It is important to be aware of the diversity of traditions and practices regarding etiquette in India. Given the varying social norms among regions and linguistic groups, each community has their own understanding of what constitutes respectful or normal behaviour. If unsure about how to be respectful, do not hesitate to ask your Indian counterpart or at least observe the people around you for guidance.
- Feet are thought to be the ‘dirtiest’ part of the body. The soles of one’s feet should never be pointed at another person. One should sit in a way that avoids this.
- The top of the head is considered to be the most important part of the human body. To touch someone on the top of their head, especially a baby or child, is rude and insensitive.
- Objects are generally passed with one’s right hand or both hands. The left hand is thought to be reserved for cleaning, and the left hand alone should never be used to pass an object.
- Indians are generally exceptionally hospitable and take great pride in this characteristic. Complementing the hospitality of your Indian counterpart will be greatly appreciated.
- When visiting someone’s home, strict punctuality is generally not observed. Arriving 15 to 30 minutes after the designated time is appropriate.
- Remove your shoes before entering someone’s home. Shoes are also not allowed in religious places.
- While a gift for the host is not expected, it will be greatly appreciated. A small token gift, such as chocolates or a gift for the host’s children, is adequate.
- Avoiding saying ‘thank you’ to the host at the end of a meal. The phrase is understood as a form of payment, and it is better to show gratitude through reciprocating, such as inviting your hosts to dinner.
- Indians can sometimes be so generous that they accidentally embarrass their Australian guests or make them feel awkward. For example, there is often an expectation that the guest will accept what is offered. If you refuse something, it may be seen as a token protest made out of politeness. Thus, instead of accepting your refusal, an Indian may insist that you receive what has been offered. This can lead to awkward situations in which an Australian can feel the offer is being forced upon them.
- There are various forms of eating etiquette relating to one’s hands since using one’s hand to eat is a widespread practice across India.
- Wash your hands before eating or serving food to an Indian.
- If you are encouraged to eat with your hands, avoid using your left hand. The left hand is considered ‘unclean’ since it is the hand people generally use for washing themselves.
- An Indian may fill your plate for you or they may expect you to serve yourself.
- In southern India, it is common to serve food on a banana leaf.
- Some Indians may have dietary restrictions based on their religious faith. For example, Muslim Indians often perceive pork as a forbidden food. For many Hindus, cows have sacred religious connotations and the consumption of beef will be avoided.
- It is common for many Indians to abstain from drinking alcohol for reasons such as religion or their upbringing. Only serve or provide alcohol if you are certain that your Indian counterpart drinks it.
- Yellow, green and red are considered to be lucky colours and are often used to wrap gifts.
- A man offering a gift to a woman should say it is from both himself and his wife/mother/sister or some other female relative. This is to avoid the gift-giving act being interpreted as flirtatious.
- Flower etiquette in India can be complex, with different flowers having different connotations. Importantly, avoid giving frangipanis or white flowers. These are typically reserved for funerals and times of mourning.
- Some gifts will be inappropriate depending on one’s religious affiliation. For example, gifts made from leather may offend someone who identifies as Hindu. Gifts relating to pigs, such as pork or pigskin, would be inappropriate to give to someone who identifies as Muslim.