India is one of the world’s most populous countries, with an estimated population of around 1.4 billion people. Not only is it one of the most populous, but it’s also extremely diverse, with a number of different religious groups calling this nation home. While the country may not look much on a map when compared with some of the world’s other major players like China or Russia, India is large enough to be split into regional areas known as states, which have their own individual customs, laws, and traditions.
While we can’t go through every Indian state to bring you a comprehensive guide to their own customs and laws, we have put together this useful etiquette and customs guide to India as a whole, focusing on some of the finer points of tradition that are commonly seen throughout. This will hopefully give you a starting point for learning more about the rules and etiquette when traversing India on one of Explorient’s fabulous India tours.
India – About
Throughout India, you’ll find a whole barrage of unique experiences – whether you’re strolling the hectic and busy streets of New Delhi, gazing in awe at the Taj Mahal or trekking in some of the northern mountainous regions like Rishikesh, you’ll find something for everyone in India. What you also might find are some strange cultural happenings that might be a bit surprising. After all – India can get kind of wild sometimes. Here are just a few cultural things you might run into, along with some points of etiquette you should know about.
Clothing – For Men and Women
With some parts of the country being excruciatingly hot, it can be tempting to wear shorts, skirts, and thin, strappy shirts, but try to avoid these types of western clothes. While they will more or less be tolerated, it can still be seen as sending a bit of an awkward message. Throughout much of India, there is a general perception that foreign women are promiscuous, so dressing in a way that shows a lot of skin will likely warrant a lot more stares and unwanted attention than you’d like. You’ll almost never see Indian men wearing shorts – instead, wear long trousers or pants that are made of things like cotton, which helps circulate airflow. Not only this but wearing longer clothes helps actually shade you from the sun – you’d be surprised at how much cooler you may feel by wearing longer clothes and covering up a bit.
Always remove footwear when entering a temple. Generally before entering any building you should remove your shoes – and watching for shoes on mats outside, sometimes in a chaotic, mismatched pile, is an indicator that your shoes be removed too. Visiting temples in India is part of the experience, so you should be prepared to show proper respect when you do so. Bring a shawl or sarong with you to cover your head as a woman, and ensure you wear clothing that covers your knees at least.
There are a lot of people in India and the concept of personal space pretty much doesn’t exist. You can expect to be bumped into, brushed against, pushed in queues for train tickets and the like and generally have your space kind of invaded. Tourist touts can be aggressive and demanding and follow you for a while. Just ignore them and keep walking if you’re not interested – they eventually get the idea. Luckily on private tours such as Explorient’s India Highlights tour, you’ll have your own guide and transportation, saving you from having to sort it out yourself in busy train or bus stations!
Please And Thank You
These two special phrases that are so commonly used in the west typically don’t get used in India as it creates unnecessary formality and can be seen as trying to distance a relationship and put it into the “formal” box. While it’s acceptable to thank someone who has provided you with a service, typically comments of appreciation such as “That dinner was delicious” are more well received than words of thanks.
Time and Punctuality
When it comes to time, Indian people rarely adhere to agreed times and are frequently late. The joke is that there is Indian Stretchable Time – where any amount of time can literally mean anything else. An hour can mean three, 8 pm can mean tomorrow, and a concept of start times for parties, gatherings or departure times for trains or buses can be literally ‘anytime from now’, meaning anytime from the scheduled time. This is fairly important to remember throughout India while you’re visiting on Explorient’s India and Nepal Highlights.
Invitations and Requests
Having an invitation or request from an Indian person is considered a great sign of respect. To outright decline said invitation can be seen as extremely rude. Even if you are unable to make the appointment or invitation, you should try to find a roundabout way to decline the invitation without outright saying no.
On the whole, Indian people are very private when it comes to sexual or partnership matters. While it’s okay to ask how many children someone may have, showing any signs of public affection is seriously frowned upon. Even holding hands can be seen as a precursor to intercourse and should be avoided. Hugging, kissing and so on are also frowned upon when done in a public setting, so try to avoid touching your partner if at all possible when in public. Keep this in mind when you’re traversing the country on Explorient’s India Spectacular tour.
Touching In General
When meeting and greeting people, it’s seen as potentially flirtatious for men and women to touch – even through handshakes. While it’s more common these days for western women in business to shake hands with Indian counterparts, typically it’s not something that happens in everyday life. Instead, placing your hands in prayer position, with palms flat, fingers facing up in front of your heart and bowing slightly with the greeting ‘Namaste’ is more appropriate. This can also be used in place of saying goodbye.
There you have a couple of bits of useful information in terms of etiquette and customs you can expect to run into or experience when you’re visiting this wide-reaching, vast and varied subcontinent. While these are just some high-level pieces of information that can be experienced almost everywhere, each state does have some of their own customs and traditions or pieces of etiquette that you may come across. When in doubt, you can check with your Indian hosts or hotels about specific things you should and shouldn’t do – but for the rest, hopefully, this guide has provided some invaluable insight into the wild world of India so you can be prepared for your next tour with Explorient.