Religion and rituals in India
- At the temples and mosques, you must take off your shoes.There are special areas where your footwear can be kept for a small fee or free of charge. It may also be customary to take off your shoes when entering houses, to follow the example of other people or to look for shoes at the entrance of the house.
- Touching people with your feet are disrespectful. If this happens accidentally, you will find that Indians make a quick gesture of apology, which consists of touching the offended person with the right hand and then moving the hand to the chest and eyes. It is a good idea to imitate this.
- Books and written material are treated with respect as they are considered concrete/physical forms of the Hindu Goddess of Learning, Saraswati. A book should not be touched with the feet and if accidentally touched, the same gesture of apology should be performed as with humans (see above).
- The same applies to currencies or anything associated with wealth (especially gold). They are treated as physical representations of Goddess Lakshmi (wealth) in human form and should not be treated disrespectfully.
- Avoid winking, whistling, pointing or waving your fingers. All this is considered impolite.
- The swastika symbol is widely used in India and is considered a religious symbol for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. This symbol has no association with the Nazis. There is no tradition of anti-Semitism in India. Jewish people have lived in India for thousands of years and have always had good relations with their neighbours.
Social etiquette in India
- Travellers should be aware of the fact that Indian women generally dress conservatively, although more liberal dress can be seen in the big cities. Immodestly dressed women may attract unwanted attention from men. Avoid walking around in such clothing late at night, even in the bigger cities.
- It is better not to go out on the street alone. It is always advisable to have some company.
- Remember that Indians feel obliged to comply with a guest’s request and will insist very strongly that it does not cause any inconvenience, even if this is not true. This means, of course, that there is a mutual obligation on you as a guest to take special care not to be a burden.
- Note that most Indians are not aware that the term “Negro” is considered offensive today, and they may use it without the intention of offending. People in India usually not aware of the “N” word.
- Be aware of dietary restrictions when inviting Indian friends over for dinner. Pork is forbidden for Muslims, while beef is forbidden for followers of most other religions in India (e.g. Hinduism, Sikhism). While in some states, such as Kerala, beef is consumed liberally. It is best to ask beforehand.
- It is customary to pick a small friendly quarrel with the host or another member of the group when paying bills in a restaurant or shopping. The etiquette for this is somewhat complicated.
- At a business dinner, it is usually clear from the outset who is to pay and there is no need to argue. But if you are someone’s personal guest and they invite you to a restaurant, you should offer to pay anyway, and you should be very insistent. Sometimes these fights get a bit funny, with each side trying to snatch the bill from the other, laughing politely the whole time. If you’re not experienced in these things, it’s likely you’ll lose the chance the first time, but in that case, make sure you pay up next time. (and try to make sure there is a next time.) Unless the bill is very high, don’t offer to split it, and only as a second resort after they have refused to let you pay it all.
- The same rule applies when you make a purchase. If you buy something for yourself, your hosts may still offer to pay for it if the amount is not very high, and sometimes even if it is. In this case, unless the amount is very low, you absolutely shouldn’t lose the game. (If the amount is indeed ridiculously low, say less than ₹10, then do not insult your hosts by picking a fight). Even if you happen to lose the fight to pay the shopkeeper, it is customary to practically shove the money into your host’s hand (in a nice way, of course).
- These rules do not apply if the host has made it clear in advance that it is his hospitality, especially for a specific occasion.
– t Indians follow Western naming conventions, with a first name followed by a family name. Salutations also tend to follow Western conventions.
– mil names, however, are an exception to this rule. Tamil names usually follow the convention of first name + father’s name, or father’s initials + first name. Therefore, someone named Ramasamy Govindasamy would have Ramasamy as his first name, Govindasamy being his father’s name. Alternatively, he could also be known as G. Ramasamy. Due to the patronymic nature of surnames, first names are always used when addressing people, so the above person would be addressed as Mr Ramasamy.
The foolproof method is therefore to ask how the person wants to be addressed.
Sensitive topics in India
- Pakistan is a sensitive issue about which many Indians may have strong views. Be careful when bringing up the subject and better avoid mentioning it, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. It is fine to talk about your visit to Pakistan, the people, the culture, the music or Indo-Pak cricket matches. But it is far better to avoid any discussion about the political disputes with Pakistan or the Kashmir conflict. Similarly, bitterness and often violent dislike for Pakistanis or the Pakistani nation may be expressed.
- Sri Lanka is a very sensitive issue in the state of Tamil Nadu.
- Operation Bluestar or Indira Gandhi is a very sensitive issue in Punjab. Many people condemned the operation and Indira Gandhi was eventually assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. It is better not to discuss this as it can lead to trouble.
- In some regions of India, it is better not to discuss politics. Light conversation is welcomed by the locals, but debating political parties and their views could trigger problems.
- Avoid insulting or questioning religious beliefs. Do not draw parallels or comparisons between two religions, especially between Hinduism and Muslim beliefs.
- Be careful when talking about the caste system, as Western views on this subject are often either antiquated or inadequate.