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.
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.
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.
Don’t be offended by personal questions.
Don’t be offended if people comment on your physical appearance
You will be stared at.
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! :)