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Cultural Expectations?

Discussion in 'General Discussions' started by Bapsy, Aug 1, 2016.

  1. Bapsy

    Bapsy New Member

    Hi Everyone,

    I'm wondering about any cultural expectations that one should observe when traveling to India. By that I mean, there are certain behaviors that people within a culture do in order to be polite or to conform to expectations of polite society. Here are some examples that I know of:

    In the United States it's customary to shake hands and the handshake needs to be of a certain level of firmness rather than weak. There's an expectation of personal space between people's bodies when tallking and people generally stand an arms distance apart from people that they don't know well. The middle finger is a vulgar expression meant to insult.

    In Saudi Arabia the left hand is considered unclean, so you shouldn't eat with it. Gestures should be avoided. A thumbs up is considered offensive and pointing is rude. There's a customary verbal greeting before a handshake and during the handshake is another specific greeting. They expect that you stand very close or else they think that you find their presence distasteful or that you are a cold person. Putting your hands in your pockets or leaning against a wall while talking to someone is highly rude.

    In Japan being verbally direct or angry or aggressive are highly frowned upon. Failure to be polite is looked upon as being uneducated. It's a big no-no to leave chop sticks or other utensils sticking straight up in food. Japanese people a lot of times won't say "no", they'll hedge a reply that sounds like agreement but trails off and it's the trailing off that means no. The "come here" gesture with the first finger in Western culture is actually extremely rude in Japan.

    Those are some examples of what I'm talking about.

    What are some cultural expectations, differences, and gestural do and don't that travelers should know before going to India?

  2. rootle

    rootle Member

    Well the thing with the left hands is true even in India. Don't kiss anyone in public. There really isn't anything more that I can think of off the top of my head. But there are many things that you would consider rude that most people in India wouldn't. Expect everyone to stare at you because not many people think staring is impolite. People don't really engage in much small talk, people don't talk to strangers much. People aren't used to the idea of personal space, so they might come very close to you and it may seem pretty creepy. Also almost every street shop will try to charge you too much money, you are usually supposed to bargain unless the things are at a fixed price. One very annoying thing is that a lot of vendors or taxi drivers have no qualms with following you around and pestering you to use their services.

  3. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hello, @Bapsy! Welcome to the forum!

    India is a very large country. You'll find that traditions and cultures vary by region. Furthermore, cities have started to become more modern and you might notice that they're not as strict with such gestures unlike rural towns. However, it's still good practice to follow these cultural expectations if you're going to India, whether you're in the city or in a rural area. Here they are:

    Temple Etiquette
    • Wear conservative clothes, make sure your shoulders and legs are all covered up.
    • Leave your shoes outside the holy place.
    • Do not shout or make any noises while inside the temple.
    • If you can, follow the clockwise pattern of circling the main idol in the temple. It's supposed to help you receive the magnetic waves and lets you absorb positive energy. And you'll find that this is a customary way of how Indians visit the temple as well.

    Meeting Etiquette
    • Religion, education and even social class dictate how you greet people in India. So you must first determine these factors before going into a meeting.
    • Usually, the eldest or most senior person should be greeted first.
    • Shaking of the hands is done as well, but only by men to men and women to women. It's rare to see a handshake between different genders.
    • When you're leaving, make sure that you bid farewell to each and everyone you met.

    Hands and Feet Etiquette
    • With the body parts, there's also a hierarchy. The head is the most superior part and the feet are the most inferior part. But when it comes to showing deference to the elders, it's common practice to bend down and touch their feet.
    • However, it's considered polite to remove your shoes before entering someone's house. Do not step into anything and if you do, apologise immediately.
    • When it comes to the hands, the left hand is attributed to washing one's self after using the toilet. So it's generally not used for eating or for shaking the hands of another person. Also, don't pass on anything using your left hand.

    How to Distinguish Names
    • For the Northern Hindus, most of them are given both a first name and a surname.
    • For the Souther Hindus, surnames aren't that common. They use their father's first name initial in front of their name. If married, they then drop their father's name and take their husband's first name instead.
    • For the Muslims, men add the connector bin and the women add the connector binti to their names. The term Hajji or Hajjah indicates that the person has made their pilgrimage to Mecca.
    • For the Sikhs, they all use the name Singh, either as a surname or a connector to their surname.

    Gift-Giving Etiquette
    • During events like births, deaths and marriages, you can gift cash to friends. Usually, members of the family and the extended family give gifts of cash as well.
    • If you are invited to one's home, it's not necessary to bring a gift but it's considered polite.
    • The use of colourful wraps like red, yellow and green are good as they signify luck.
    • If you're a man, always include a female relative when you're giving a gift to someone. Hence you can say, 'This gift came from both me and my mother.'
    • For Hindus, you can give them anything except leather made gifts. For the Muslims, avoid giving them alcoholic drinks or products made from pig.

    Dining Etiquette
    • You won't probably find Indians eating with their hands on five-star hotels. But if ever you're invited to their homes and you see them eating with their hands, it's because it's a part of their culture. Try to fit in if you see them eating without cutlery.
    • As what has been stated before, do not use your left hand for eating as it's considered the dirtier hand.
    • Generally, Indian families share their food, even with tourists. You'll see this in long train journeys. But despite this, it's considered rude or improper to share a fork, spoon, sandwich or glass. Also, do not double dip as this is considered rude as well. This is called jootha in India and considered offensive in most parts of the country.
    • Leaving some food on your plate means that you're satisfied. Finishing all the food means that you're still hungry.

    Body Language Etiquette
    • Public displays of affection are frowned upon in the country.
    • There's a personal space required between one person and another. It's usually an arm's length so make sure you follow this rule when talking to another person.
    • The Western hand wave, which is done side to side, can be interpreted by Indians as no or go away.
    • Do not touch anyone's head, it's considered rude.
    • You cannot point with one or two fingers only, it's used for inferiors. It's better to point with your chin, whole hand or thumb. But when you're with elders, do not use your chin to point at something.

    I hope this helps! Have fun in travelling to India.:)
  4. Normad

    Normad New Member

    Wow. That is quite a comprehensive list. I don't know how I managed to enjoy a two week holiday in India last year without breaking some of these rules. Or maybe I might have, but the people there were too nice to say anything. I'm glad I found this thread. It surely gives me food for thought. The next time I visit India I will definitely make sure that I have memorized this list.
  5. MissT

    MissT New Member

    It never ceases to amaze me how one gesture can mean something good in one culture and then mean something rude or even illegal in another. I guess people in India are very understanding when it comes to tourists and travelers who may inadvertently cause offence. I think it's a good idea to have this list here and maybe others can add to it over time and prevent anyone who is intending to travel to India from putting their foot in their mouth.
  6. GammaRay

    GammaRay Member

    People will look you in the eye when walking down the street sometimes so be prepared for that. It's rude anywhere but it won't stop people from staring. Public Display of Affection is gross for anyone outside of Europe so don't expect PDAs to be accepted there as well although kissing on the cheek is fine for same sex greetings.
  7. EdmondE

    EdmondE New Member

    I have heard that in the more rural parts of the country, it is rude to touch anyone or anything with your left hand, because that is the hand you wipe your posterior without access to running water in a lot of places, it is sort of inferred that you haven't washed your hands after a bowel movement. Keep in mind this is just something I have heard, perhaps another poster can enlighten us on the veracity of the claim.
  8. Dybbuk Jones

    Dybbuk Jones New Member

    The left hand taboo goes across a lot of cultural lines. For all we know it might have originated with the British. Regardless, it's one of the cultural things that should be absorbed. I don't think that India is as against left hand touching as other cultures were children are encouraged to be right handed.