The subcontinent India, with its more than 1 billion inhabitants, still has the status of an insider tip as a tourist destination. In recent years, the country has become more and more popular as an up-and-coming economic power with competent IT specialists and clever business people. There are good reasons to fly to India, especially for business travelers. You will discover that the Indians are on the one hand very progressive, but on the other hand, especially in the village, the traditions and the way of life of the people have hardly changed for centuries. The caste system is still alive and hierarchies are of great importance to the Indian. And so India is above all a country with an idiosyncratic but exciting culture that needs to be discovered in a respectful way.
For the traditional, formal greeting in India, one places the palms of the hands together in front of the chest, with the fingers pointing upwards, and tilts the head slightly. In the business environment, especially when dealing with people from the West, the handshake is now commonplace. Younger people in particular greet each other more and more often with a simple “hi” or “hello”.
Indians are extremely hospitable, communicative and friendly, but they don't think much of the frequent use of polite phrases. The word “thank you” will rarely echo towards you, instead you will reap a big smile. If you don't want to be seen as over-the-top, it's best to adapt to a certain extent.
What is confusing for visitors from the West is that Indians often seem to shake their heads during a conversation. This rocking of the head back and forth is actually a sign of approval. It means something like "yes, I am listening to you" or "yes, you are right". In India, however, people also shake their heads to indicate rejection. However, this is a shorter, more abrupt movement. To learn to differentiate between the two, you just have to watch people for a while.
Most Indians, on the other hand, also admire the West very much and try to emulate it. This is often expressed in the fact that people from the west are given preferential treatment and are very happy to be addressed on the street. The question of the name for Indians is very important. Answer them patiently, even if the other person has major problems understanding them. Especially in remote villages it can happen that the exotic from the west is stared at and curiously followed. If you are asked on the street for no reason what you want, it is not meant aggressively, but simply a form of contact. It is also quite common to touch someone else to draw attention to yourself. Indians are very fond of communicating and usually don't even think about someone wanting to be alone. Should that ever be a nuisance to you, then do not brusquely cast off well-intentioned conversation offers, but rather think of a plausible explanation of why you do not want to speak to anyone at the moment.
Public contact or even tenderness between men and women are considered improper. If you don't want to be viewed with contempt, it is best to adapt to some extent as a tourist.
With the shoes you inevitably come into contact with all kinds of dirt and rubbish in public, which is carelessly thrown onto the street. Shoes are therefore considered to be absolutely unclean and are therefore taken off at the entrance of temples, mosques or private houses.
In India, food is traditionally served on large plates with a wide variety of dishes. Everyone makes use of it and is eaten with the thumb, index finger and ring finger of the right hand (for foreigners there is always a separate plate with knife and fork available). The left hand is used to clean the toilet and is therefore unclean and should not be used under any circumstances. The standard Indian dish consists of lentils with rice and is always prepared differently. Indian food is varied and diverse.
Haggling is ubiquitous with larger purchases. Anyone who does not get involved and simply pays the price mentioned enjoys little respect. Above all, if you want to get a good price, you have to bring along a lot of time. It is part of the ritual to initially show little interest in the goods on offer. Only gradually, often with a cup of tea or a small snack, does one approach the negotiating partner's asking price. It can also be very effective to come back the next day and then continue haggling. The first deal of the day is of particular importance for an Indian trader. If the day starts with a success, this is a good omen for the whole day. So shopping early in the morning can be worth it. It goes without saying that the foreigner, who is considered to be very wealthy from the outset, is given a higher starting price than an Indian.
Indians can be extremely sensitive when someone criticizes their country, a cultural characteristic or a population group. The Indian media are extremely cautious about these issues. As a foreigner, you should be very cautious about any kind of criticism of your Indian hosts.
Indians are usually quite happy to be photographed and then particularly pose. Nevertheless, you should always ask beforehand. You can give your photo object a special treat if you send it a print. However, some old people are afraid of the evil eye and do not want to be photographed at all. Photographing military installations should be avoided to avoid suspicion of espionage. With traditional cremations that take place on the Ganges, one should be very restrained and leave the camera in your pocket, no matter how great the temptation may be. Many Indians also do not like to see a Western tourist specifically photographing scenes of extreme poverty, such as can be seen in Calcutta in particular, but also elsewhere.