ONE OF THE MOST defining characteristics of Indian culture is hospitality. People in India have the highest regard for guests and value hospitality. A common saying here is “atithi devo bhav,” meaning, “Guests are forms of God.”
The saying has as much meaning for Indian hosts as it does for foreign guests.
In India, you are likely to be invited into the homes of people with whom you interact. Even business meetings usually follow with a meal at someone’s home, so do not appear to be taken aback or surprised: accept the invitation cordially.
Here are some tips you should keep in mind to make your visit a pleasant one for you and your hosts when visiting a home in India:
1. Dress conservatively, especially if you are a woman. Revealing clothes and exposed skin are frowned upon and will make everyone in the house uncomfortable.
2. It is not necessary to take a gift when visiting a home, though it is always appreciated. Something from your home country, a souvenir or maybe some sweets, is the most appropriate gift if you do not know the family or what they might need. Ice cream or some chocolates for the children of the house is something you can’t go wrong with.
3. In India, footwear and feet are considered dirty. In most homes, footwear is taken off outside the main door and the house is entered barefoot.
4. Once you are inside and introductions have been made, you will usually be greeted by a “Namaste” (joining of both hands). Namaste means different things to different people. Some say it is a bow of respect, while many believe it says, “I greet you with no previous inhibitions or prejudices.” Most traditional homes still use Namaste regularly, so if you are faced with it, simply return it.
5. In almost all cases you will first be offered water. This custom has extended from the villages, where people walk long distances to get to another’s home and may be tired and breathless, requiring refreshment upon arrival. Take the water and have a sip, even if you are not specifically thirsty.
6. Do not attempt to hug or kiss anyone on the cheek unless it is initiated by the other person. India is still a very conservative nation and hugging and kissing are not common practices, especially with a newly made acquaintance. A handshake will be the most you may initiate.
7. If you are asked if you don’t mind spicy food, do not imagine your host is referring to paprika or chili sauce. Be prepared for some seriously hot food. What Americans and Europeans tend to find spicy, Indians may find sweetish or bland.
8. Alcohol is taboo on most dinner tables and in quite a few homes as well. Do not assume that it will be served unless your host specifically mentions it.
Photo by orange tuesday.
9. Smoking is also something frowned upon in some homes. Always ask if it’s okay before lighting up a cigarette. Men of the house might smoke outside at work but do not smoke at home. Women who smoke are rare. Do not offer them a cigarette, as this may be interpreted as disrespectful.
10. Be prepared for vegetarian food in most homes as a large population of Indians are vegetarians. Even egg is considered non vegetarian.Prepare yourself for a green only cuisine experience.
11. You will notice that everyone washes their hands before and after a meal, and in most homes people eat only with their hands. Since hand-washing is so habitual, even families who eat with spoons are likely to wash their hands before a meal.
Photo by tracyhunter.
12. Serve yourself in small quantities and take second helpings. The biggest compliment to the lady of the house is when a guest likes her food. Be sure to be vocal about what you like the most and feel free to ask questions about the food. Asking for a recipe is also appropriate.
13. Always ask for permission before taking photographs of the family, especially of women.
14. Asking questions about culture, beliefs, and religion is fine as long as you do not sound derogatory or condescending.
Enjoy! Remember that your hosts are happy to have you, and saying you had a good time is the best way to repay them for their warm hospitality.
Visiting a home, anywhere in the world? Check out 7 Ways to Thank Someone for Staying at their Home.
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Divya Srinivasan is a student in Mumbai. She loves traveling and photographing and writing about her experiences. She says, "Music is the fuel which works my engine."