Local Customs Guide

India is a vibrant amalgamation of varied ethnic groups, cultures, and traditions. On one hand, you will find that many Indian women are conservatively dressed, on the other, there are others who have no qualms walking the fashion ramp in the skimpiest of clothes. Indians go out of their way to accommodate guests. So there is little chance that you will offend them. However, to avoid making any unintentional faux pas, it will help to acquaint yourself with some social and cultural etiquette that are in tune with general Indian manners and protocol. Below are some general guidelines for navigating India in a professional manner, however, always use your common sense.

  • Status is often determined by a person’s age, education and profession. Government employment is considered to be more prestigious than private business.
  • Be respectful when visiting holy sites. Do not wear revealing clothing. Smoking and drinking are generally prohibited. Always speak in soft tones. Some religious places restrict the entry of those who are not from the same religion. Some might even require that you cover your head or wear a particular garment. When in Rome….
  • If you host a meal, keep in mind that Indians have a variety of dietary restrictions. Hindus do not eat beef, Muslims do not eat pork and many Indians are strict vegetarians. In more traditional settings, women often do not consume alcohol. Be sure to check with our guests about their dietary guidelines – it’s perfectly polite to ask.
  • While some more sophisticated circles kiss on both cheeks, Indians generally disapprove of public displays of affection between men and women. Indian culture and tradition forbids unnecessary touching or any form of physical contact, especially between a man and a woman. Kissing in public is a not advised. You can shake hands with people, or better still, stick to the traditional namaskar. [Namaskar or Namaste is a popular form of greeting in India. While doing namaskar, both the palms are placed together and raised below the face]
  • Indian temple etiquette stipulates that you take off your shoes before entering the premises. The same applies to certain churches in India. Usually, there will be people stationed outside most temples and Gurdwaras, who will keep your shoes safely for a nominal sum. Many people also observe this custom in their homes or offices – so check to see if your host is wearing his/her shoes before entering with yours on.
  • Standing tall with your hands on your hips is perceived as aggressive.
  • Pointing with your finger is considered rude.
  • Whistling in public is unacceptable and is often associated with teasing those around you.
  • Never direct the soles of your feet at another person as feet are considered unclean.
  • It is also considered disrespectful to use strong swear words publicly.

If invited to dine at an Indian house:

  • Bring a bouquet of flowers or a box of sweets as a gift. Chocolate is always popular.
  • It is OK for guests to arrive late regardless of what the invitation says. It is reasonable (even expected) to show up 30 minutes to an hour after the proposed arrival time.
  • You might be expected to leave your footwear outside the house. It might be more convenient for you if you wear flip-flops or slip-ons instead of shoes so that they may be easily removed.
  • It is common to sit around chatting for a couple of hours first. Dinner is typically served at the end of the evening so plan your hunger accordingly.
  • Alcohol should be avoided until you are certain that your host approves of it. And, if you are permitted to drink, do not get drunk.
  • It is impolite to help yourself with second servings. Wait to be asked before digging in.
  • Good manners and etiquette also requires not speaking negatively about or criticising the country or its people openly.