Etiquette in India

Etiquette in India: The traditional greeting, namaste. Photo: Shutterstock
The traditional greeting, namaste. Photo: Shutterstock


Etiquette in India can be a tricky thing. Whilst a thrilling and evocative place to visit, India can sometimes confuse the first-time visitor. India's social order is hugely intricate, with myriad religious traditions, social practices and institutions such as the caste system spinning a formidable web for the outsider to untangle. Before you embark, it's worth bearing the following points of etiquette in mind.


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Take your shoes off

Removing one’s shoes before entering someone’s house, or a temple, mosque or gurdwara (Sikh temple) is essential. Wearing socks or stockings in these places is usually permissible.

Greetings and public displays of affection

The traditional namaskaram greeting with joined hands has been largely (if not completely) replaced by the Western handshake, particularly in cities, although women often prefer not to shake hands with men – don’t offer to shake hands with a woman unless she first holds out a hand to you.

Kissing and embracing in public is frowned upon; in rural areas, even men and women holding hands can provoke curious stares. (The sight of Indian men holding hands with other Indian men is common, however.)

Visiting temples

Visitors are usually welcome to look around at their leisure and can sometimes stay during religious rituals.

For visits to places of worship, however, wearing modest clothing is essential. In Sikh temples, you should cover your head. In mosques, women should cover their heads and arms and wear long skirts. A small contribution to the donation box (hundi) is also customary. Other things to keep in mind:

1. Photography is prohibited inside the inner sanctum of many places of worship. Do obtain permission before using a camera there.

2. Leather goods of any kind should not be taken into temples, as these are regarded as impure and can often cause offence.

3. Menstruating women (considered unclean) are also usually forbidden from entering Jain temples.

Left or right hand?

When eating with your fingers, remember to use only the right hand, as the left is considered unclean (used for the toilet).

Pointing

Avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards anyone, as this is considered a sign of disrespect.

Also, don’t point with your index finger: use either your extended hand or your chin.

India etiquette: Clear signage in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: Shutterstock

 

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