Hookahs Hookahs

Romancing the Smoke: Etiquette, ladies and gentlemen, etiquette

If you’re just tuning in to Romancing The Smoke, this is a blog following my journey to becoming a hookah know-it-all. If you’re also a beginner, or a pro who wants to offer some advice, then I hope you’ll follow along!
Sit up straight and stick those pinkies out because we've got some serious rules and regulations to discuss. Smoking hookah is a fun, relaxing pasttime, but hookah's historical roots are derived from centuries of culture and tradition which have established expectations. Many of these rules have eased up a bit, and some depend on the location/environment of your hookah session, but it's better to be overly cautious. It's kind of like meeting the queen of England - there are too many protocols to keep track of, but you better know the basic curtsy so you don't show your knickers to Mum.
Whoever is hosting is making the rules. Whether you're at a lounge or a friend's house, if it's their hookah then kindly defer to them regarding expectations. When smoking at someone's home, offering to reimburse them is considered rude; sharing a hookah is a community activity, and the host would not offer it unless they wanted to. By the same token, a host should consult their guests in choosing a shisha flavor - if everyone is sharing, then everyone should enjoy it!
Generally one person sets up the hookah, and one person is in charge of coal management throughout the session (this may or may not be the same person). The theory is akin to "too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the soup". Traditionally, whoever sets up the hookah will smoke first, then the person who is in charge of the coals.
The hookah hose has its own set of expectations. Hogging the hose is a huge faux pas. Three to four pulls from the hose is a standard duration per turn. If it is still your turn, and you must set the hose down, then lay it in your lap. Always pass the hose clockwise and with your right hand. Sounds strange, but in many cultures passing with your left hand is considered unclean, because the left hand is supposedly reserved for...butt wiping. Do not point the hose tip at someone. As Stephanie Tanner would say, "How rude!". When handing someone the hose, bend it in half with the tip facing you. If using a multi-hose hookah, do not smoke from multiple hoses at the same time as this will negatively affect the pull. Plug your hose while the other person smokes and wait until it is your turn. Don't ever pull the hookah by the hose. When the session is over, wrap the hose around the hookah so that it does not touch the ground.
When I first smoked a hookah in college, we just passed around the hose and paid no mind to the fact that we were continually sticking the same wooden apparatus into our mouths that was just slobbered on. Luckily, these days it's very easy to acquire your own, personal mouth tip. Boom! Slobber free! The next thing is less hygiene related, but is still bodily function-centric. It can be considered rude to cough during a hookah session. Be mindful of taking pulls that are too deep, keep the coal heat managed, and just take it easy if you're still learning your limits. Side note to cigarette smokers - whether or not you're partaking in the hookah session with your pals, do NOT light your cigarette with the hookah coals, nor should you ash in the coal tray. Bad. Form.
These are the general guidelines that I've picked up in my short time as a hookah-pro. Oh! I almost forgot the most important one - don't tip the damn thing over! If you can think of anymore, or of something specific that personally irks you, then tell us about it!
Until next time, happy smoking!
To see tutorial videos on this subject, and others, check out our How-To Playlist on YouTube!

Comments (32) -

  • Between pulls during your turn put your thumb over the house tip, to keep any precious smoke from escaping
    • Good to know - thanks, AllenSmile
  • I could not agree more with the one person sets up and runs the coal management, I've had some people go moving the coals on their own, is incredibly rude.
    • I agree. Most people are just trying to be helpful, and sometimes it's hard to find a polite way to tell them "hands off!".
  • I dont see any rules about people not allowing to "circle cut" thinking sitting to the left of the person who has the hose, (after an established circle) think they get it next. No, you can't just enter and leave the circle whenever you want and expect the hookah next.

    Quite interesting about 3-4 puff rule. I can see how that would work in a party setting. But, to me, when you are with close friends that smoke as much hookah as you do, we take deep drags and are conscious how long we've had the hose.

    In regards to the dont offer reimbursement thing. Again, I feel that is true for parties or for people you dont really know. In my group of friends we smoke so much that it would put a dent into one person's wallet to keep on replenishing the supply. So, we voluntarily pitch in money for coals or shisha if we buy off this site. Or if we're in a rush, we take it upon ourselves to purchase those items from local tobacco stores.

    Oh, with the whole mouth tip rule. I like it, but mouthtips run out so quickly and mostly are one session use items. An alternative we use is, wiping the tip of the hose off (towel, edge of a tshirt) before we pass it. That way there is no slobber. I know that isnt very effective, but atleast it is dry. Also, in my specific case, we dont have anyone with cold sores ete. and if you're sick you shouldnt be smoking hookah anyways. Haven't gotten sick or any herpes on the mouth yet from sharing with others yet! hahaha
    • These are some great additions to the list, Christian! I especially like the first rule (no cuts!) about the circle. The things I mentioned are definitely not set in stone, and every group and culture has their own way of doing things. Thanks for sharing your experience!
  • If you join a session in-progress, do not expect to get the hose before anyone else, you should get in line to smoke right before the person who is currently smoking, so that everyone else who has been waiting for their turn gets the opportunity to smoke before you get yours.  In a group of close friends you may be able to sneak a quick puff in before your next round of Call of Duty or while you are waiting for the burgers to char before you flip them.

    Being confidently polite is the best way to make friends and be liked!
    • Haha, I like the life advice. "Confidently polite" is going to be my new method of making friends!
  • Oops! Didn't see the poster above me, sorry for the repeat tip!
  • Joe
    Just some regional variances we used in the North Dakota:
    1) pass to the left indoors, to the right outdoors.
    2) the person in charge of the coals delegates a replacement if called away.
    3) sure to scarcity, tips are always made available to those wish to use them, but are not required.
    4) if you feel at all under the weather, use a tip.
    5) puff puff pass is at the hookah tender's direction, but generally with groups of 4 or more.
    6) choose flavors democratically, but the tender has veto authority.
    7) never step over the house (gravity is stronger in the vicinity of a hookah).
    • That's interesting about the passing left or right depending on being indoors/outdoors. I've never heard that one before! Any particular reason why?
  • I like ur bit about passing the hose. Iv had to get on a few peoples cases about being lazy and tossing the hose. Normally when we have a session its just me and a few friends, but many times i am asked to bring a hookah or two to a party. Normally im ok with it until i realize it has become the center of the party and people sit and talk with the hose in their hand for 20 mins, or rummage thru my bag trying to find what flavors i have brought. Any tips on etiquette when smoking at a party and it is not your hookah?
    • I think the tip about not touching the hookah unless you're designated to set it up/tend the coals is a great one to cover party etiquette. Just make it clear that for everyone's safety, and for the sake of politeness, don't touch anything hookah-related unless you have personally asked them to.
  • Jon
    In a party setting (above) the same rules apply more importantly along with people NOT doing exactly what you said they were doing (going through your stuff, holding the hose for very long, etc).

    I also agree with Sneaky, in a low-key setting with friends, it is permitted to have the hose as long as you like (be reasonable and conscious of others), but be smoking it. Do not hold it and let it sit for however long.

    The coal management person is also responsible for clearing out the hookah and making sure not to blow water through the stem to the bowl, etc.

    Some set up advice: using a tac or other very fine-tip tool to poke holes in the foil will reap benefits for you over using the poker attached to your tongs. Especially if you are using instant-light coals that ash a lot.

    Using a wind-cover outdoors is CRUCIAL to a good smoking session, however it is also extremely useful indoors as well. You can get away with using less coal at once to get a bowl started, and will make coals last longer.

    I also highly recommend the Vortex (or Phunnel, if you're into that) bowl. It makes an incredible difference in the flavor retention and length of smoke on one bowl. I've gotten 2 hours of good, tasty (Starbuzz) smoke with one of those and natural coals, ofcourse.

    Lastly, the hookah DOES NOT go on a table. I used to make this mistake (and is convenient if you have a coffee table) but suck it up. Nothing is scarier than watching a hookah tip over off of an elevated surface like that, and I have read that traditionally, in the Middle East, it does belong on the floor specifically.

    • Amen to the hookah on the floor tip. That will definitely help reduce catastrophes.
  • Sam
    i feel like printing this out and having my friends read it. i have a 4 hose hookah and it seems some of them have no respect.
    • Maybe you can make little rules index cards to pass out whenever they come over!
  • I would like to add an exception to your rule about covering the tip when someone else is smoking. It is only necessary to cover the tip when you have a hookah that doesn't have ball bearings.
  • I definitely agree with Joe- never step over the hoses!! when there's a hookah around, accidents seem more prone to gravitate towards it... lol

    For my house rules regarding passing, it's at your discretion-  it doesn't necessarily have to be 3-4 puffs, in my opinion, because smoking a hookah is a social experience, it should be at your own pace, and it's even considered rude to rush someone by *clearing your throat* "Hmm Hmm...." or saying "are you gunna pass that??"
    Relax, skitteroo, you'll get your fix!
    normally isn't a problem, i smoke a Mya Crystal hookah with 3 hoses and ball bearings, so you only have to pass in situations with more people...

    and yes, definitely agree on the coal management. it should be one person only...
  • One advice: if everyone's sitting, you sit too! Last time when we were smoking hookah at my place, this one girl went to the bathroom and came back just as it was her turn but he didn't sit down to smoke and instead did it standing. Result? Somehow, my long Nammor hose seemd to short for her and she pulled the hookah by it, resulting in it tipping over. It was just the beginning of the session, so she wasted my portion of Fumari, a few coals and broke the Vortex bowl beyond repair. Fortunately she offered to cover my expenses but damn it was scary to see it fall and all this mess... Hope you all avoid such guests!
    • Oh yikes, that sounds like a mini-disaster. Great words of advice, Rafal! Sorry to hear about your Vortex bowlFrown
  • I know this seems crass or whatever, but I have this one friend in my group who always squeaks out a little cheeky one while we smoke!

    Every time!

    This guy must be eating god knows what because he cannot for love nor money hold those little wind loaves in.

    It happens like, I know, but it's so rank when you're enjoying a session and it totally ruins the vibe.

    Smelly man!
    • Hahaha, this comment killed me, Adam! I think that's a regular, every day etiquette lesson that we can all learn from. Squeeze those cheeks together when company is around (especially around the hookah)!
  • I definitely agree with this hookah etiquette, but I feel it mostly applies to party situations. When I'm smoking with my family and close friends, we all know about how a hookah should work. When the coal needs to be rotated, someone will be asked to do it and it isn't necessarily the same person every time. Also, the 3-4 puff rule is good, especially with only a one hose hookah. But usually I have at least a two hosed hookah, and a lot of the time members of the circle will not want to smoke as much as others, so they will just ask for a hose when they want it. Another thing we like to do is just set up more than one hookah so each person has their own hose. Sure, we don't follow a lot of the etiquette here, but I suppose we just smoke hookah so often, and its usually my family, that we just don't think of it. With others that I don't smoke with often though, I do keep much of this in mind. I think it just depends on who you are with what rules you follow.
  • [...] proper care, reviews on brands and their flavors, and most important I believe was the history and hookah etiquette. It was decided, I was going to buy a hookah. I went to my local mall where they had an [...]
  • I agree with the "offering to reimburse them is considered rude" rule, with one exception: Personally, I think it'd be kind if someone were to bring over a hookah supply (tobacco or coals, etc.) as a Thank You gift. I wouldn't expect it, of course, but it shows thoughtfulness. Money though, shouldn't be discussed.
  • Good job on those rules! I think another one to add for the host is to make sure you thoroughly clean the hookah after a big session with friends.  Everything needs to be cleaned, especially the hose and even grommets!
  • Another thing to avoid is going to the one who's making the hookah at the party, and tell him/her all sorts of obvious BS in terms of how to "properly" set up a hookah.

    Nothing is more annoying, and it made me stop bringing my hookahs to parties
  • I know a big thing with me is that I provide hookah to many campus parties and have a set in stone rule set. One of the big ones that people always try to break is rotation. So many people will come in, sit down and demand hookah although that are at the end of the rotation. Not only is that beyond rude to me(since they are demanding that I pass them the hookah) but it annoys everyone else. I usually kick the person out of the party when they do that.
  • DO NOT blow into the hookah unless you know that the valve is functional.  I have worked at several hookah lounges and seen it happen many times where water starts coming out of the top.
  • Another good one, at least that i didn't see above, is no putting drinks around the hookah. Its hard to enforce in a party but I can't tell you how many times people will grab a hose and not look and tip over a drink.
  • My one rule is if its my hookah and sheeshand coals only i touch it and set it up unless i tell somebody otherwise. And if a coal does fall on the ground dont step on it to try to put it out. It breaks it and burns and even bigger area.