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 around in high-heels and miniskirts.

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 blunders, it will help to acquaint yourself with some social and cultural etiquette that are in tune with the general Indian manners and protocol:

  • Status is often determined by a person’s age, education and profession. Government employment is considered to be more prestigious than private business by the lower-middle and working classes.
  • Be respectful when visiting holy sites. Do not wear revealing clothes (including shorts, for men and women) when visiting a religious place. Always speak in soft tones. Some religious places restrict the entry of those who are not from the same religion. Some might even direct covering your head or wearing a dress of a particular kind. Remember to remove your shoes before entering Hindu temples (mandirs) and Sikh temples (gurudwaras). Some churches and mosques also require visitors to remove their shoes before entering.
  • 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 (which includes abstaining from eggs).
  • Many Indians disapprove of public displays of affection between men and women. Kissing in public is a not advisable here. It’s best to shake hands or fold your hands in namaskar (as if you are praying) with older people.
  • It is also considered disrespectful to use strong swear words publicly, although it’s pretty common in Delhi.

If invited to an Indian house:

  • Bring a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates as a gift. Many Indians are do not drink, so wine is not a common hostess gift.
  • It is OK for guests to arrive late regardless of what the invitation says.
  • You might be expected to leave your footwear outside the house.
  • Alcohol should be avoided until you are certain that your host approves of it.
  • It is impolite to help yourself to second servings. Wait to be asked and for someone else to serve you.
  • Try to finish everything on your plate. Indian etiquette is such that you will be asked two or three times if you want more food, even if you insist that you are full. Keep insisting, saying that the food was lovely but you simply cannot have another bite!
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