Faux Pas in India

Faux Pas in India

Planning your travel in India can be overwhelming. You probably need multiple vacations to cover its 29 states, enjoy the food and culture of a stunningly diverse population, immerse in spiritual traditions, or dabble in 22 official languages and countless dialects. Abhijeet Deshpande has traveled to 24 of these states and suggests a list of faux pas to avoid landing yourself in arguments.


Beware – no two Indians share the same idea of their country. Hence social standards of acceptance vary for each of these and if you ask around, you are likely to get a slightly different version of a list. For whatever its worth, here’s one take.

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Respect Religions

As a visitor, you should have a trouble-free journey across the incredible country. Other than curious looks and people eager to strike a conversation, you may not need to withstand much. Locals are likely to go out of their way to help. Most Indians live by the mantra ‘Guest is God’. Speaking of God, it is important to note that many take their belief in God seriously. Hence, be respectful about the various religions that co-exist here. In general, it is good idea to avoid showing skin when visiting places of worship, avoid touching a sacred symbol or statue with your feet, and avoid tattoos of Indian religious symbols or deities.

Swastika – A Symbol of Well Being

Swastika is one such religious symbol. It is an ancient sign of well-being and continues to be used extensively in India. You would find it on vehicles, on tonsured heads of young boys, on doors and walls of homes, and on the entrances of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples. This hand-traced symbol is also a prime motif during Indian festivals such as Deepavali, the festival of lights. As with everything else, social standards vary for this point too – some people may not know of the Aryan propaganda while few others may proudly call themselves Aryan and yet not know about the Nazi regime! To avoid social awkwardness, it is best to not express shock at sight! For more, you may want to read this: Swastika is pre-Aryan, dates back 11,000 years

Careful with Public Display of Affection

While you may not get noticed kissing your partner in certain cosmopolitan areas of cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, or Bengaluru, it remains a taboo. If caught in such an act of PDA, you may be slapped with an archaic British-era penal code that deals with ‘public obscenity’ and land you in prison. So even though social standards vary, to avoid jail-time in India, it is best to avoid kissing in public spaces. Other than that, hugging a person of the opposite sex may be frowned upon – especially if you are a man interacting with an Indian girl or woman. There’s nothing criminal about hugging, and again social standards vary, but as a safe practice, let locals offer to shake hands or hug.

Careful with Quoting Media

In recent times, India has been portrayed as an unfriendly country for women. Violence against women is deplorable. Period. It would be helpful to do some homework to know which are the most unsafe places in the world for women. Here is rape statistics by country (based on UNODC data). Violence against women is a global problem. So when you visit India, take measures to be safe, just as you would elsewhere. But, in your interactions with others, drop any bias. If you need more on the topic, here’s a perspective by Maria Wirth – Why this focus on ’rapes in India’ by world media?

Shares Smiles

Though most young fellow travelers sport a diversified view of the places they visit in India, few tourists perhaps continue to seek value in poverty porn. They might click and post misery pictures on social media that give rise to questions such as this one – Why do all foreigners from west, while visiting India, try their best to click the worst part of India?. Many Indians frown upon the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ style portrayal of their country. Guard that reputation and request fellow travelers to stop this practice too.

Have you traveled in India? Would you have suggestions for this post? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).

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Credits: This piece is edited from its original version, written in response to a question, on Quora?

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28 thoughts on “Faux Pas in India

  1. Would love to visit India, with its vast religious beliefs, cultures dialects and more. This is really interesting.

  2. So many good tips! It is always so important to learn about the culture before you travel somewhere. Thank you for sharing!

  3. A well thought out list. I am Indian and most of what you have pointed out makes sense. I was horrified when I saw a video of a tourist being attacked by locals because he had a tattoo of a God on his calf. Poor guy had no idea what hit him. Such lists help people understand what is acceptable in India.

  4. A really thought provoking article that will help many people travelling to India. Luckily I have no one to worry about PDA with!! Ha! But seriously, a great article with points that I would have never thought about.

  5. Hi there! I’ve been to India myself and find these tips super handy. Now, let’s just hope that more and more tourists will respect these things.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and for your comment Anne. Totally agree with you that more tourists should respect the cultural sensitivities when visiting a new place. Sometimes, not doing so could lead to unpleasant experiences. We are glad that you found these tips helpful!

  6. Thank you for these tips. We were just talking about visiting India next year and they are very helpful for first timers like us. Appreciate it so much!

  7. Sounds like you had an incredible experience! Thank you for sharing these helpful tips when traveling to India. Very great subjects to keep in mind!

  8. I agree, no two Indians have the same views about India, despite being Indians. Thats probably because, everyone has different experiences, but you have penned down some really practical tips, which will actually help foreigners, avoid being the odd one out !

  9. These are some great tip for when anyone travels to India. I think the respecting religion is a super important one. Although some people may not practice the faith, they have to remember that they are going into someone else’s culture and must respect that.

  10. This is a super useful post as I am moving to India next month! We will be in Chennai and Bangalore mainly, but I will avoid PDA just in case!

  11. Probably one of the hardest things I dealt with in India was the staring – not out of any creepy, but just because I was so clearly a foreigner with my white skin, it was bound to attract attention – especially in some of those very small rural villages. Respecting religion is crucial – but certainly my first view of the swastika made my eyes pop open, until I understood how it was being used.

    1. Thanks Juliette. Yes, sometimes it can be awkward. You got us remained of our experience in Tennessee when we went backpacking into Smoky Mountains. We remember being stared at from top to bottom..LOL.. Travel experiences to small towns can be similar across the world. In some countries, we were also asked to be clicked with! Haha… Happy to note you got a new meaning for Swastika! Cheers.

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