There are always certain taboos when you travel to a new country. The culture shock, or culture clash as some might say, can often take you by surprise. Nothing seems as embarrassing as getting shamed or laughed at in public for doing the unspeakable. India, a cultural hodgepodge of people, travelers and languages catches the backpacker and globetrotter off-guard hundreds of times per day. Avoid getting the dishonorable stare (or earthshaking bowels) or the public finger point by following these simple DON’TS while in India.
7 – Don’t Eat Peeled Fruit
Once you visit some of the public restrooms in India, you’ll want to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One of the simple ways to avoid earthshaking bowel movements is to heed the traveler’s ubiquitous warning: Don’t eat already peeled fruit. You can offer the peeled fruit to friends for a cruel joke, but don’t eat it yourself—unless the said friend is going to be your hostel mate! Or, a good way to test your food is to give it to the said friend and wait 24 hours. If they turn out OK, odds are you’ll be OK. India’s bacterium doesn’t play favorites. If you buy and wash peel-able fruit yourself, then most likely it will treat you A-OK.
6 – Don’t Drink the Tap
If you wouldn’t drink the water from your home toilet, don’t trust the tap water in India. Often the water pipes here have been stewing under the baked earth for decades. Though the water is treated, the pipes contaminate the water well before the tap. If you’ve ever needed a good enema, this may be one way to cleanse your own backed-up pipes. Oh, another cruel joke: Add tap water to your friend’s bottled water; just a smidgen will do. After the eruptions pass, be sure to say, “You’ll need to make sure the bottle cap is attached. A lot of the places refill the water bottle for re-sale.” Chuckle deep within yourself as you turn away. (Rethink this if, again, said friend is your hostel-mate.)
5 – Prance Around in Your Shoes (slowly moving away from doo-doo talk)
When in India it is considered a discourtesy to wear your shoes in the home or a place of worship. Shoes from the street do not belong in the home in India (and many other parts of Asia for that matter). If you happen to step in excreta, though, be sure to clean it off before going anywhere. A stick or piece of rubbish will do, but don’t keep it stuck to your shoes for long periods of time. Contrary to popular belief, it will not harden and then not smell. It always smells. (Scatological talk is just so easy.)
4 – Acting Out a Sexual Fantasy in Public
If you’re a woman, and obviously drunk, it is not OK to pole dance on the bus or metro. If you are a man, and obviously drunk, it may be OK to pole dance on the bus or metro (but usually it’s not OK). If you are with your partner, man or woman, be sure that you do not practice your bedroom fantasies in public either. The act, discussion, talk or rhythmic motions of copulation are not kosher public expositions. A peck on the cheek or grab of the cheek for that matter, if done ever so slightly, might be admissible but do it quickly.
3 – Do Everything With Your Left Hand
The left hand in many cultures is considered a wicked, well sort of, thing. If your friend is stupid enough to fall for everything you say by now, then you may want to tell him that everything is done with the left hand. The left hand, however, is reserved for drinking glasses of water at the table and taking care of bathroom functions. Yes, you must still wash it even though you won’t be eating with it!
2 – Ask About the Meat Special of the Day
Be sure not to go into every restaurant with the intentions of asking what the meat special is for the day. Depending on where you’re at in India, many people are strictly pescatarians, vegetarians or a mix of both. If you are a person who cares little about feelings or culture, then blare out that you need this and that, making orders difficult and owners nervous. Getting kicked out of restaurants makes for some fun story telling at the bar later anyway. Don’t be an idiot.
1 – Ask for a Beefy Steak
If you come to India and don’t know that cows are sacred, then you might really be an idiot. One of the worst things to do is to chase the cows that linger in the streets or try to get them angry or aroused – not even for a cool picture! The cows are considered treasures and cannot be harmed under Hindu belief. Ergo, leave the cows alone and do not induce excitement. And, don’t ask for a hamburger; don’t ask where the closest place to get a burger is; and, don’t keep asking for a hamburger at restaurants. If you want beef, go to Texas. If you want to experience culture and humble cows, then go to India.