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5 Indian Etiquette Tips to Remember
Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

If you are traveling to India for the first time, you might want to acquaint yourself with what’s considered proper etiquette in India. Whether you are visiting India on business, holiday or for a luxury getaway, remembering these 5 Indian etiquette tips can come in really handy.

 

Most of India’s unique culture, manners, and etiquette can be attributed to India’s ancient traditions and beliefs. For example, it’s safe (and polite) to say “Namaste” to anyone, regardless of age, gender and status. This greeting can be used anytime in the day, unlike Good Morning or Good Evening. The word “Namaste” literally means “I bow to the divine in you”. The expression traces its origins to Sanskrit, and hence understood the same anywhere in India . This particular form of folding your hands as a greeting can also be found in Yoga Mudras and Indian dance forms.

indian etiquette tips, rules, namaste meaning

Namaste!

This doesn’t mean that Indian etiquette doesn’t include foreign influences. India was a British colony for a long time, and one can see the British influence at many places. In places like Goa, the Portuguese influence can still be seen, while Pondicherry (Puducherry) still has a French colony, with an abundance of French restaurants. Not to forget Kochi and its Jew Town. However, for a first time visitor from Britain, France or other countries, the surprise factor would be the very Indian, very traditional etiquette rules. That’s why we have collated this handy India travel etiquette guide for you.

Indian Etiquette Tips – 1 of 5 

Indian Dining Etiquette:

Using your hands to eat – Unlike the western use of spoon and fork, traditionally Indians have used their hands to consume their food. It is believed that to truly savour the flavour of any dish you needed to touch it; that the sensation you feel on your fingertips when eating with your hands, adds to the whole experience. Thus, eating with your hands is a basic yet fundamental etiquette observed throughout the nation. You might want to try this out yourself, especially if you are visiting India to experience the culture and perhaps staying at a heritage resort or a homestay. Eating with your hands is said to have its origins in Ayurveda, and it’s what you might want to try if Ayurveda therapy is part of your India itinerary.

indian etiquette tips dining

Try eating with your hands. For the true Ayurveda and Indian way of eating.

If you are not comfortable with using your hands to eat, feel free to ask for cutlery. Even the most basic of eateries will be able to provide you with at least a spoon, while good restaurants can offer you proper cutlery. If you opt to eat with your hands, remember to use your right hand, whether you are right-handed or not. The next tip explains this further. 

Indian Etiquette Tips – 2 of 5

Right is right, left is not:

Indian culture dictates that the left hand is unclean, and hence the right hand must be used for most activities, including eating food.  Whether it is touching or eating food , paying money or giving a gift, remember to use your right hand; using your left hand would be considered offensive and rude.

Indian Etiquette Tips – 3 of 5

You are welcome to our homes, but the footwear stays at the welcome doormat:

It is an unspoken rule in almost each and every Indian household to leave your shoes at the doorstep, or a designated area for the same, before you enter into a house. This etiquette is especially adhered with when you are around the dining area, as traditionally Indian dining involves a floor seating arrangement, rather than a dining table. Likewise, remember to take off your footwear before entering the kitchen of a home, or a place of worship – a private one like a ‘Puja Ghar’ in a home or a temple.

indian etiquette manners tips, bespoke travel india

Welcome! Please remove your shoes..

Indian Etiquette Tips – 4 of 5

Indian Etiquette at Temples and Other Places of Worship:

Temples and places of worship in India can be highly ritualistic. The list of Dos and Don’ts can be a very long one, and hard to master even for the local population. All the other tips mentioned here become all the more important if you are visiting an Indian temple.  Temples (in their entirety) are considered sacred, and it’s customary for the devotees/visitors to leave their footwear at the entrance. Large temples have arrangements to safe-keep your footwear for the duration of your visit. Remember to use your right hand to accept the ‘prasad’ and dress modestly. Some temples expect you to cover your head before entering the temple premises. Watch the locals to get an idea about what’s appropriate. Don’t smoke or drink while inside the temple, and try not to drink before your temple visit.

Indian Etiquette Tips – 5 of 5

Etiquette of Gifting:

It’s a common practice the world over to bear gifts while visiting friends or acquaintances. More so during the festive season. During your India trip, if you are visiting friends or you’d like to thank your hosts, a box of sweets might be a good idea. Avoid wine and flowers though. Alcohol is generally frowned upon as a gift choice, and flowers are considered unusual for a gift. If it’s a first visit or a happy occasion, you cannot go wrong with sweets. Expect the recipient to say “it was not needed / you shouldn’t have taken the trouble” and not be too forthcoming to accept the gift. Keep smiling and insist once – the gift will then be accepted. If it’s a major event, like a birth, marriage, or a house-warming ceremony, it would be wise to offer something more substantial and useful. When in doubt about a gift choice or some local custom, ask a local travel expert

indian etiquette tips, india gifting tips

Keep it sweet.

Bonus tips!

(A)Dress modestly – it’s the safer option for cultural as well as practical reasons (dust, and sometimes insects). Long sleeved cotton outfits are a practical choice for most Indian destinations.

(B)Most Indians are uncomfortable with hugs and handshakes. Especially between opposite genders. India’s crowds might lead you to think otherwise, but Indians can and do get touchy about being touched.

If you are worried that you might not remember these etiquette tips on your Indian holiday, fret not. While these etiquette rules are good to know, they are not written in stone. If there’s one single tip that will work everywhere, it’s this : When traveling, remember to notice what others are doing and play along. If people are leaving their footwear at the doorstep, follow suit. If you notice devotees covering their heads before entering a temple, try to do the same. Eating with hands or fork? See how others are eating. And so on and so forth.

Did we miss anything? Any questions on Indian etiquette? Please leave a comment!

 

Cheers

Sudha

Image Courtesy: Namaste -Wikimedia |Welcome- personalizeddoormats.com| Sweets: Timescity.com

 


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Plan to travel to an Indian holiday destination?

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About me

The wise man travels to discover himself - JR Lowell

 

My name is Sudha Mathew. I'm an ex-banker who quit the rat race after a decade to follow my passion for travel and to combine it with my experience in understanding client requirements and exceeding their expectations.

 

While our content is mostly about the holiday experience, the accommodation and services, there's so much more to a journey. I have discovered a whole new me through travel. So I've reserved this corner of the website to share the unexpected aspects of travel. This space is also to hear from you about your journeys and discoveries. Bon Voyage!

 
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