Do's and Don'ts in India

Indian Etiquette Tips

India is a country with very strong traditions. Much of it is shaped by the various religions that are practiced there, and because of that, it is very important to be respectful of them. Below is a list of common etiquette practiced in India.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DON'T wear tight clothes or clothes that expose skin in more rural areas. Exposing skin or tight clothes may suggest that you're either too poor to dress well or that you're shameless about showing your body. Larger cities tend to be more modern and used to seeing tourists, so there is more flexibility there in terms of what kinds of clothes are acceptable and you probably won't have to dress as conservatively.
  2. DO make sure your head is covered when entering a Mosque or a Sikh Gurdwara.
  3. DO check to see what others are wearing before entering a Hindu temple. In certain Hindu temples, a man may be required to remove his shirt and wear a lungi, which is a long piece of cloth worn like a kilt.
  4. DO consider buying a pair of cheap, comfortable sandals for your trip. Footwear is never worn in a place of worship, and some museums or historic monuments also require you to remove footwear. By purchasing a cheap pair of sandals, they are less likely to be stolen when visiting these places.
  5. DO dress conservatively for business occasions. Suits are fine for men and women.
  6. DON'T expose legs unless you're in a bathing suit and preparing to go swimming, if you are a woman.

2. Table Manners

  1. DO eat with your hands. Forks and knives are not traditionally used in India for eating.
  2. DO carefully wash your hands before eating and keep your fingernails short for the sake of cleanliness.
  3. DON'T sit down for a meal until told by the host where to sit.
  4. DO use your bread, such as naan or roti, to scoop up your food.
  5. DO use a spoon for food such as soups. You may also be given a spoon to eat rice, depending on the region.
  6. DO use your right hand while eating and receiving food, and not your left. The left hand is considered unclean.
  7. DO understand the order in which people are served at a meal. First the guest of honor is served, then the men, and then the children. The women often spend the entire time cooking and serving and will eat later. This is less common in more modern homes in larger cities.
  8. DO be aware of the following common dietary restrictions in India:
  • Hindus do not eat beef. Many are also vegetarians.
  • Muslims don't eat pork or drink alcohol.
  • Sikhs do not eat beef.
  1. DO leave a small amount of food on your plate to show you are satisfied. Eating everything off your plate means you're still hungry.

3. Tipping

  1. DO tip 5%-10% at a restaurant if the service was good.
  2. DO tip porters Rs30 Indian Rupees a bag at hotels, airports, and on trains.
  3. DO tip tour guides and drivers 10%.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO give cash as a gift to friends and extended family members to celebrate certain life events, such as birth, marriage, or death.
  2. DON'T give frangipani or white flowers. Those are used for funerals.
  3. DO wrap your gift in green, yellow, or red because those colors are considered lucky.
  4. DON'T give a gift made of leather to someone who is Hindu.
  5. DON'T give a gift made of pigskin or an alcoholic beverage to someone who is Muslim.
  6. DON'T open your gift immediately after receiving it. Open it later when you are by yourself.
  7. DON'T give or accept a gift with your left hand, it is considered impolite.

5. Photo Etiquette

  1. DON'T take pictures in temples, at airports or military locations. It's not allowed.
  2. DO keep in mind that carrying a camera to tourist attractions can increase your entrance fee.
  3. DO be careful who you photograph in touristy areas. Sometimes people will offer to let you take their picture, and then they will try to make you pay for photographing them!

6. Greetings

  1. DO fold your hands, bow your head, and say "Namaste" when greeting.
  2. DO greet the most senior person first.
  3. DO be aware that physical contact between men and women can be taboo in India. Men and women will usually not shake hands.
  4. DON'T shake someone's hand unless they extend their hand first, and then follow their lead.
  5. DO say good-bye to everyone individually when parting.

7. Language Etiquette

  1. DO note that many languages are spoken in India. In fact, there are 22 official languages in India! The most common is Hindi, but many people also speak English. The English spoken in India is pre-1950s British English, which might seem very formal to many people from the U.S.

8. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO be on time. Although Indians may not be punctual, they will probably expect a foreign guest to be on time.
  2. DO take your shoes off when entering the house.
  3. DO bring a gift if you'd like. It's not necessary, but it wouldn't be turned down! For elder people you can bring fruit and for children bring sweets. A gift from your home country is also appreciated.

9. Business Meeting

  1. DO be aware that business takes place at a much slower and more informal place in India than in the U.S.
  2. DO be punctual, but keep in mind that meetings starting late are normal and it's not a sign of disrespect.
  3. DO be open and flexible. Negotiating is common in India and being inflexible might make you look bad.
  4. DO bring a small gift from your home country. Nothing expensive or flashy!
  5. DO try to go through a third party introduction. This will give you some credibility because Indians like to have a social relationship with people before doing business with them.
  6. DO make appointments by letter one or two months in advance.
  7. DO confirm your appointment to make sure it isn't being canceled at the last minute.
  8. DO engage in some get-to-know you chit chat. This is common, and don't be surprised if no business is discussed at all during the initial meeting.
  9. DO send an agenda and other informational materials in advance.
  10. DO book a follow-up meeting to discuss the previous meeting and to talk about what the next steps are.
Although you might find the list of Indian etiquette to be daunting, if you follow the lead of the locals you will be fine. Respect your hosts and avoid making any faux pas. Most of all; enjoy your travels to India!

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