Fortunately, Indians are very forgiving toward foreigners who aren't always aware of the etiquette of Indian culture. However, to help you avoid embarrassing mistakes, here are five things not to do in India.
- Don't wear tight or revealing clothing. Indians adopt a very conservative standard of dress, particularly in rural areas. Western dress standards, including jeans on women, are becoming quite prevalent in cities. However, it's still necessary to keep your legs covered. You'll rarely see an Indian man wearing shorts, or an Indian woman wearing a skirt above the ankles (although college students are an exception!). Sure, you can do it, and perhaps no one will say anything. But you will get more respect by dressing appropriately. Covering your legs and shoulders is especially important when visiting temples in India.
- Don't wear your shoes inside. It's good manners to take your shoes off before entering someone's home, and it's a prerequisite before entering a temple or mosque. Indians will often wear shoes inside their homes, such as when going to the bathroom. However, these shoes are kept for domestic use and never worn outdoors. Shoes are sometimes also removed before entering a shop. If you see shoes at an entrance, it's a good idea to take yours off as well.
- Don't point your feet at people. Feet are considered to be unclean and therefore it's important to avoid pointing your feet at people, or touching people or objects (particularly books) with your feet or shoes. If you accidentally do so, you should apologize straight away. Also, note that Indians will often touch their head or eyes as a show of apology. On the other hand, it's a sign of respect to bend down and touch an elder person's feet in India.
- Don't eat food or pass objects with your left hand. The left hand is considered to be unclean in India as it's used to perform matters associated with going to the bathroom. Therefore, you should avoid your left hand coming into contact with food or any objects that you pass to people.
- Don't be offended by intrusive questions. Indians are really inquisitive people and their culture is one where people do anything but mind their own business, often due to the lack of personal space and privacy in India. As a result, don't be surprised or offended if an Indian asks you how much you earn for a living and a host of other personal questions, all upon first meeting. What's more, you should feel free to ask these type of questions in return. Rather than causing offense, the people you are conversing with will be pleased that you've taken such an interest in them! Who knows what fascinating information you'll learn as well.