In India, it is customary to remove your shoes while entering religious places. Also, if someone invites you into their abode, make sure you take your shoes off prior to entering, unless the host has clearly said that you don’t have to. Some Indians do wear slippers inside, but usually those are just for indoor use and never worn outside. This practice extends to some shops as well. So, if you see shoes at the entrance door, it’s a good idea to remove yours as well.
The left hand is considered unclean in India as it is typically used only for performing unsavoury functions, such as cleaning yourself after going to the toilet, taking off and putting on your clogs, cleaning your feet, etc. Especially in religious places, receiving prasad or giving alms by the left hand is unacceptable and considered inauspicious. Therefore, all instances involving contact with food, passing or taking objects, or interacting with people must be done with the right hand. For southpaws, though, this isn’t mandatory!
Another etiquette rule is to never point your finger. This is considered rude. If you must draw attention to someone or something, do so with your whole hand or thumb. Also, touching people or objects, especially books and educational instruments, with your feet is considered really disrespectful. If it happens inadvertently, Indians reverentially touch that object with their hands and bring to close to their eyes as an apology.
India is a mix of modern and conservative minds, and the clothing for women varies from region to region. In urban cities, like Goa, Delhi or Mumbai, you can wear whatever you like. However, in small towns and cities, especially in rural India, dressing modestly and not revealing too much skin is highly recommended. It will not only ward off unwanted stares, but will also help you blend in with the locals. Make sure you throw on a stole or a scarf when visiting religious place.
Have you heard of IST? For the rest of the world, it translates to Indian Standard Time, but for Indians, it means Indian Stretchable Time. Indians view time differently. For instance, if someone says “I’m on my way”, it means “I haven’t even left my place yet”. Often, five minutes is equivalent to 30 minutes, and 30 minutes is equivalent to one hour (or even two hours). It’s just the norm here for things to run late – be it public transportation systems, meetings, or social gatherings and events. So, next time you are invited to a party at 7:00 pm, you can turn up at least 20 or 30 minutes later. Trust us, it won’t be considered rude!
In India, PDA (public display of affection) is frowned upon and, believe it or not, may even land you in jail for up to three months (there are certain caveats, though). So, it’s best to avoid all PDA (including hand holding at some places) so you don’t have to deal with moral policing or unhappy stares.
Don’t talk about or criticize Indian politics, or insult any particular religious and ethnic group. Although India is a democratic country with freedom of expression, and many Indians are vocal about their views, you should avoid being the one to strike up a conversation that includes any religious or political matter, as these topics always get heated. There are surely other interesting things to talk about!
Indians are an inquisitive bunch. They will ask questions about your job, income, marriage and family, sometimes even during your first meeting! It’s just their way of breaking the ice. So, don’t be surprised or offended if someone asks you such questions right off the bat and just play along. Oh, and don’t forget to do the same in return.
Refrain from drinking tap water in India as it contains Escherichia coli, a type of bacteria that can make you sick. It is best to carry a mineral water bottle with you at all times. Indians either boil tap water to make it potable or stick to bottled water (which is pretty cheap). Even in restaurants, order mineral water instead of regular water – it’s always better not to risk it!
In India, cash is king. Though many upscale shopping complexes, stores, restaurants and hotels have facilities to accept credit cards, there are just as many that don’t. Sometimes, debit cards are also not accepted, so in such a situation, cash is your saviour. Also, access to an ATM is quite easy in the cities, but less so in small villages and towns. So, make sure to carry an adequate amount of cash at all times. Do keep smaller bills to pay for parking, tipping or purchasing small items.
Smoking and drinking alcohol in public places is prohibited throughout the country. If you want to enjoy this stuff, do it at your home or inside licensed places. Also, consumption, possession and distribution of drugs will lead to conviction, so do not get involved in any of this.
India is culturally and linguistically diverse. There are numerous languages spoken across the country and the dialects vary from place to place. Although you can get by with English at some of the places, outside the urban centers it’s worth learning a few local words and phrases. This will help you make local friends, too, because they will feel you respect their culture.
Eating beef has always been a taboo in the country, as cows are considered sacred by the Hindus. Also, the slaughter of cows is illegal in many parts of India, and has resulted in violent protests as well. While foreign tourists are generally in the clear, it is still highly advisable to check the legality before ordering a beef dish.
Cricket is religion in India, so insulting it will definitely raise a few eyebrows. Making negative comments about the Indian cricket team won’t be appreciated either. The best policy is not to comment; simply enjoy the sport like locals.
Goa, Delhi and Mumbai are some of the popular tourist places – and for good reason. However, there is a plethora of unexplored places in this incredibly vast and diverse country that are all worth a visit.