As I’ve been preparing for my trip to India, I have been reading up on India’s culture and trying to learn some dos and don’ts. Here are some of the more interesting things I have read about India’s culture:
- The feet are considered the lowest part of the body. Showing the bottom of your foot, moving something with your foot, pointing at someone with your foot, or placing your feet on furniture is a sign of bad manners. Be careful when you cross your legs and never walk over someone or the Bible, other religious books, musical instruments, etc. Keep feet tucked underneath you as much as possible when sitting on the floor.
- The left hand is considered unclean because it is used for unclean things. Avoid giving anything to others with the left hand, especially food. When eating without utensils use the right hand only.
- Because Indians live in a ‘collective’ culture, honor and saving face are very important – often the guiding factor behind relationships. This is often the reason an Indian will not admit a mistake – even when the mistake is obvious to everyone. It is very important to avoid causing others to lose face or even to lose face yourself. To help others save face, do not ask questions that will require the other person to admit a mistake. Do not set up competitions. The one losing will undoubtedly be embarrassed – and lose face. Do not ask questions implying the other is in need.
- Men’s Clothing: What you wear expresses not only your own social position, but more importantly, is a reflection of the social position you perceive of your host or guest. By wearing neat, clean clothes, you express honor and esteem for your host or guest. Indians even in the slums rarely leave the house without a pressed shirt. Never wear shorts in public. Pants and nice shirts are acceptable. A Kurta Pajama is good to wear, also.
- Women’s Clothing: A typical Indian suit is called a salwar camise. It consists of baggy drawstring pants called salwars, long tops called kurtas, and scarf-like thing that covers the chest called a dupatta. The sari is the traditional dress for a married woman. In most village areas, after a woman is married she only wears a sari. When foreigners wear saris, they generally win great appreciation from their Indian friends. There is more to wearing a sari than just wrapping it properly. A female writer of a newspaper article expressed that what a woman wears affects how she should behave. She wrote that she wears certain clothes for sports and a salwar camise for other activities as well. But, when she wears the sari, she is quiet and sedate. The sari calls forth a certain mental attitude and a specific type of demeanor. This is often the reason we look unattractive to Indians when we wear a sari. The sari is a very feminine, graceful garment. But we are not always feminine or graceful when we are talking and/or laughing loudly, shouting, walking fast or in a heavy, masculine manner, acting in a very dominant or authoritative manner, etc. These would be inappropriate behaviors when wearing the sari!
- A man should NEVER touch a woman’s dupatta. A dupatta is considered a woman’s virtue.
- A woman should never brush her hair in public, especially in smaller cities. This can possibly lead people to think you are a prostitute.
- People of the opposite sex do not show affection in public. It is very common for men to hold hands and hang on other men in public. Women do the same thing, but is not seen as much.
- Indians do not typically date. Marriages are usually arranged through their parents. A man and a woman seen alone together are assumed to be married.