If you haven’t been to India, you’re in for a culture shock and a trip you’ll never forget. India is never short of culture, and it’s definitely more than just a stop on your ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ pilgrimage. Or a music video for Coldplay and Beyonce. Having said that, it’s good to know these 10 things before you pack your bags and head to the land of dreams.
Read also: 5 Seriously Cool Things to Do in India (Besides Yoga).
#1 Pack Your Usual Bali Wardobe
Summer in India between March to July can get ready hot and humid. But dressing as you would for tropical heat is a big no, perhaps not as much in modern states like Bangalore and Goa, but definitely a cultural faux pax in Delhi. Women should bring along a shawl which comes in handy when you need to cover yourself in trains or on the street. And you won’t have trouble finding a really bohemian looking one in India either.
#2 Be Offended When Asked Why You’re Single
This is a good one, especially if 1) you’re travelling alone and 2) you’re a single female. In fact, banter in India typically revolves around your family, what your parents do, what you do for a living, and they mean no offense by it. Fun fact: married women wear red bindis which signify true love and prosperity.
#3 Drink Tap Water
The only time you should, is in your hotel (not hostels or cheap hotels) where it’s clearly stated that the water is safe for drinking. To be safe, and because you’ll be parched walking around under the hot sun, keep a fresh bottle of Himalayan water with you. And speaking of drinks, never drink directly from a can or bottle; only straws.
#4 Eat With Your Left Hand
It may not seem like a big deal to lefties — whose lives are hard enough already because of it — but in India you’ll be eating meals at temples and partaking in religious ceremonies. People will be taken aback if you give or take things with your left hand, which is considered to be the “dirty” hand. Let’s just leave it at that.
#5 Talk Smack About Cows
Don’t get shocked at the number of cows you’ll cross paths with in India. They’re sacred animals to Hindus and are free to roam about — you’ll even find them sitting in shops very nonchalantly. Hindus refrain from eating beef and some abstain from meat all together so if you’re vegetarian, this is even more of a reson to visit.
#6 No Kissing in Public
It’s no secret what goes on behind close doors, but displays of affection should stay there. The older generation in India is still considerably conservative. You don’t want to offend anyone and cause a commotion. In some places, even holding hands is frowned upon. Look around you and watch how younger couples behave so you get a better sense of what’s okay and what isn’t.
#7 Shake Someone’s Hand First
Tough luck if you’re a hugger. A man should not shake hands with a woman unless she reaches out her hand to do the same. To be safe, join your palms together and bow slightly. It’s much more respectful and you finally get to do it outside of yoga class.
#8 Get On a First Name Basis With Everyone
Be yourself around the younger crowd — provided your true self is respectful and polite — but around elders you want to be a bit more traditional. When you meet someone much older than you are, touch their feet and take their blessings (in a motion that appears as though you’re pinching the air at their feet, refer to them as sir or ma’am or say “Ji” after their name.
#9 Give Someone Flowers
Flowers might be your typical go-to gift when visiting someone, but in India white flavours are an offence as they’re used in funerals. Plan B; wine? Not a good choice either. The sweetest thing you can do — pun intended — is to get some local desserts from a sweet shop (there are many everywhere you go) like jelebi or gulab jamun, pictured above.
#10 Give Money to Beggars
You’re not doing the right thing by giving your money to beggars, when there’s a big chance they’re involved in schemes run underground. If you’re skeptical, give them some food. Poverty is a big issue, and you’ll be inspired to help out and you should, but do something where manual labour is required or where funds go directly to a credible organisation.
Aaja; let’s go!
Photo credits: Main, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.