India’s culture is unique and has been shaped by a long history. India is, without a doubt, a melting pot of customs, traditions and ideas.
Family and customs
The majority of population states that religion plays an important role in their lives. Although inter-religious marriages are not that common, Indians are tolerant towards other religions.
It’s common for several generations to live in the same house. When a woman marries she leaves her birth family and goes to her husband’s house. Gifts of money are generally given by friends and family to celebrate marriages. Unfortunately there’s a lot of discrimination in traditional families. Young girls are expected to help with the women’s work — which includes every single chore in the household, including caring for the animals — as well as care for their younger siblings. On the other hand, boys practically do almost nothing.
Women generally wear sari while men wear dhoti. In the northern part of the country men wear western clothes but women still wear saris, particularly in the villages.
The influence of religion and the tradition of the caste system have created an Indian culture which puts a lot of emphasis on established hierarchical relationships. Indians always know “their place” in the society, both at work and at home. When meeting a group, always greet the eldest or most senior first, while when living you should bid farewell to each person.
If invited to an Indian house for a meal, you don’t have to bring a gift. But if you do bring a gift rap it in yellow, green or red (colors which bring luck). Never offer white flowers (those are for funerals). Gifts are never opened when received. If you visit a Hindu family, don’t give leather products (the cow is a sacred animal) as gifts. If you visit a Muslim family, don’t give alcohol or articles made of pig skin as gifts. When entering the house, leave the shoes at the door.
Indian food is eaten with the fingers. Always use the right hand to eat. The guest of honor is served first, then the men and the children. Women serve the food and generally wait and eat later. Leave some food on the plate so that you “tell” the host you are satisfied. If you eat everything it means you are still hungry.
Although Indians aren’t exactly punctual, they expect the foreigners to arrive at the appointed time.
People in general define themselves as belonging to a group rather than by their individual status. The extended family creates a lot of relationships, connections and rules.
Indians don’t like to say “no” so instead they would give a vague affirmative answer. It’s not rude (although it may seem like that for westerners) but you’ll have to get used to reading the non-verbal signs.
India is the birth place of several religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Today India is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. The religion of the majority of population (over 80%) is Hinduism. About 13% of the population practices Islam.
Indian cuisine is generally characterized by the use of herbs and spices. Although the majority of Indian food is vegetarian, there are many traditional Indian dishes which include fish, chicken, goat or lamb.
Food plays an important role in every day life and at special occasions. A typical meal consists of two or three main courses and desserts. Carbs such as rice and roti (bread) are always present.
Hindus do not eat beef and most of them are vegetarian. Sikhs don’t eat beef either. Muslims do not eat pork and don’t drink/offer alcoholic beverages.
Did you know?
- There are 415 languages spoken in India but only two — Hindi and English — are official languages.
- Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion.