Author: Charlotte Buchanan
I have recently returned from an incredible month in India, where I learnt a few lessons in Indian culture. Just in case you ever find yourself in India or thinking of going to India, I feel it is my duty to pass on these lessons to you, so you can avoid making the same faux pas I did.
I was in India as a result of being selected to take part in a “Study India Programme” sponsored by King’s College London. The programme, which is based for three weeks in Mumbai, allows undergraduate university students the opportunity to experience India first hand. This is done through a mix of language and culture classes, visits to cultural and historic sites and a week’s placement with an NGO. The programme is really insightful. However, in order to gain as much as possible from the opportunity I spent an extra week in Delhi and a weekend in Kerala, where my experience of India was a lot more ‘hands-on,’ as I had to actually live and breath Indian culture.
To explain further, in Delhi I stayed with a traditional Hindu family. And when I say family, I mean it! I lived with the immediate family of my host, the Grandparents, the Cousins, the Aunties and the Uncles! In total there were about twenty of us. So, as you can imagine I was never lonely. In fact, it was such a novelty for me to be visiting them that they followed me everywhere, to the extent that I never had a moment to myself – even if I went to the toilet they waited outside! So, lesson number 1; be prepared to be followed. But don’t worry this is friendly following not the same sort of following as in CSI or other detective programmes. Your hosts will just want to ensure you are constantly having a good time.
On the first day of my stay with the family I was hesitant as to how to initially embrace them. I wondered whether it was like England where a hug or handshake would suffice or more European where a kiss on the cheek is more appropriate. I decided to opt for the safe – and traditionally British – option of a handshake. However, after being looked at funny when I first tried to shake hands with the Grandmother, I decided for my second introduction I would try a kiss. So when being introduced to one of the cousins I went in for ‘the kiss on the cheek’ embrace – big NO, NO. It was at this stage of introductions that I was informed of lesson number 2; do not embrace new acquaintances by kissing them on the cheek or hugging them. This will give completely the wrong impression. Instead it is more polite to touch their feet.
My third lesson arrived at dinnertime when I was taken to a local restaurant and allowed to choose anything I fancied for dinner. Being afraid of picking something too spicy for my first night, I decided to choose something I thought safe – an omelette. As how can you go wrong with a simple omelette? Well, turns out eggs are seen as meat to traditional Hindus. Consequently, my enjoyment and declaration that the omelette was delicious in front of the whole family of traditional ‘vegetarian’ Hindus did not go down too well. Thus, lesson number 3; do not eat an omelette (or any other egg-based dish) and declare it as delicious in front of a whole family of traditional ‘vegetarian’ Hindus. From that night forward, they cooked for me. And to try and ensure that I enjoyed the food they constantly told me that the food had been specially cooked so that it was not spicy – it always was. Lesson number 4; even if they say it is not spicy – it is!
Another lesson I learnt was the uniqueness of the Hindu religion. It is beautiful religion full of colour, animals and constant celebration. Thus, lesson number 5; be prepared for the uniqueness of the Hindu religion. To explain further, I never realised how precious a simple cow was to the Hindu religion until we drove around a twenty-mile long mountain called “Cow Dung” in complete seriousness, to ensure we got good luck. Equally, we attended – again, in complete seriousness – a religious service where an elephant led the prayers!
My week’s stay with a traditional Hindu family was only matched in intrigue by my stay in Kerala where I was privileged enough to attend an Indian wedding. It was full of lots of colour and copious amounts of food, as you would expect. However, despite copious amounts of food, the pièce de résistance the wedding cake only had one layer of edible cake – the rest was cardboard! So lesson number 6; If you are attending a wedding and planning on trying the cake, make sure you get the tasty layer!
As you can tell I learnt a lot of lessons from my stay in India and if you are planning on travelling to India, I hope this has helped and I wish you lots of luck! But above all, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
This is one of the winning articles of the Mladiinfo Article Writing Contest. The content of the articles does not necessarily represent the view or the position of Mladiinfo.