An Indian Manners Guide for Foreign Travelers to India

To make the most of your trip to India, you may want to stay in guest houses, rather than fancy American hotel chains. That’s an excellent choice for travelers who want to experience India as it really is because you will rent a room from an Indian family that will likely serve not only as your host, but also as your tour guide. It also means you will be more likely to mix with Indian nationals who may be offended by your American ways. The tips in this article will keep you from inadvertently offending your gracious Indian hosts.

Indian Meal Etiquette

Meals are a great time to connect with your host family in India. It is also a great time to offend people, if you’re not careful. Keep the following in mind during meals in India and you’ll be sure to please your hosts:

*Never use your left hand for eating or for passing food to other people.

*Even if silverware is provided for you, eat with your fingers, rather than forks and spoons.

*Clean your plate. Even if you don’t like the taste of something, if you put it on your plate, you need to eat it, so start with small portions and then after eating all on your plate, take more of foods you like.

Clothing Standards in India

India defines modesty differently than those in the Western world. Women travelers should not wear the following:

*Shorts, including capris

*Sleeveless tops

*Tight pants

Instead, if possible, wear Indian clothing such as loose fitting and comfortable salwar kameezes that you can pick up anywhere in India, or online on sites such as eBay. If you prefer not to wear Indian clothing, wear long, loose fitting skirts with loose blouses with sleeves.

Clothing standards for men in India are more similar to American clothing norms, but shorts and jeans should be avoided. Business casual is a good bet for men traveling in India.

When No Means Yes in India

Your host may offer you tea. You may decline. A few minutes later they may offer it again, and you decline again. The third time they offer you tea, you may finally give in to the pressure and accept tea, even if you don’t want it. That happened to me numerous times when I first lived in India and didn’t know the rule that no doesn’t mean no until you’ve said it three times. To avoid doing things or eating and drinking things you don’t want, be prepared to say no three times before the matter will be dropped.

Feet Can Be Offensive in India

At the end of a long day of touring you may be tempted to sit down on the floor, with your legs stretched out. If you do so, be sure not to point the bottom of your feet toward another person, particularly an Indian person. Such a posture, that is perfectly acceptable in the U.S., is very offensive in India.


The tips in this article are based on my time of living in India as a cultural researcher.

If you enjoyed this article on India travel, you may also enjoy the following articles by Rebecca Livermore:
A Guide for Getting Around Delhi, India
How to Cross the Street in India and Live to Tell About It
How to Make the Most of Long International Flights