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Social Life in Timor-Leste

Behavior

The Timorese are conservative in most aspects of their lives and this is best seen in their behaviors, dress, and dining etiquette. They tend to dress and act conservatively, much of which is based on their deeply rooted Christian faith.

There are few behavioral restrictions in Timor-Leste (East Timor) among the Catholic majority. Generally just avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public.

However, if among the country's Muslim minority, be sure to dress conservatively (see below), and avoid drinking alcohol or consuming pork products, as both are outlaws by Islamic law. For more information on dining, read our Timor-Leste Food & Drinks Page.

Dress

Many people in Timor-Leste continue to wear traditional clothing, especially on more formal occasions, such as attending church. The traditional outfit in Timor-Leste is called a tais, which is similar to a homemade sarong or dress, depending on the style. Tais are hand woven and can be quite colorful; they are generally in the style of a dress, called a feto tais, or in the style of a sarong, called a mane tais. Traditionally, men and women also often wore some form of headwear.

Today the dress in Timor-Leste is somewhat divided as western-styled clothing is very popular, but tais are often worn to church and for more formal occasions as well as some people on a daily basis.

Despite the traditional dress, foreigners are not expected to dress likewise and may wear just about anything. As a primarily Catholic country, the dress restrictions are few as both shorts and short-sleeved shirts are widely acceptable. However, in churches and business settings it is requested that you wear long pants and preferably long sleeved shirts, but the dress code is generally relaxed and little will be offensive. If on a beach, sunbathing naked or women going topless are good examples of crossing that line and being offensive so avoid this (lack of) dress.

Among the minority Muslim population, be sure to cover your arms and legs as this is considered appropriate. At a minimum try to cover your shoulders and knees when in public in order to avoid offensive.

This page was last updated: November, 2013