India: Customs & Traditions
What are the dining customs in India?
Always wash your hands before and after a meal. It is customary
to wait for the host or the eldest person to begin eating before
everyone else. Eating with hands/fingers is common practice in
India, but remember: only the right hand is used for food; the left
hand is usually reserved for washroom tasks.
If utensils are offered, feel free to use them. If unsure, take a hint
from surrounding people. Never stick your hand in shared bowls,
instead, use a utensil with your left hand to serve yourself. Food should be taken as it was made. It is impolite to ask for salt. It is customary to turn down the first offer of tea, coffee or snacks as a sign of modesty. Your host will often insist and ask you again, or even pour you a cup regardless. Thank them if they do.
What should I wear?
Dress modestly and conservatively. Avoid showing too much
skin. Revealing attire may draw awkward stares and unwanted
attention, especially at night. Do not feel offended if you are
stared at—it is most likely only due to curiosity. Always remove
your shoes when entering a house, place of worship or mausoleum.
Be sensitive to tradition and pay respect to religious beliefs. Wear
appropriate clothing when visiting temples and other sacred places.
Some temples do not allow leather articles inside. If you are carrying any, deposit your items in the cloakroom and collect them after. People usually dress to cover most of their bodies, even at certain beaches. It is best to check what the appropriate attire is for the beach you are visiting to avoid awkwardness.
What cultural customs should I be aware of for my India tour?
Indians tend to ask personal questions. Canadian visitors may find this off-putting, but this is culturally acceptable in India. In India, a person is considered rude if they are asked for something and do not attempt to give it. Look for non-verbal cues that suggest refusal, such as reluctance to commit to an actual meeting time or an overly enthusiastic response.
If you are a male traveler, refrain from speaking to Indian women, especially if they are dressed in traditional clothes. To avoid embarrassment and offence, it is better to ask a man instead. If you have to speak to a traditionally dressed woman, be very respectful. Avoid conversations regarding Pakistan and China as these are sensitive subjects for most Indians. Never insult or question religious beliefs.
Overall, you’ll find that Indian people are friendly and hospitable. Most will go out of their way to help visitors.