Indian Culture: 10 Things You Might Not Have Known

Blog entry created by: Meagan

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After spending a little over 2 months in India, I thought it would be both helpful and interesting to write a quick post on a few of the cultural and behavioral differences between here and home.

1.       The Head Nod:

One of the first differences I noticed in India was the head-nod.  Instead of the “normal” up and down motion that indicates “yes” in most places, a side-to-side indicates yes- like you’re making a figure-8 with your head.  I thought it was annoying at first, but I’ve grown accustomed to it, and have even picked it up myself!

2.       Brotherly love:

It’s totally normal for full grown men to walk down the street holding hands and talking with their friends. Homophobia is not an issue here!  There’s a real sense of brotherly love and closeness that you don’t necessarily see at home, and I really enjoy it.

3.       Crowds:

India has a population of about 1.2 billion people, which is a TON compared to the US, which has a population of about 300 million. That being said, I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising that there are crowds everywhere you go.  Not your average crowds- massive swarms of people that are constantly jostling each other around.  Whether you are going to the Kolkata zoo, or riding the metro, or even just walking down the street, there are tons of people from all walks of life EVERYWHERE you look.

4.       Push and Shove:

Going along with the crowds, personal space isn’t a concept that most people in India are familiar with.  People are constantly bumping into each other, and nobody seems to mind it.  You aren’t even expected to say sorry if you nearly knock someone to the ground.

5.     No Silverware:

Eating with your hands is a major difference between India and the US.  In America, eating with your hands is looked down upon, something that only small children and barbarians do.  In India though, it adds to the pleasure of eating!  It takes getting used to, but once you’ve grown accustomed to getting your hands dirty it’s not too bad.  A few of us have even found that we prefer eating with our hands!  Rules do apply though: you are not, under any circumstances, supposed to touch your food with your left hand.  Even if you’re left-handed, use your right hand to pick up the food.  The different parts of India have different “rules” for how much of your hand to use, but keeping the palm of your hand clean and just using your fingers has worked pretty well for me.

6.       Water-falling:

People in India develop a skill that nobody I know has: water-falling.  Instead of drinking by putting your mouth on the bottle that you are drinking from, you tilt your head back, lift the bottle above your head, and free fall it into your mouth.  They can even swallow as liquid is being poured into their open mouths!  It doesn’t sound that difficult, but whenever I try to water-fall, I end up spilling it all over myself.

7.       Bathrooms are Overrated:

People (especially men) go to the bathroom anywhere and everywhere.  It’s extremely common for people to just pull over and pee on the side of the road- I wouldn’t even guess at how many times I saw this happen.  That being said, it can be difficult to find an actual toilet while you’re out in India, so we take advantage of every restroom opportunity we get!

8.       Public Bath:

I went over this in a recent post, but I’m restating it because it is a big culture difference.  There are pumps along the street that spew out water for the community to use during certain hours of the day.  People use this water for cooking, drinking, washing, and bathing.  Men simply strip down to their “underwear” and wash on the side of the road without a care in the world as to who is watching!

9.       Beep Beep BEEP!!!

You simply cannot drive in India without a horn.  In Calcutta/Kolkata especially, people are constantly laying on their horns.  And it’s not just a polite tap on the horn; it’s the kind of honking that I would interpret at home as “MY BRAKES ARE OUT!!! I’M GOING TO RUN YOU OVER IF YOU DON’T MOVE!!!”   Here though, it’s not meant that way.  I’ve decided that honking for them is like mirrors and turn signals for us.  They honk to inform someone that they are passing them, to “encourage” people to move in a traffic jam, and to inform blind pedestrians that they are in fact on the road.  What I’m trying to say is that, even though it’s annoying, honking is seen as a courtesy to anyone else on the road.

10.   Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way:

When we first arrived in India and started exploring, I felt like anytime I stepped out of my hotel room could be my last.  Now, I’ve seen a fair share of crazy driving in our travels so far, but India takes the cake as the craziest of them all.  One of the reasons for that is that Indian drivers simply aren’t afraid of anything.  They will run over anything and anyone that gets in their way without as much as a tap on the brakes.  You really have to be on your game when walking around!

While there are many culture differences, there are many similarities too!  Just like in the USA, the different parts of India are all unique in their own way.  Nothing I said applies to everyone in India.  These are just a few of the differences I noticed, and thought people might be interested to know about.

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Posted on: February 24, 2011 | Categories: Fun Facts - Cultures and Countries, India, Snacks and Food, Traditions, Travel Tips



  • Emily says:

    Very interesting! What a difference! That figure 8 head thing must have been very confusing at first!

  • Mary says:

    It’s been decades since I was there, so your post was a fun trip down memory lane. I always thought the horn was used as a substitute for brakes. Oh, yes, and women would always squat in groups of 3 or more when peeing by the roadside!

  • Rosemary Gorman Morley says:

    Meagan, that was a brilliant post! I really enjoyed it! Please tell Teresa I was asking for her! Kind regards from Ireland, Rosemary

  • Terry Manglass says:

    Great blog Meagan! I knew about eating only with the right hand and why. I didn’t know the other facts. Thanks Meagan. Be Safe.

  • susan bates norman says:

    Did you know that it is inauspicious to get your hair cut on Tuesday? Also, you are not supposed to shave or cut your fingernails. Not sure why but think this is the reason:

    Not cutting / shaving on Tuesday has a more ancient root. Related to God Mars. Mars rules weapons, warfare, injuries etc.

  • Aunt Lori says:

    Very informative and funny….keep them coming, Meg.

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