As you probably already know, India has a very different culture from the West. Many things that may seem trivial to us may not be so in this country. Our social-cultural codes are different and it can be good to know them before traveling to India.
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Step over someone
It won’t take you long to realize that in India, many people sit or lie on the floor at the slightest opportunity. Whether to wait or to nap. Anywhere! The opportunities to meet someone on your way are not recurring but not rare either, it can happen on a train for example.
I cannot tell you exactly why you should not step over a person in India, but I imagine there is a link with the feet, considered impure. Their proximity to the person should not bode well when one passes over it.
Perhaps there is also a connection with religion. Going over someone could cut them off from their creators, go figure. At the same time, among Muslims, walking right in front of them when they pray is very rude. It is best to wait or work around them.
Going inside houses with your shoes
To chain on the feet, you should never go home to a person with his shoes. This also applies in temples. You will quickly notice this when you see the many shoes in front of the doors.
Pointing at someone with your foot
As said above, feet are impure and pointing them in someone’s direction is very disrespectful. After a month of traveling in India I had forgotten this little rule. I was drinking a chai on a street in Varanasi, my legs straight and my feet pointed directly at the person in front of me. She pointed it out to me rather dryly and didn’t appreciate it at all.
Well, now you know, put your feet away! At the same time, pointing fingers at someone is also rude in India.
Using your left hand
In many Eastern countries, the left hand is considered impure. This is one of the things we use to clean up after the commission. Moreover, you will almost never find toilet paper in India. Only a jet of water directly into the bowl or a bucket of water next to it. You will also deduce that we do not greet someone or give something with this hand.
This is not really a rule, everyone responds to the invitation as he sees fit obviously.
In India, we simply have to deal with many more proposals to drink the famous chai and it is always welcome to meet a new person who reaches out to us!
Do not cover up well your body
It is a dress code that applies mostly to women. In India, you will never see one of them with the shoulders or thighs uncovered. On the other hand, having the rest of the legs or arms in the open air is no problem. Not even the belly or back, as it is common to see on women who wear the sari¹.
Sometimes I saw tourists in tank tops and mini shorts on tourist places, needless to say where all the pairs of eyes were focused. Both men and women.
Being too close to your partner
To continue on modesty, there are also codes. Especially on the physical attitude we have with our partner in public. Close contacts between men and women are always discreet and never in broad daylight.
There too I happened to see tourists hugging and even kissing in the eyes of all. If you don’t want to be noticed, or out of respect for the culture, it’s best to keep a low profile. You should also know that it is simply prohibited by law.
On the contrary, being physically close to friends will not shock anyone, it is not uncommon and even common to see people of the same sex hugging each other and even holding hands amicably in public.
The notion of punctuality in India is totally different from ours, everything is in slow motion. In this country, there are so many reasons to arrive late that it is a habit ingrained in customs. In India nothing ever goes as planned and on time. This is something quite normal here.
Being impatient and nervous might not be understood by Indians. It must be said that I too have been irritated and tired a few times by this ambient chaos but you have to keep your cool, in the long run we get used to it. Yes, I assure you! (after one year)
Don’t ask for beef!
Sacrilege! The cow is sacred in India, no matter where you go, never ask for it, not even at the restaurant. This may seem obvious to some, but others sometimes travel without knowledge of rules or customs.
I grant you, it is not so simple to understand but gallantry has no place in India. For example, getting up to give your seat to someone is not done. Or offer help to someone who cooks to serve you.
In fact, your good intention will simply be interpreted as the opposite of what you would have liked and you would pass for someone rude.
¹ Sari: Traditional Indian clothing worn by women. (↑Back)