Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do's and Don'ts for Indian Travel

Before my trip to India I read "India (CultureShock!): A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette". I found the book to be entertaining and I am glad that I read it, but I did not think it was too informative. It seemed to me that it was more aimed at people moving to India, not at casual travelers. Anyway, I learned a bit from the book, and even more from my personal experience, so I am going to share it here.

Here is my list of do's and don'ts for Indian travel:
  1. Behave and dress modestly. Especially when visiting temples and mosques.
  2. Remove your shoes when entering a temple, a mosque, or someone's house.
  3. In mosques cover your head with a scarf.
  4. Do not point bottoms of your feet towards any other person or images and statues of gods. (It is considered to be highly disrespectful and offending.)
  5. Treat elders with special respect.
  6. Greet Hindus with "Namaste" or "Namaskar", and Muslims with "Salaam Alaikum".
  7. Do not hug, kiss or shake hands with a person of the opposite sex, unless it is initiated by the other person.
  8. When in public, do not show any signs of physical affection towards the member of the opposite sex.
  9. Do not bring alcohol to an Indian household, unless you are 100% sure that your hosts will appreciate it.
  10. Observe the behavior of others and use it as a guide to your own behavior.
  11. Do not expect anything to happen on time.
  12. Do not use the left hand to eat, sign important documents, pass money or gifts. Left hand is considered to be inauspicious.
  13. In restaurants (in India called "hotels", btw), leave a small tip. It does not have to be the customary American 20%, just round it up to the nearest higher number.
  14. When renting a rickshaw or any other service, agree on a price beforehand. That might be the only way to avoid being overcharged.
  15. In places where bargaining is appropriate (like street bazaars), start the negotiations with 30-50% of the price you are being quoted. Less than that could be considered offending. If a seller agrees on your price, buy it. It would be highly disrespectful of you to simply bargain for fun and then not to buy the item if your price was met.
  16. Be polite, but firm, if you are not interested in buying something. In my experience, the best way to decline somebody's offer politely is to say: "I already have it, and I do not need another one of those."
  17. Don't bargain in proper shops especially those that display "Fixed Price" signs.
  18. Never leave your belongings out of your sight. Especially on the trains. Check out my tips on the train travel here and here.
  19. Drink only boiled or bottled water, and eat foods that were boiled. For more tips on Indian food, check out my post dedicated to it.