- The traditional Indian greeting is “namaste” (ˈnäməˌstā). To perform it, press the palms of your hands together (as if praying), place them below your chin and over your heart and gently nod or bow as you say the greeting. This is preferable when a handshake is not comfortable.
- If you are invited to dinner in an Indian student’s home, be 15-20 minutes late. Wash your hands both before and after the meal. Eat only with your right hand (and do not touch anything with your left). Bring a small gift of fruit, chocolates, or flowers when you arrive.
- If feeding students, ask if they are vegetarian. Many Hindus do not each meat and Muslims to not eat pork. Vegetables are always safe, but chicken or lamb may be acceptable depending upon the student and their background. You have to ask!
- Students may not say “thank you” at the end of a meal you provide as it is considered a form of payment. Inviting you to their home for a meal means they value your relationship.
- Many Indians consider the head to be the seat of the soul, so never touch a student’s head.
- To beckon someone to come toward you, do so with the palm of the hand down and the motion being a scooping motion with the hand. Anything else is insulting.
- Naming conventions are changing in India, so it is best to ask the student how to address him or her. Sometimes long names are shortened, and students sometimes take western names.
- The standing distance between Indians varies by culture but is typically three feet. Standing tall with your hands on your hips is considered an aggressive stance.
- Pointing with a finger is considered rude. Indians point with their chin.
- Whistling is considered impolite and winking may be misinterpreted. Don’t do either.
- Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver. Set it aside until the giver leaves. Do not use black or white paper to wrap a gift as it is considered unlucky.
- Men should wear long pants and women should keep upper arms, chest, and back covered. Wearing leather (belts, jacket, vests, purses) may be considered offensive.
- Do not share food or drink after someone else from the same glass. If you must share a water bottle on a hot day, pour the water into your mouth and do not let the bottle touch your lips or mouth.
- Do not kill ants or bugs in the presence of an Indian student.
Principles cited in this blog: Many dos and don’ts to remember in order to be thoughtful.
Application for ISI ministry: We desire to be winsome and thoughtful to our guests from other countries. Learning a few small customs can make a big difference!
Next blog topic: Being thoughtful to students from China
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson