Etiquette in India

Etiquette in India

The second most populous country in the world is known for its people’s many peculiarities. There are over 400 ethnic groups living together in India, and the majority are young people – half of the population are men and women under 25 years old. According to India’s constitution there are 21 official languages in the country, but about 1600 are spoken if we count the dialects too.

You can see women dressed in saris, or you can see them in jeans and t-shirts. The older people wear lungi – a piece of cloth, that is wrapped around the body. Overall life in India is very colorful and you can see all kinds of people. There are several different religions and a big part of them define the life of local people. Along with that they are very strict in following different beliefs, that are permanently embedded in the behavior etiquette. The shadow of the Western culture and manners can also be seen, since as we know the country was a British colony for a long time.

Here are some interesting facts, that you should know if you plan on traveling to India, having a closer contact with locals and following their etiquette.

In this Asian country there is a proverb saying that “The guest is a God”. Locals find it a big honor if someone visits their home. They violate their daily routine so that the guest feels as comfortable as possible. Even if you are not staying in an Indian house you can be sure that there aren’t such hospitable people as the locals. When you enter someone’s home you have to take your shoes off. When Indians sit on the table, they offer food first to the God and then they share it with you. You should also know that you shouldn’t use someone else’s cutlery or take food from someone else’s plate. Wait to be offered. It is also very important that when you sit on the table with Indians you should only take as much food as you are going to eat and should not leave anything in the plate if you don’t want to offend the host. And don’t forget – the best way to thank the hosts for the food and hospitality is by inviting them to your home. In Northern India even the richest families eat on the floor. What’s interesting is that they have tables and chairs, but many families put stuff on them and prefer to eat on the ground.

It is not recommended to eat with your left hand – it is considered un-clean since Indians use it for personal hygiene. The same thing is true when you shake hands or when you point something – always use the right hand.

Touch as few things around you with your foot or left hand. This is very important for the religious places and objects that you will visit. Feet are also considered un-clean and if you touch objects with them you will offend Indians’ faith. If you are a man do not touch women at all, no matter how close they are to you. Don’t shake their hand, don’t kiss them and don’t hug them. In the smaller towns and villages in India this is considered an extreme liberty. Restrain from pointing with your finger or whistling in public places. It is also not a good idea to carry a wallet in the back pocket of your pants.

The politest way to eat is with your hands. In Southern India you can dip your whole hand into the food. In Northern, where the curry is dryer, only the finger tips.

When you greet someone older, gather your palms together, then kneel and touch his/her feet with fingers – this is how you can demonstrate that you have traveled less kilometers than him/her.

And we get to the choice of clothing. When you are in India, use wide, light clothes with long sleeves, made of natural materials. This is the best choice for a walk on the Indian roads, temples and restaurants. First of all, they will ensure coolness. Second, if you are seen with a short skirt or pants and deep cleavage, Indians will think that you are either very poor or very shameless. Tight clothes on the other hand will be totally uncomfortable under the hot sun.

If you are invited to a restaurant or at someone’s house, it is most courteous to go there 15-30 minutes late. Going exactly at the set hour to any similar event is considered a bad taste.

Keep in mind that it is very hard to choose the right gift for an Indian. First and most important is not to buy alcohol. Most of the locals don’t drink at all, and those who do, do it rarely. Forget about objects, made of leather, except if you know the person well. Most of the Indians are vegetarians. If you want to buy flowers as a gift, get advice from the seller. He/she will tell you which flower is appropriate for which occasion.

Men and women use different wagons in the metro.

In India the cow is a sacred animal. It is not unusual to see a cow walking on the street without being bothered. If you kill a cow in India, you will be severely sued by the local law, and in some regions, you can even get a 10-year sentence.

People in India wake up very early – around 5-6 o’clock. That is when the temperatures are lower and you can do more work, while it is hard to work in the hottest hours of the day.

Even families, that aren’t very rich, organize huge and lavish weddings. The newlyweds don’t invite only friends and family, but everyone they know even vaguely. That’s why the number of the guests often varies between 300 and 1500.

We have all heard that it is very dirty in India, but this isn’t everywhere. Often the streets there are very dirty, but people’s homes are extremely clean. The cities with most tourists are usually week kept.

In some countries the tips are almost required and in other they are not accepted well. In India the tip is up to you, but it is acceptable to leave 3-10%. In the country many people shake their head for “yes” and nod for “no”, which totally confuses the western tourists.