You don’t stay in a place as long as I have unless you really love it. It’s been five years since I’ved lived here and 6 since I first came traveling here. India has its challenges not just as an expat or traveler, but for Indian people – but it has a unique culture that has some charming parts to it which I haven’t come across in other parts of the world. It’s something about India being so old I guess that makes it such a strong culture where you see people with the same habits and as I wrote about before, you start to pick up on them and acting like you, too, are Indian! I’ll share some things about the culture in India that I love or crack me up here.
10 Things I Love About the Culture in India
1. Indians are sometimes blunt & not overly friendly
It seems like a weird thing to love, right? Well, coming from America where everyone is so “nice” all the time, it is a more of a culture change than maybe it is for Europeans, but I was so surprised how blunt Indians are. For example, if I offer an American sweet to an Indian friend and they don’t like it they just say, “I don’t like this”. On the other hand, I feel bad when offered something I don’t like so I eat it anyway and say yummy.
This behavior has changed how I act over the years and I’ve become more blunt, too. But, some see Indians bluntness as demanding. Actually, in the travel industry, numerous hotels and airlines have said that Indian passengers (especially wealthy ones) are their most demanding and hard to please passengers. I’ve seen this myself many times, too! It can be bad when taken too far, but in general, I love that Indians just speak their mind.
a very nice hitchhiker! I happen to have an Omni van which is a taxi so it’s a common mistake to hail a cab with me lol
They are not overly friendly either and “thank you” isn’t something that’s hardly ever said here, especially by friends because I guess it’s sort of “unsaid”. Another example would be when I picked up a hitchhiker, some old man, and drove him 20 minutes. The first few minutes he told me (not asked) to turn off the A/C. Later he asked me to turn down the music. 90% of the time I pick up hitchhikers I tell them I’m turning up ahead to go home and do they want to get out at the corner and they’ll reply “no, you can take me to the church in Mapusa” or “no, take me to the bus stop in Anjuna”. They are quite demanding even when getting a free lift! I don’t know why I find it so funny, but it’s a hoot to me.
2. Eating with the hands
Does it make the food taste better!? YES! Haha, okay, no it probably doesn’t but I love it. I really love it – lol, especially when it’s rice and curry and you just get the perfect little combo bite and scoop it up. Not super into seeing people eating rice and curd with their hands though, that’s just messy (kidding). When at local restaurants or at home, when I have a curry you can bet I’ll be eating it with my hands. Things like this you just pick up on I guess – like the classic head wobble. I find myself at home eating something ridiculous like mashed potatoes with my hands and being like okay, wait, I should use a fork.
Did you know that Indian families are a really unique closeness where moms and grandmas will feed the younger ones with their hands, even once they are grown up? I mean like a 30-year-old woman will have their grandma or mom’s hands put food directly in their mouths. This is a sign of love and caring. Can you imagine doing that in your own culture? Actually, many foreigners married to Indian men have told me when they go visit the husband’s family, he will sleep in bed with his parents and her in another room.
A little jugaad here and there is what keeps this country running so smoothly! Jugaad is essentially a hack that you use when you need a fix a problem but don’t have the money and resources. Here are a couple stories of jugaad from my This is India series: story 1 & story 2. Those are just tiny examples but to really understand it, you and see this article which shows some epic examples of Jugaad in India. It will crack you up and give you an insight into daily life here that I swear is 100% accurate. This is the one thing that I cannot really explain to people about living here that everything from my plumbing to our car has parts of jugaad in it that fall apart all the time.
this little waterhole becomes a car wash in the monsoon
I love that signs are mostly all painted here
The van has seen better days… after so much jugaad we are going to have to scrap it! The monsoon weather makes things rust fast here. Most people don’t have garages. Our “boot” (trunk) fell off.
Ben getting into the spirit of jugaad!
This is India! Indian people have always been known as being innovative. My security guys can jugaad a little electricity problem, make a can of paint last about 6 years, and help Ben fix our Omni van with basically glue.
4. Driving rules & fitting ALL the things on bikes
First of all, driving in India is an organized MESS and I live for it. I mean, going to the market has never been so exciting because every car ride in India is a race. You are racing all other people on the road. You will play chicken with the car coming head-on at your when neither of you wants to go into the dirt of the side of the road. You will pass the car in front of you even though it’s going the same speed as you or faster – and there are cars coming the other way. Don’t worry, they will run off the road to let you through or open it up to a third middle lane. They won’t be angry as this is how you drive here. You drive with your brights (full beams on) because hey, it’s better for you, right!? If you blind someone else they’ll learn to turn theirs on too (jk, this is my least favorite thing about driving in India).
Add in the scooters, cars, drunk and lost people on vacation, goats, cows, and stray dogs, and you’ve got a serious video game. Why does everyone rush to go nowhere? I don’t know but it’s very Indian. The shocking thing is that it works. There aren’t that many crashes considering the absolute ridiculousness of the driving here. Once, I had a driver in Rajasthan drive the wrong way down a highway because it was a shortcut. He drove in the fast lane the wrong way for at least 8 minutes while cars coming head-on in THEIR fast lane would simply get over to make room. No one honked. No one was angry. We finally cut across at a checkpoint where there were police. They didn’t bat an eyelash. On the other hand, on the winding coastal road in Maharashtra, I have seen head-on fatal collisions.
Then you have the scooters and motorcycles. When people come back from a trip to India and say they saw whole families of 5 on one scooter and this isn’t an exaggeration. It’s so normal and actually legal. Only the driver has to wear a helmet as well. Nearly every single friend I have here in Goa has been in a bike crash. I can’t help but smile though when I see a family on a scooter: the man driving, mom in a sari sitting side-saddle, the littlest one in her lap, a bigger one behind here, and the toddler standing on the platform by the handlebars. Dogs ride scooters here, too!
5. Ridiculous slogans & ads
Here are some signs that I saw on the highway in South Maharashtra
Control you nerves on curves.
Don’t go to hell, mate. Wear a helmet.
Better to be Mr. Late than a late Mr.
Safety on the road is safe tea at home
Line between life and death is very thin.
This is a highway not a die-way.
After whiskey, driving risky
Pretty creative! Road signs are funny. One sign for a cash wash in Panjim, Goa says “the best handjob in town”. I don’t know if they know what that can mean, haha.
This one tells you to “NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER share your confidential information with anybody.” That’s 9 never’s people. You should see the TV ads and the health ads from the government. They are a hoot.
6. The idea of things being lucky
In India, it seems like everything is auspicious. On the other hand, everything is a bad omen, too. You have to do things to get luck. For example, you shouldn’t build a second story on your house. Or when you build, you should hang these little fake men to keep the bad luck away.
You should also hang lime and chili on the back of your car for good luck on the road. You can even take people with you for big purchases to make a purchase auspicious, like when Babu took me when he and his family bought a bike. I think Diwali is even meant to be an auspicious time of year to shop so they have huge sales here like Black Friday.
7. The art of negotiating with a smile
Nearly everything is negotiable in India. If you aren’t careful, you’ll pay triple for potatoes! But it is kind of fun when someone offers you to buy something and you can reply “eh, okay but not that price, how about __?” It’s not just in India, but I have found that in India it is really an art that is appreciated and when you get a good deal the seller will laugh and find it a good thing for him, too, as he still made money. In Morocco, it was not like this – people got angry. It’s pretty crazy how basically everything here is negotiable! Here are tips to negotiate when shopping here without being rude.
8. Either everything is possible or nothing is possible
It will never cease to amazing how half the time when you ask for something: everything is possible and “no problem” insert head wobble. But the other half of the time it’s simply definitely not possible and no they won’t even look into it or tell you why.
When we wanted to pay our electricity bill they wouldn’t take cash, they wanted a money order, bank won’t give money orders to non-Indians. It was a standstill of a bill to pay, cash in hand, and the electricity company telling us they would cut off the electricity as it was simply not possible to accept our money in cash, card, or wire. That is that. Of course, you can jugaad your way out of these things with outside help. But, they weren’t going to help.
On the other hand, sometimes “everything is possible because this is India” Like the time we asked the 7-year-old boat driver in Hampi if we could buy his boat and 3 days later he delivered a new one to our house in Goa.
You literally never know what you are going to get! It’s so annoying and amazing.
9. The handholding
You know how I said some moms feed their kids with their hands, and grown children sleep in bed with their parents? There’s another friendly thing that is done here which is that men hold hands, cuddle, and put their arms around each other when they walk, hang out, or ride on the buses and trains. It’s a sign of friendship and this image from Varanasi 6 years ago is one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken in India!
buddies in Varanasi, India
10. People riding around selling stuff on bicycles
You can do window shopping a unique way here: from looking out your window to the street and buying stuff that passes by. They will honk a horn to let you know they are there. You might buy bread, select a mattress from the top of someone’s head, get your knives sharpened, or buy a bucket. Fascinating!
Every few months he sharpens his knife and the fee is “whatever you like”
So there we have it, 10 of the fun quirks of India’s culture that I just love. There are hundreds more and these were the first I thought of, but maybe I’ll do a follow up on this with even more! What do you love about India’s culture?
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