Many of India’s attractions and historical sites draw millions of visitors each year. Whenever traveling to a foreign country for business or pleasure, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with local customs. There are a variety of traditions unique to India, and while this is not a complete comprehensive list, understanding the following cultural beliefs and practices will help ensure you do not cause unnecessary offense.
Native people of India believe that the left hand is used for cleansing after visiting the bathroom and performing other personal hygiene acts. Thus, the left hand is considered unclean regardless of hand washing. Never greet another person by offering the left hand, for this is offensive. Although it is common to enjoy meals without using cutlery, the left hand must never be used. It is acceptable, however, to use both hands or the right hand when taking a gift or another item from someone when offered.
The ground is known to harbor many types of germs in addition to dirt. As such, the bottoms of shoes are considered unclean. Before entering someone’s home or a religious temple, guests must remove their shoes. With this tradition in mind, it might be a good idea to wear shoes that are easily removed. The feet are also considered unclean and must never be pointed toward another person, an altar or wall images. Guests should never step on another person’s possessions or touch someone’s feet.
While many cultures are familiar with waving a hand in greeting, the act is considered offensive in India. Pointing with one or two fingers is also thought to be rude. It is common practice in many cultures for people to greet one another by hugging, kissing or shaking hands. Individuals might pat each other on the back or put an arm around someone’s shoulder. However, in India, personal space is respected. Touching another person is generally frowned upon. Telling someone “Namaste” while holding the hands in a prayer position is the common greeting of the country. Roughly translated, Namaste means “the God in my heart greets the God in yours.”
The workday typically does not start until 10:00 A.M. Therefore, business guests should schedule meetings for late morning or during the afternoon. Although being promptly on time is considered respectful and appropriate in many cultures, the opposite is true in India. Being respectful means showing up 10 to 20 minutes later than the scheduled time.
Adhering and adjusting to different cultural norms is a difficult task, but making sure you are respectful while traveling is a good way to improve your trips as well as your relationships with the people who live there.