What is the biggest faux pas a foreigner can commit when visiting in India?

Old Indian story

There is an ancient Indian story about a small, remote village where blind people lived.

One day the blind heard that the next day an elephant would arrive at the village. They were very excited, they had never seen an elephant before. They only knew that this was a beautiful, special animal. 

The next day, when the elephant reached the center of the village, the six blind people went out to meet the elephant.

Unable to see him, they touched him and felt him with great excitement. 

Each one felt another part of the elephant, one fingered the trunk, the other the tusks, third the foot, fourth the ear, fifth the belly and sixth the tail. 

Indian culture and customs

After they had finished, they began sharing their experiences with the elephant, and each of them described the elephant differently. 

The moral is clear. India is the big elephant and we are the blind. It is very difficult to contain and understand such a large and ancient civilization.

Each one experiences India from another point of view, and each experiences India through its personal prism. 

The vibe in India is very different from the modern Western countries and it is one of India's charm and main attraction secrets. 

To enjoy a trip to India, you have to change a diskette in your head. You can not make a trip to India as if you are coming for a trip to the US or one of the islands of Thailand. This is part of tourism in India. 

There are some things that can greatly help in order to get into the right mood in India. 

Judgment  

Most tourists from Western countries such as Israel, Europe, the US, Australia and Canada come from a Judeo-Christian culture. Of course, the vast majority are not religious, but the values of this culture are at the basis of modern Western culture. 

One of the main elements of this culture is judgment. You keep judging. You judge your friends, your parents, your bosses, your children, your neighbors and most of all, yourself. 

Therefore, you are generally unhappy, and therefore inner peace is a rare commodity in this culture, the mind constantly thinks, and the judge and the happiness are moving away ... 

India is not just a state in the modern Western sense of the word. It is civilization.

This is very different from a country. Belgium is a country. Not Civilization. It is part of civilization. Canada is a country, Australia is a country. These are not civilizations but part of Western civilization.

Indian civilization culture values and customs

Eight civilizations according to Prof Samuel Hentington 

 

India is a civilization in itself, Hindu civilization. It has a history that goes back thousands of years. It has an ancient urban history that goes back more than 3,500 years (developed towns of tens of thousands of inhabitants in the Indus valley). 

Much of what is happening today in India is rooted in a very ancient heritage. Many of the things you see in India are not always easy to see but do not rush to judge everything. 

This does not mean that one has to be indifferent, but there is an intermediate way between not being indifferent and being very critical and very judgmental. 

Indian Gods 

India is a religious state, not religious in the Western sense of the word but religious in the sense of faith, worship, and rituals. 

Indian people worship gods, this is a major part of Indian beliefs and Indian customs. There are hundreds of millions of gods, but most of the religious faith and worship are around a small number of gods. 

For those who come from a culture of monotheism, Indian culture and faith look like idol worship. Worship in front of stone statues.

 Indian traditions

Do not rush to underestimate or judge Indian beliefs. Indian philosophy behind the daily religious worship of gods is very deep and also refers to one God from which everything begins. 

The gods, for the most part, are different incarnations adapted to human needs.

Just enjoy what you see and be open-minded.  

Cows 

The cow is a sacred animal in India and it symbolizes the land of India and fertility. It is considered to contain all 330 million Hindu gods in its body, and therefore it is sacred and forbidden to eat.

You can see cows everywhere in India, on the streets, on the roads, on the trails. They must not be harmed. This is part India culture. 

 Indian culture values

There had already been deadly confrontations over incidents of slaughtering a cow.

It is reasonable to assume that no western tourist will take out a knife and slaughter a cow, but it is not only slaughter. No harm to the cow will be welcomed or understood. This is critical for Indian people.  

Castes (or Varnas)

Hindu society is divided into five different castes.

  • Brahmins - the most senior caste, priestly people
  • Kshatriyas - rulers, administrators and warriors
  • Vaishyas - artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers
  • Shudras - laboring classes and servants 
  • Dalith - Untouchables 

The legacy of caste in India is very ancient and its days begin well before more than 3000 years ago.

Less than two thousand years ago, this structure was determined by a code of laws called Manu Smriti. 

With the establishment of India in 1947, the Indian government initiated a law against the discrimination of the two lower castes and adopted affirmative action in all government positions in their favor.

This structure still exists in India, especially in villages where everyone knows the other. This structure is one of the internal social problems of India.  

A few years ago I attended a business meeting in Mumbai, India with a number of colleagues from India. The client we met was of Persian origin, meaning that he is outside the castes structure. 

During the meeting, the client picked up and spoke disrespectfully to one of the colleagues who were with me, for no apparent reason. At that moment I did not understand the situation but later saw it in a completely different perspective.

The guy who was with me was dark-skinned and the Persian customer was fair-skinned. In Indian society, they know how to identify the lower or higher classes, according to skin color or surnames. 

One way to escape from this structure is to flee from the village to the big cities and assimilate into a crowd or another way is to convert to Islam.

The Indian government has been fighting this for decades and is trying to change the reality.

If you experience it in some way, it is not your job as a tourist to interfere or change this reality. 

Political arguments 

India is the largest democracy in the world. There are two major political camps there, and in recent years India has experienced a great change when Modi, who belongs to the Indian right wing, won the election. 

Indian culture and customs

In general, this is a relevant recommendation wherever you go, there is nothing to enter into political arguments.

Tourists are not supposed to go on a journey to re-educate the residents of the country they visit. When you are a guest, act like a guest.

Time meaning 

In India, take the time easily.

The reference to time in India is not as binding as it is in the West. For better and for worse.

Indian culture and customs

There is nothing to be excited about or angry about delays that you will surely experience when you are in India.

The reference to the time dimension is much calmer and less stressful than the West.

Adjust yourself.

Languages 

The number of spoken languages in India is close to 1000! There are researches done in some areas in India, and sometimes in a few dozen square kilometers, dozens of languages were used.

  • The Indian money bill has 13 different languages (see the image below)...
  • The most spoken language is Hindi
  • The two official influences of India as a whole are Hindi and English
  • There is a group of 22 additional official languages for use by the various countries within India

Indian culture and customs

If you are traveling to major cities or tourist spots, you will definitely get along with English.    

If you walk around rural India, do not assume they will understand you. Get prepared. 

India Street Food 

Personally, India Street food is my favorite food (after Israeli food ...), I eat Indian food almost every week. It is tasty, healthy and nutritious food. 

In India and Nepal, I like to eat street-food but ...

I think the worst thing in this regard, is to eat animal products (meat, eggs, milk). 

India street food

I know several people that their visit to India ended two weeks in a local hospital because of a severe stomach upset. 

It is impossible to maintain eggs or meat in proper conditions at temperatures of 30 or 50 degrees in the street. There is simply no such way. Such food is prone to trouble and the main danger is salmonella. 

I would not recommend not consuming street food because it is definitely part of the experience in India but be sure to check where you choose to eat and what you choose to eat. 

Maintain extreme hygiene. 

Drugs

There are places in India like Kasol, for example, where people get there to smoke hashish and everything seems to be all right.

I personally will never smoke hashish in India. This can be very dangerous, especially because it is not always clear what is permitted and what is not permitted.

Hashish residues in the bag can lead to your arrest and stay in an Indian prison. Should you take the risk? 

Help people

A few years ago I was in Mumbai on a work trip. I had some free time and I used it to walk around in Mumbai.

When I was walking in one of the main streets a young man clung to me and began to speak to me in good English. 

Because I answered him, he just went on walking with me and told me he wanted to start a shoe polish business and all he needed was about 2000 rupees to buy

a shoe shine kit with everything he needs,

set up his small business and gain financial independence and the possibility of making a living. 

The story certainly touched my heart, I thought that for me it is almost negligible, I can change a person's life. It's worth taking the gamble, is not it? 

That's what I thought at least.

I questioned him a little more with such and such questions and finally gave him the money for a promise that he would send me a picture of the kit he had bought and, of course, that he would update me if he could manage. 

I never got a picture. A year later, a minute before I entered an important meeting, I get a phone call from India, I answered the call and on the line the guy I helped him a year earlier.

I wish I could tell that he did manage and got along with the 2000 rupees I gave him but I think I fell into the trap. 

In a conversation with him, he asked for more money. At that moment I realized that his story was his livelihood... That's how he manages to make living from tourists like me... 

I'm really not sorry I paid money to the young man. I was very happy to find out that I had helped someone and changed even a little life. 

But I think the lesson from this story is not to refuse help people on the street. I always did it and always do it but just pay attention as much as you can, helping the right people.

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