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What not to do in India

If you are planning to travel to India for the first time you are probably wondering about the do's and don't you need to learn to avoid offending anyone.


 I would start with developing an understanding that India is different from where you are from, cultural norms are likely different, and expectations of your behaviour are different. 


Different doesn’t mean worse or wrong, it is just different.Try not to place your own opinions on what you experience and judge things in a new country like India. 


Just understand that it will be different and their culture has developed over many thousands of years. 


There are over 1 billion Indian’s so it’s a little arrogant to assume the way you do things is the “right” way. 


So be open minded, pay attention to those around you and their behaviour, how they dress etc. 



Things I learned about Indian Culture after 6 years living in India. 


Take off your shoes.


take off your shoes in india

When you enter a shop or someone’s house you may see pairs of shoes as you enter the door. This is a pretty good sign that the cultural norm here would be to remove your shoes. This will be in shops on a street, not in a mall.


If I’m in someone’s house I usually just remove my shoes automatically, unless I know them very well, and know they don’t mind. 


 Now you may wonder why do people remove their shoes? 

 Well it actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it for a moment. Your shoes have been walking around outside on who knows what messes, dirt, dust, germs, and possibly worse. If you wear them inside you are very likely bringing all that mess into someone’s house, or shop.


Dress conservatively (relatively).


 If you are not wanting to draw attention to yourself then it’s worth having a look at how the people around you are dressed and then follow suit. 


 Most women won’t wear very short skirts or shorts, if they do they may have comments passed at them, and possibly men may try to grab them in the street. 


I never dressed this way on a street in India and I was not harassed.I usually wore a top that covered my shoulders (no shoe string straps)not just to be conservative, but also because it’s sunny and I get burnt easily. 


You will definitely want to follow these guidelines if you enter a temple or place of worship. 


 If you are going to a night club then it’s ok to dress in short shorts, low cut tops etc.



This is what I wore (with 2 of my sisters) to Srirangapatna a temple near Mysore. 



I wore this to the Taj Mahal. I was asked for photos, but I wasn't harrassed per se. 



This is taken at a hotel bar in Bangalore. I am dressed more conservatively that I would normally dress to go to a bar in Melbourne, but I got used to dressing like this and became comfortable with this style of top. 


Wish everyone you meet


 In Australia where I’m from, I haven’t really grown up with a concept of wishing everyone at all. In fact we don’t refer to “wishing” unless it’s a birthday wish. 


In India it’s polite to greet each person you meet in a house, say hello, and make eye contact. 


You can say Vanakkam, Namaskara, or Namaste depending on where you are in India and put your hands together like you’re saying a prayer, this is an act of respect. 


This is not always necessary, you can just say hello to each person.


 If you happen to be in an Anglo Indian household or party then everyone will kiss each other on both cheeks.


Aunty and Uncle


It’s considered respectful to call people older than yourself aunty or uncle. 


Anyone you meet in a house, or at a party, you can call aunty or uncle. They will consider this very respectful.


Don't use your left hand.


Indians’ don’t use their left hand to hand over anything like money in a shop, or to receive any item.


 This is because they see the left hand as dirty, since they use it when they go to the toilet. They use water to clean themselves and their left hand, which they then wash very thoroughly with soap and water. 


If you want to try to eat with your hand only use your right hand.


As mentioned above Indian’s use their left hand to go to the toilet, and they use their right hand to eat. Eating with your left hand is seen as pretty disgusting. 


An Indian is unlikely to tell you they think it’s disgusting and may take into account that you are a foreigner so probably don’t use your hand when you go to the toilet. 


I used to put my left hand on my lap so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it when I was eating with my hand when I started learning how to do it.


Give a business card, invitation or gift card with both hands. 


Don’t just hand over these or similar items with one hand, give it with both hands. 


Also if you are inviting someone close to you to an event (such as a wedding) it’s seen as more respectful to go to their house and give the invitation in person. 


People who are close to you will expect this, and may be slightly offended if you just send the card in the mail (which I learnt when I was meeting close friends and had already posted their invitations to my wedding) .


Don’t touch anyone with your feet or point at something with your foot.


Feet are seen as dirty (especially the soles of your feet) so don’t use them to touch anything or anyone. Also don't point your feet towards anything (especially books). 


Don’t point with your finger.


It’s seen as rude to point with your finger, it’s better to use your whole hand or even gesture with your face or chin. You may notice Indian’s “pointing” with their chin in a certain direction rather than pointing with a finger.


Be careful with your “come hither” motion. 


If you are using your hand in a “come hither” motion, Indian’s will do it with their fingers pointing down rather than up. If you wish to motion to come here to someone like a waiter or a child, point your hand down instead of up.


No PDA’s.


Indian’s are quite conservative and won’t even hold hands in public most of the time, so kissing and hugging is very much seen as rude and even obscene.


Don’t be too punctual.


If you are invited to a function, don’t show up too close to the time it was advertised, as you will likely be the only person there, and the host may not be ready. 


You are better to be at least 30 minutes to an hour late, and you will still find you are one of the first to arrive.


I learnt this when I showed up for a wedding on time and there were not even any tables and chairs set up. 


Don’t expect others to be punctual.


You can find yourself being very frustrated when you are told something (for example tailoring) will take 2 days and you arrive and it's not even been started. 

My rule of thumb is if someone tells me a time frame a multiply it by three.If my (Indian) husband says 5 minutes, then it will likely be 15 at least.

Just expect that this will happen, if they say 2 days think to yourself if I get it in 4 days I"ll be doing very well. 

If you think nah, that sounds ridiculous, then expect the ridiculous. 

I once had a party where I invited people for 7pm. Some of my friends from the USA arrived at 5.30pm and were gone by 8pm. My Indian friends arrived at various times from 9pm to 1am and even 4am. (I am not joking, one group arrived at 4am). 


Don’t be offended by personal questions.


 Indian’s will ask you whether you are married, how much you earn in your job and other questions that we would not discuss in Australia. 

This is very normal to them and there’s no point being offended. 

You can avoid answering the question, but don’t get annoyed with them for asking it, as they don’t see it as rude.


Don’t be offended if people comment on your physical appearance


I was greeted with comments about whether I had lost or put on weight ALL THE TIME. 

My maids daughter once said to me "Madam you've become fat!" 

It's normal for Indian's to comment very directly like this. 

I got home from to Bangalore from a week holiday in Goa (and I must have eaten a LOT to make a difference in 1 week!), my friend's husband said 

"Gee you've had a good holiday, you've put on weight!" 

I was SO mad and he (a man in his 60's) was very confused and bewildered why I was so annoyed. 

So try not to let any comments like this affect you. 


You will be stared at. 


If you don’t look Indian you will definitely be stared at. 

I got used to it and stopped noticing it after a while (I think wearing Indian clothes dying my hair darker and hanging out with Indians’ helped a lot), but it’s not seen as rude to stare. 

Try to remember that you are very much in a minority, and imagine if you saw something very unusual in your country what your reaction would be. You may be a little less obvious with your staring, but you would still probably take a second look if you saw something very unusual that you didn’t see often.


Have a great time in India!

Just remember it will be VERY different from where you are from (wherever that is), and you will have some very new experiences that you'll never have anywhere else. 


Try not to compare India, just embrace it. Go with the flow, then you can really enjoy yourself! 



I went with the flow, after 4 years I met my husband (the hot bald guy) and got married in India! :) 

5 comments

  • Thanks Susan! I’m so glad I’ve managed to change your perspective! That’s a pretty amazing thing to do with just a blog post! I think you must be very open minded. I can assure you I know lots of amazing people in their 60s and 70s in India, I’m sure you’d be welcomed with open arms and would have just as amazing an experience as me :)

    Kristen Dias
  • Thanks Folorn, I’m glad you enjoyed my perspective :) It’s interesting that foreigners just can’t seem to grasp the punctuality difference, even when they have been to a function the day before where everyone was late, the next day again they’ll show up on time expecting everyone to be there. Ha ha. :)

    Kristen
  • i find this article very amusing, especially the “dont be too punctual” and dont expect others to be punctual". coming from a fresh perspective of yours, its quite an interesting comment. and as an indian i agree with all your points. 😂

    Forlorn Fabricator
  • Very good advises. Many tourists do not know anything India customs, etiquette. Very important is to respect old ones. Do not take photos without asking permission polite.

    Seppo Järvinen
  • I love this! I had never wanted to see, go, or vacation in India, but this has changed my mind. I love the dress and food, so that part is fine, and I’d probably try to dress the part of a local. However, being a silver haired, pale, 70 year old (think along the lines of Judi Dench) it may be a stretch. That being said, I truly want to see India in all it’s marvellous colours!

    Susan Peery

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