India is a land of diversities. This is
true in everything including etiquette and customs. A traveler can
find many cultures, lifestyles and etiquettes throughout India. Indian
cities are more influenced by western culture whereas villages remain
untouched. Though Indians are very hospitable and friendly, volunteers
are advised to follow these guidelines to avoid misunderstanding and
For Men - There are no strict guidelines for the way men should be
dressed. But clothes those show above knees are considered indecent.
Shorts are acceptable only when exercising and should be avoided in
For Women -
Indians, especially villagers, have rather strict dress code for
women. Women must always keep their upper arms, chest, back and legs
covered. Clothes that show your upper arms and legs must be avoided.
Needless to say about bikinis, halter-tops, tube tops, spaghetti
straps, shorts mini-skirts and anything over the top. Forget all that
stuff. Dressing 'sexy' in India will either offended or attract wrong
kind of attention and create problems.
Cargo pants, jeans, skirts that fall under the knee or lower, short or
long sleeve shirts and blouses that are at least slightly loose and
don't show your chest are all OK.
Behavior in temples and other holy places.
Etiquette at holy places is basically a combination of general good
manners, cultural sensitivity, and respect for others. However, here
are the things that you should particularly notice.
· It is very important to
dress appropriately. Legs and upper arms must be covered. A long
sleeved shirt is preferable to a T-shirt.
Always remove your shoes/footwear before you enter a temple,
mosque or any place of worship.
Do not touch any holy object with your left hand.
· In temples and holy
places, you will typically have to sit in cross-legged on the floor.
Pointing one's feet towards the altar, teacher or elders is regarded
as disrespectful. So avoid extending your legs. If you need to stretch
your legs, be sure to point your feet away from sacred objects.
· Follow the instructions
written on notice boards. In mosques and some other places of worship
you may need to cover your head with a scarf.
Behavior in Public Places:
widely accepted form of salutation in India is Namaste. "The two palms
are gently pressed together and held near the heart as the fingers
joined together, finger tips pointing to the top, with the head gently
bowed and one says, Namaste ". Just this small gesture would make you
appear very well mannered and conservative for every Indian. This is
one sure way of winning Indians' hearts. We would better advise you to
stick this particular mode of greeting anywhere in India, even though
shaking hands is accepted in cities.
Shaking hands as a mode of salutation / greeting is natural
and very common in western culture. But in Indian villages, shaking
hands between opposite sexes is not appropriate. However, it is OK in
cities. Winking is treated as indecent.
· Public display of
affection, e.g. kissing or hugging in public, is disapproved.
· Always use your right
hand to give or take anything. Giving or taking with your left hand
would be treated as a sign of disrespect. Don't touch the food items
with your left hand. Left hand is considered to be unclean.
· Head is considered to be
the sacred part of the body. Don't touch someone else's head, not even
to pat the head of a child.
· Shoes and feet are
considered to be symbols of uncleanness. Your shoes or feet touching
another person would be treated as an act of insulting. Do not let
your feet touch any person. Apologize if your shoes or feet touch
another person. You would notice Indians making a simple gesture of
apology if they accidentally touch someone with their feet.
· Standing tall with your
hands on your hips is perceived as aggressive. Particularly women must
· Pointing with your finger
is considered rude. Whistling in public is treated as an indecent
Staring at you? Take it easy. - Staring at strangers is
considered indecent in western culture, but does not have that
importance in India. People here do not hesitate to stare at anything
or any one new or different. As a foreigner, you would obviously be
the centre of attraction. Many people in Indian villages and small
towns are quite unfamiliar with foreigners. So everything about you
creates an intense interest among them.
Don't get irritated if people at trains or public
gatherings ask you many questions. Questions that would sound rather
personal from western perspective are so common from Indian point of
view. These may include enquiries like How much you earn? How old are
you? How much this cost? Are you married? etc., This is the way a
common Indian tries to get interaction with a stranger. There will be
nothing except curiosity behind these questions. Answering these
questions with a smile would make you appear friendly and you surely
would be going to win their hearts. An average Indian would certainly
treat a foreigner as his guest and comes forward to do any help they
can. A friendly gesture and a gentle smile always have a very good
Of all, there cannot be a
well-laid list of Do's and Don'ts. Here you should remember that the
world and life viewed from your own cultural point of view is only one
of the several manifestations of the same thing. You are going to
witness the world from another angle, which is very ancient,
beautiful, mysterious and, of course, a little confusing. Surely you
are going to learn invaluable things that are impossible to learn in
any other way. Try to notice the positive aspects of the people and
culture you travel through. At the end everything from this
prehistoric culture will leave you with a feeling of fulfillment and
unmatched satisfaction. These experiences could be the most treasured
ones throughout your life.