for drinking (and also driving in Bhutan) is 18 years.

The tradition of drinking alcohol also comes from the fact that people used liquors as a method in the past to keep one’s body warm during cold weather. Moreover, people consumed home-brewed wine when they were sick as they believed it had medicinal value in it. This turns out to be true since many modern medications or pills do use a certain amount of alcohol to cure colds and other types of illnesses.

4. It is normal to see phalluses on buildings and doors of houses in Bhutan.

It might be really strange for foreigners to hear about this but seeing drawings and paintings or even sculpted structures of penis hung on the doors and roofs of Bhutanese households is completely normal in Bhutan. People here believe that all evil energy and bad spirits will be warded off by doing so.

The history of the use of phallus symbols dates back to the 15-16th century when a “Devine Mad Man” called Drukpa Kuenley is said to have propagated the idea to summon and subdue demons. However, strangely, these paintings and sculpted structures are not exhibited in community temples and monasteries where Buddhist monks and nuns reside.

Such an explicit belief system might be frowned upon in other parts of the world but this happens to be an undeniable part of modern Bhutanese lifestyle and culture (especially those who are religious followers of Buddhism).

A painting of an erect phallus

A wooden carved hung on an entrance

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