Beautiful spices and pigments in a array of colours in the streets of India.
Photo credit: Matthieu Aubry. / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It is a sophisticated, modern, industrial leader that is home to many primitive tribes and millions of poor people. Religion and language separate people and the caste system limits social mobility. Cultural differences extend to all sorts of little things and while allowances will usually be made for foreigners on holidays to India, visitors unacquainted with Indian customs may need a little preparation to avoid causing offence or making fools of themselves. Indian etiquette is quite formal, a mix of both Western and Asian culture. India was part of the British Commonwealth for many years and as a result of that connection a considerable volume of the Indian population have been influenced by the British style of etiquette – formal and somewhat conservative. But that is where the British influence ends in India – (other than the cricket of course!). Indian etiquette is quite unique! Foreigners travelling on India tour packages need to be aware that a certain level of etiquette is the custom in India. Religion, education and social class all influence greetings in India. Westerners who travel to India may shake hands, however, greeting with ‘namaste’ (placing both hands together with a slight bow) is appreciated and shows respect for Indian customs. This is a hierarchical culture, so greet the eldest or most senior person first. Shaking hands is common, especially in the large cities among the more educated who are accustomed to dealing with westerners. Men shake hands with men when meeting or leaving. There is no touching between men and women during a meet or greet. Western women may offer their hand to a westernized Indian man, but not normally to others. Traditional Indian women may shake hands with foreign women but not usually with men. Public displays of affection are considered improper and Indians generally allow an arm’s length space between themselves and others; they value their personal space. Indian men may engage in friendly back patting merely as a sign of friendship. When an Indian smiles and jerks his/her head backward — a gesture that looks somewhat like a Western “no” — or moves his head in a figure 8, this means “yes.” The Western side-to-side hand wave for “hello” is frequently interpreted by Indians as “no” or “go away.” The right hand is used only to touch someone, pass money or pick up merchandise. The left hand is considered unclean and is not used for eating. The head is considered sensitive so it is improper to touch anyone’s head. Feet are considered unclean but are sacred for holy men and women. Pointing footwear at people is considered an insult. Before entering an Indian family home, take off your shoes/sandals and leave them outside. Indians are very sensitive to being beckoned rudely. Hand and arm waved up and down (Western “good-bye”) means “come here.” To beckon, extend your arm, palm down and make a scratching motion with fingers kept together. Never point with a single finger or two fingers (used only with inferiors). Point with your chin, whole hand or thumb. The chin is not used to point at superiors.