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Ok, so it’s your first time trip to India, and you’re going to one of the country’s largest cities – Delhi, as it is fairly close to one of the wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal. Here are a few tips on how to deal with the culture clash and enjoy your holiday without being disrespectful or taken advantage of by the locals.
This is one for the ladies. If you happen to be travelling by yourself and are blonde, for example, but would like to avoid some of the extra attention (avoiding it completely is not possible, so just stay relaxed), dress the way locals do: in loose cotton clothing that covers your shoulders and décolletage. It’s simple really, Western women tend to be considered ‘easy’ by traditional Indian standards and slinky tops and short shorts do nothing to dissuade the locals from that belief. Wearing a lovely kaftan and loose pants or leggins is not only extremely comfy, it also shows that you are clued in to the local ways and want to be treated with respect. As an additional bonus, if you fly to Delhi, it offers the perfect excuse to shop till you drop – and you will, despite any steely reserve you feel you may have not to, so just do yourself a favour and take an extra empty bag.
Avoiding food poisoning, from its mild to hard core manifestations, is admittedly hard in India, so do come prepared with several kinds of meds that you know work for you. Your GP will help out. This is not only due to poor hygienic conditions from the Western viewpoint, but also water and soil pollution, as well as our systems simply needing to adjust to a different climate as well as spicy food. All the well-worn standards apply: bottled water is a must as well as avoiding drinks with ice cubes, and opening your mouth during a shower. Vegetarians statistically do have a higher survival and recovery rate, so if you can, go veggo for a while. On another note, when ordering food, ask what it is and how big is the dish! It’s funny to observe tourists ordering everything on the menu, because it costs so little, and then be amazed at the amount of food that arrives! Common sense and intuition will take you a long way in India – don’t deprive yourself of the experience, just to feel safe from germs, either.
Indian people are community-oriented and house proud, even if they happen to live in the country and in a mud hut (you may be surprised how clean and comfortable such a simple household can be inside!). They like to be acknowledged and love to chat. They also treat friendship quite seriously and enjoy sharing their country and culture with visitors. If you can, accept hospitality graciously, and bring a small gift for your host. Share stories of your country in return and focus on the positives. For a country with one of the highest poverty rates in the world, India is surprisingly open and joyful – and has much to share. Enjoy yourself!
Patricia Bieszk+ is a freelance writer and an avid globetrotter who loves to try spicy local foods – with mixed results!