Personal Space and Staring
Personal space is not a concept in Indian culture, so staring and close contact should not be interpreted as rude behaviour. You will find that any time you stop to take a photo, an incredible number of locals suddenly appear to observe your every move. When you open your bag or wallet, you may find a local pretty much leafing through the rupees with you. What can you do? The first answer is not much. However, you can limit the chances of finding yourself in uncomfortable situations with these hints:
• When touring, stop only in quieter areas with fewer people. (Admittedly, if you’re in the city, such spots may be tough to find.)
• Wear less revealing clothing than you might in the West. (This especially applies to women, as Indian women traditionally have remained more covered.)
• Assume a firmer (but not rude) stance. If you want people to back off a bit, make this clear and your wish will probably be honoured.
Body Language: Head-Bobs and Hand Gestures
Perhaps the most common and misunderstood Indian characteristic is the ubiquitous head-bob. In fact, there are two types of head-bob, and each carries its own meaning. The first is a kind of short side-to-side tilt of the head, which more or less means “yes.” The second is longer, slower, and more undulating. This can be interpreted to mean “I see,” “maybe,” or “uh-huh.” This type is worth learning, as it often works to ward off perspective hawkers and beggars. Hand gestures also carry various meanings. A quick twist of the wrist from palm-down to palm-up says “What do you want?” “What are you doing?” or “Move along now.” A downward sweeping motion, like somebody trying to fan a fire, means “Stop, I want a ride,” or “I want to talk to you.” A good response to this one is the “uh-huh” head-bob described above.
In India, bargaining is the norm for most things. The attitude is that the buyer should pay as much as the seller thinks the buyer can afford. This doesn’t mean that you should do your shopping dressed in rags, but it does mean that if you wave wads of rupees in a merchant’s face, you will most likely end up paying too much. A good method is to spend some time working a price down, then to feign disinterest and prepare to leave. Most often, a new “best” price will be offered, and you will have saved yourself a considerable amount of money. Keep in mind that the appropriate bargaining style depends on the item and the character of the seller. Some merchants are graceful and treat you with respect; others are abrupt and aggressive. Thus, it is important to be on the same wavelength with the merchant while you bargain—you don’t want to insult the merchant, nor do you want him to insult you. No one should lose face in any bargaining interaction.
Photo credit: Chris Brown
Where do you want to go next? Find the best vacation ever by using the B&R Tripfinder.
Go to butterfield.com »