The Essential Etiquette Guide To India

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Yann Forget/WikiCommons
Photo of Sridevi Nambiar
9 February 2017

India, given its size, history, and diversity is a complex country with a variety of contradictory cultural norms, traditions, and etiquettes within. However, some of the most essential elements of Indian etiquette that a foreigner should attempt to be familiar with while visiting the country is fairly standard throughout the country. We bring you the essential etiquette guide to India that will help you navigate the country more smoothly, connect better with locals, and take away more from your Indian experience.


Greeting others, particularly elders, is an integral part of the culture in most of the country. Namaste is a greeting that you can use around the country. Express your respect to elders by saying it with a little bow and folded hands. Our guide to essential phrases you should learn before travelling to India will help you appear respectful and charm locals.

Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Cuisine

Indians who follow vegetarian diets for religious reasons may find it disrespectful if you have non-vegetarian food while seated at the same table as them. Check what sort of cuisines are offered by restaurants prior to entering them if you’re going to be ordering non-vegetarian food.

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Eating Beef

Eating beef has always been a taboo in some parts of the country, with cows being considered holy by some followers of Hinduism. However, recently the slaughter of cows has very controversially become illegal in most states in the country. There have also been a few incidents of extreme violence where people accused of consuming beef have been attacked by extremist mobs in parts of rural India. While foreigners are usually in the clear, it is still very much advised to check its legality prior to ordering beef dishes. Kerala, West Bengal, and some states in the North East are the only places where you can fearlessly consume beef.

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Cutlery and using your hands

While eating with hands is the norm in most parts of the country, that doesn’t mean you can dig into your plate with both hands. Use only your right hand, unless you need a little help to tear breads like chappatis or naan. It is also very common to use cutlery to eat in most restaurants across the country, particularly when eating rice, but taking a cue from locals around you will help you blend in and be appropriate.

No Shoes Indoors!

Always take your shoes off prior to entering someone’s house unless they’ve clearly specified that you can have them on. Leave them outside unless they’ve asked you to place them indoors. Never wear shoes while entering temples or other religious places. Unfortunately, it is quite common for shoes to be left outside temples to be stolen so it is advisable to wear cheap sandals or such.



It is very much advisable to dress modestly, particularly in rural India. This means covering your shoulders, and wearing clothes that reach below your knee. Dressing appropriately will help you blend in better and thereby travel more comfortably. While in urban India, take a cue from locals and choose accordingly. While you are likely to be fine dressing however you wish in a city like Mumbai, that may not be the case in neighborhoods in some other cities in the country. It is extremely important to dress conservatively if you wish to enter religious places in the country. Check with one or more locals if your outfit is okay prior to visiting a temple or a mosque.