Culture of India

India

Please check back in September, 2014 for our most recent update of these resources. Indians, in general, are shy people, yet they try to be considerate of others. They respect all religions. Namaste is the best way to enter a Hindu home. “Namah-te” is a common Hindu greeting, which can be religious or secular. It means “I bow to you,” and is similar to the Chinese and Japanese customs of bowing in greeting. However, Namaste is performed by placing the palms of the hands together in an upright position, fingers touching, in front of the chest. The word, Namaste, may be spoken at the same time or the gesture may be made wordlessly.

It is very important to know that not all Indians are Hindus. Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, and Christians are inherent parts of the Indian population. [Please visit the Muslim culture section for cultural and religious differences of Muslims.]

Indian Culture Protocol
Culture of India
Gestures and Behaviors Additional Information
1. Shaking Hands Unless you know what particular group an Indian person belongs to, you can’t be sure whether it is proper to shake hands or not. Although most men will shake hands with western men, they may not do so with women. With Indian women, a safe bet is to wait to see if they offer their hand and then follow accordingly. There are often hurt feelings on the part of Westerners when people don’t respond to handshakes, but this may simply not be the practice in their native region of their country.
2. Do take your shoes off when entering the house Most families prefer that you take your shoes off. It is best to politely ask the family’s preference.
3. Don’t make derogatory comments It is not respectful to make derogatory comments especially about gods, cows (which are revered in India), and ways of dressing. Hindus generally do not eat beef.
4. Outsourcing Do not make comments such as “You took our jobs away.”
5. Odor in house Most Indian homes have an odor of curry. You must not disrespect this or chastise curries.
6. Swastikas The Hindu Swastika, an ancient symbol predating Western culture, is said to mean “May Good Prevail.” Learn about it and respect it. [In the 1930s, the Nazi Party in Germany adopted a similar symbol for its political movement. The Nazi Swastika is tilted counterclockwise from the Hindu symbol.] Indians do not have Swastikas in their homes to antagonize Jews. The Hindu Swastika is a symbol of faith in the Hindu religion.
7. Accidental touching of feet to someone’s body Most Indians tend to ask forgiveness if they accidentally touch your body. Try to avoid careless contact of feet.
8. Showing the soles of your shoes or feet when sitting cross-legged Keep your feet flat on the floor. Remove shoes, when possible, upon entering a home.
9. Turning your head from side to side to say “No” This means “Yes” in some parts of India.
10. Using the left hand for eating or almost anything else Some of the Indian cultures, like the Muslim culture, consider the left hand to be the “unclean” hand and would avoid using it for eating. At the same time, eating with the right hand is also a frequent custom in India. Indians would not chastise children for eating with their hands, whether left or right.

Protocol Chart by Culture © by the Sharon Pluralism Network, Sharon, MA, January 1, 2012 – Draft #5.