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Travel in India

Customs and Etiquette in India

In India, you will find that the predominant language spoken will vary depending on which state you are visiting. The official language spoken in some states might not even be formally recognized by India's central government. You will also find that in some states, multiple languages are spoken. There are also many unofficial languages that are spoken within the various states of India. When traveling to India, there are some things to know about the area's customs, culture and etiquette that will enhance your experiences within the country.

Family and Hierarchy
Hierarchy continues to be very important to the Indian culture, largely due to the overall effects that the traditional caste system and Hinduism has had on the country. There is an overall social order that people are always aware of, whether they are dealing with family members, business contacts, or even strangers. There is always a person at the top of the hierarchal structure, such as the father being the head of the family, or the boss being in charge of all business transactions. It is very important in the Indian culture that a person's level in the overall hierarchy is understood, so that they know how they should behave around that person in order to maintain proper social order. The family structure in India can be complex and often involves an extended family structure.

Etiquette When Meeting People
Social class and hierarchy are very important when two people meet. There are many different factors which can influence this hierarchy, including social class, education and religion. It can often be difficult for those outside of the culture to understand. When meeting a group of people, the most senior or eldest person should be greeted first. Handshakes are common between two men or two women, but religious beliefs generally curtail handshakes between a man and a woman. For those who are visiting the country, it can be best to wait until the person extends their hand first, so that you know what to do. You should also tell each person farewell individually when leaving a group. It is often quite difficult to understand naming conventions in India, since there is so much diversity between regions. It is often best to simply follow the lead of those around you when dealing with given names, surnames, and the connectors "bin" and "binti."

Indian Dining Etiquette
If you are invited to dinner in an Indian home, you should arrive on time. Dress in a modest fashion, and always remove your shoes before entering the home. If you are offered a beverage or a snack, it is considered polite to refuse on the first offer. There are many different dietary restrictions that exist within the country, many of which vary according to the various religions, so it is important to always be respectful of these dietary constraints. If meat is served at all, it will most likely be fish, lamb or chicken. You should wait to be seated until you are shown where to sit, and there is generally a certain order by which people are seated. For example, an honored guest may be seated first, followed by the men and then the children. It is common in an Indian family for the women to serve the dinner, and then eat later. You should always use your right hand to eat, regardless of whether you are using your fingers or a utensil. Washing one's hands before and after eating is often considered to be polite. Leave a small amount of food on the plate to show that you've had enough to eat.

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