I recently had the opportunity to explore some things considered polite and impolite to Tibetans. Some things are common sense; responding to greetings, eating the food the host provides, respecting religious traditions. These are similar to our own traditions in the West. However, we also consider things like holding doors for others, covering our mouths when we cough, and not relieving ourselves on the sidewalk to be polite as well. Here, those things do not matter.
What does matter here is accepting invitations, even if you know you will not be able to make the date, eating more food than one person should safely eat, and not refusing to dance if asked.
I was out one evening with a Western friend and my English student, Tashi. We had spent the early part of the evening in a nangma, enjoying some modern Tibetan rock/pop music. About 1:30am, Stephanie decided she wanted to go dancing, so we went to the newest, and second, disco in Lhasa, Tang Club. We found a table, ordered a couple of beers and Stephanie proceeded to dance. Less than ten minutes into our stay, a rather drunk Tibetan man came over to our table, with a couple of beers he ordered for us, and started talking with Tashi, after the traditional drink together. Although he was drunk, he continued to drink over the next two hours, and by 4:00am, he was thoroughly plastered. He insisted on dancing with Stephanie, but when he asked me, I politely, or so I thought, declined. It was late, I was tired, and was quite ready to go home. However, he kept asking me, and then Tashi told me I was being impolite to this man by refusing to dance.
In the States, it is the woman's choice to dance or not, if the man asks. In fact, many people consider it impolite for someone to keep asking once they have been refused. Here, I ended up dancing with the man, because it is rude to decline the invitation. Instead of simply dancing and then sitting after one song, he left the dance floor after passing me to someone else, who passed me to a third person. That is certainly rude by Western standards. Woman are not typically passed among strangers on the dance floor, when the inviting party has left the floor.
Around 4:30am, we left the club and Tashi insisted that this man join us for an early morning meal at a restaurant down the street. After being quite belligerent with the waitress, this crazy man ordered a bottle of baijiu, chinese rice liquor, which usually runs about 52% alcohol. He wanted to split the small bottle between three of us, since Tashi does not drink. However, I declined, so that left Stephanie to drink with this man. He emptied the small bottle into two classes, and Stephanie, in a brilliant move, was able to talk with him long enough for her to empty two thirds of hers onto the floor. I was watching for this and did not even see her do it. Then, she insisted they shapda, or empty their glasses in a single go. This man was still so drunk, he didn't care.
Finally, we were able to leave the restaurant. We all got into a cab, expecting to drop him home, then go home ourselves. It was after 5:00am, and we were tired. However, this man had other ideas. He told the cab driver to take us to another bar. While we protested, saying he should go home, and that we wanted to go home, the man would hear of nothing else but that we join him in another beer. Tashi said we would stay for five minutes, but of course that turned into 45 minutes. I finally refused to drink anymore, and eventually we were able to leave, although our drunk "friend" remained at the bar, drinking. It was about 6:30am by the time we got home. This evening proved an inexpensive, but taxing lesson in Tibetan politeness.