India is seen world-wide as a large, colourful country steeped in tradition and history. There is more to the people of India than what meets the eye – as such here are 5 things you need to know about Indian culture before your visit!
- FOOD: Indian food tastes better when eaten by hand. Food should only touch your fingertips, and although people will be polite if you dirty your fingers past the knuckle, they will be disgusted.
- MOVIES: Cinema is one of India’s most renowned art forms and a weekly trip to the cinema is now a respected family occasion. Most Bollywood movies will feature song and dance and are often of the romance boy-meet-girl genre. One thing to take note of: Should you take in a movie while in India, prepare yourself to enjoy a community experience. Talking throughout, cell-phones ringing, cheering on the hero, or singing along would not be considered rude or unusual. It is all part of the India experience.
- CONVERSATION: The Indian concept of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may confuse and confound visitors. Indians will say ‘yes’ to maintain a relationship and their honour. It’s shameful to refuse a request or to be ignorant of a helpful answer. One important phrase to know is “I will try”. If you invite someone to attend an event or party and they reply ‘I will try’ it usually means they have declined. They don’t want to risk offending you with a straight refusal. “No” will be the answer to your offer to help or serve them. The key is to ask three times. If, after the third time they still say ‘no’, it means it’s a true ‘no’.
- FAMILY SECRETS & PRIVATE LIFE: Indians do keep some things private, hidden even from close friends and extended family. Westerners may feel no qualms about relaying their family’s mental health history or personal or even general stories of abuse or divorce, but Indian taboos on these topics will ensure that if you choose to share those private matters, respect and trust will be lost.
- VISITING AN INDIAN HOME: If you have been invited to dine at an Indian home (or even just for a short stay), it is polite to take a small token of appreciation such as a box of sweets. You will be warmly greeted at the door and be expected to take off your shoes. All Indian hosts will always offer ‘chai’ or another kind of drink no matter what time of the day you arrive. It would be impolite to refuse. In India, people converse first and eat later. Once dinner is over, it is time for the guests to thank the hosts, say goodbye and make their way home. Guests may sometimes be served food alone or with the head of the family – this is to ensure that the family is not shamed by running out of food. This is mostly only the case in poorer family or where food is scarce.
If you enjoyed reading our blog post about Indian culture, you can purchase the whole book from our Culture Smart! India page.