Culture Etiquette and Local Customs for Travelers in India

  • Etiquette in India

“Most Indian etiquettes are related to dining, eating, and meeting, which are normally so loved by most of the foreigners that they adopt them. ”

It is important to be aware of the diversity of traditions and practices regarding etiquette in India. Given the different social norms among regions, linguistic groups and religions, each community has their own understanding of what constitutes respectful or normal behaviour. If unsure of the correct etiquette in certain circumstances, do not hesitate to ask your Indian counterpart or at least observe the people around you for guidance.

Basic Etiquette in India

  • 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 is considered rude and insensitive. This is especially the case with babies, children, elderly, religious leaders or statues of deities.
  • Feet are thought to be the ‘dirtiest’ part of the body. The soles of one’s feet should never be pointed at another person, towards a temple or towards a deity. Sit in a way that avoids this.
  • To show the utmost respect towards a religious leader, statue of a deity or an elder, one will touch the feet of the person or the statue.
  • Never sit higher than an elder. If they are seated on the floor, you should also sit on the floor to avoid being higher than them.
  • 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 typically have a relaxed approach towards timekeeping and punctuality. It is common for people to arrive at events 30 minutes to an hour after the designated time. However, Indians will usually observe punctuality in a formal context such as important business meetings, appointments or when visiting a doctor.

Visiting Etiquette in India

  • Indians are generally exceptionally hospitable and take great pride in this characteristic. Complements on the hospitality of your Indian counterpart are generally very appreciated.
  • People may not be strictly punctual when visiting someone’s home. Arriving 15 to 30 minutes after the designated time is appropriate. Remove your shoes before entering someone’s home.
  • It is common to be offered a cup of chai (spiced tea) when visiting someone’s home or occasionally when visiting a shop. 
  • There is often an expectation that the guest will accept what is offered (especially chai). 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 a guest can feel that the offer is being forced upon them.
  • While a gift for the host is not expected, it is generally appreciated. A small token gift, such as chocolates or a gift for the host's children, is usually adequate.
  • There are various norms practised when visiting a place of worship. Specific practices vary among religions. Generally, one is required to remove their shoes. In some places, such as Jain or Hindu temples, leather articles are not permitted to enter the premises. Some sites may also require either females (Muslim mosques) or both genders (Sikh gurdwaras) to cover their head.
  • If you wish to leave someone’s home, it is considered polite and respectful to ask permission to leave (e.g. ‘It’s probably time for me to go’). This is especially important if you are visiting the house of an elder.

Eating Etiquette in India

  • Indian food often does not require utensils to eat. Therefore, there are various forms of eating etiquette relating to the use of one’s hands.
  • Wash your hands before eating or serving food to an Indian.
  • Avoid using your left hand if you are encouraged to eat with your hands. The left hand is considered ‘unclean' since it is the hand people generally use for washing themselves.
  • Everyone normally uses their right hand to serve themselves, scooping with the fingers or with a serving spoon.
  • An Indian may fill your plate for you, or they may expect you to serve yourself.
  • There is a general distinction between northern and southern Indian food. The latter is usually much spicier.
  • Some Indians may have dietary restrictions based on their religious faith. For example, practising Muslim Indians do not consume pork. 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 (e.g. Islam, Buddhism) or their upbringing. Only serve or provide alcohol if you are certain that your Indian counterpart drinks it.

Gift Giving Etiquette in India

  • It is advisable for men to say a gift is from both himself and his wife/mother/sister or some other female relative if offering it to a woman. This is to avoid the gift-giving act being interpreted as flirtatious.
  • Yellow, green and red are considered to be lucky colours and are often used to wrap gifts.
  • Different flowers have different connotations. Therefore, make sure to be aware of the connotations certain flowers have if you give them as gifts. 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.


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