India thrives in its community-based societal structure…. making most Indians inherently friendly and curious individuals. This can appear quite new and even strange at first, especially if you are from the Western world. But as you go through your journey, you will soon find this cultural quirk making your trip even more pleasurable, and often one of the main highlights of your trip. Here are some insights on how to navigate through the culture.
Don’t Be Offended by Intrusive Questions
India focuses on community first, so individual privacy is a rare commodity to find. As a result, Indians are inquisitive people and their culture is one where people do anything but mind their own business. Don’t be shocked or offended if you get asked you how much you earn for a living, and a host of other intimate questions, all during your first conversation.
In fact, feel free to ask these kinds of questions back. You’ll be surprised at how pleased people will be that you’ve taken such an interest in them! And, who knows what fascinating stories you’ll uncover. How fun is that!
‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ are unnecessary
The use of “please” and “thank you” are essential for good manners in western culture. In India however, these words create unnecessary formality and, can surprisingly even be insulting! While it’s appropriate to thank someone who has provided a service to you, such as a shop assistant or waiter, lavishing thanks on friends or associates should be avoided.
In India, people who are close to you do not expect words to gratify the relationship. If you thank them, it can be seen as creating distance. Rather than saying thanks, it’s best to show your appreciation by giving compliments. You will be amazed by the reaction when you praise someone’s cooking, dress or home.
Don’t Outright Decline an Invitation or Request
While it’s necessary to be assertive and say “no” in some situations in India, doing so to decline an invitation or request can be considered disrespectful. This is because it’s important to avoid making a person look or feel bad. Instead of saying “no” or “I can’t” directly, reply by giving evasive answers such as “I’ll try”, or “maybe”, or “it might be possible”, or “I’ll see what I can do”.
Don’t Expect People to Respect Your Personal Space
In India, if there is a line, people will most definitely try and jump it. So those in lines usually stand so close to each other that they’re touching. It can be intimidating, but it’s necessary to prevent people from cutting in line, or crossing ahead of you.
Keep your handbags and wallets where you can see or feel them against your skin, as you could get pick-pocketed.
Don’t Expect People to Be Punctual
In India, time is a flexible concept. There is time, and then there is “Indian Standard Time” (IST) or often joking called “Indian Stretchable Time”. In the west, while it may considered rude to be late even by 5 minutes, People in India are unlikely to turn up when they say they will.
That said, the people who interact with tourists and foreigners will show up on time, or close it.
The Indian Head Wobble
The quirky head wobble is fun but tricky to master. It’s been bewildering Westerners for centuries.
You’ll encounter the all-purpose gesture all over India. A head wobble can mean “yes” or “OK,” is sometimes used as a greeting, and can be used to acknowledge what you are saying.
Don’t be surprised if your question is answered with a silent head wobble! Try to take your question into context to understand the meaning of the wobble.
Maybe cliché, but yes: cows do wander freely throughout India, even in the streets of major cities. Give them room; they are harmless. Try not to be the stereotypical tourist who points, laughs, and takes obnoxious pictures of the respected animals. Cows are honored and esteemed by Hindus. You won’t make any friends by messing with the cows in India.
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