This week I have the lovely Zoe, owner of naturallyuntamed.co.uk giving us her insight into her life in India. I approached her with the simple question ‘What are some of the customs and traditions you learnt whilst living abroad that you didn’t know before?’ Here’s what she told me…
I spent a year in India on a volunteering placement in Gujarat. I lived with 2 other girls in a school where we worked, and we also spent some time travelling the country in our school holidays. I have countless stories and strange experiences but here are some things that highlight my Indian experience!
- I would say one of the things that stood out for me that I remember clearly was when we prepared for Navratri (the nine night’s festival), we were setting up the decorations and I had to lay flowers around. I smelled one of them and said “this smells beautiful”, suddenly one of the teachers panicked and was like “ma’am ma’am!”, one of the other teachers told me not to smell the flowers. I was so confused but apologized and went to put the flower down but the teacher told me to throw it away as it had been “used” (you’re not allowed to smell the flowers used in the ceremony).
- Photos. So many photos. Going out in India it was common to have strangers come up to you and ask to take photos. Some would want their children to be in the pic, some would get their whole family. It was strange at first, never experienced it before, then it became funny and we would play along and take our own photos too, to create a collection. Then it became tiring, annoying and offensive. Especially when you’re trying to mind your own business, not draw attention to yourself but you have people following you around. I have a video of my friend and I literally running away from crowds of people and you can hear them following us and pestering us for photos. The worst was when people would stick a phone in front of your face and take a photo without asking or they would ask and when you would refuse, they would still take the photo. I was ready to fight sometimes.
- It is etiquette to remove your shoes before entering a shop (and obviously somebody’s house).
- We were given a roll of toilet paper when we got to our accommodation, however toilet paper isn’t really a thing there. We also discovered that it was so expensive compared to other every day things and we didn’t have a lot of money so we decided to master the skill of cleaning ourselves with water to avoid buying any more toilet paper. To be honest, I’m used to having bidets at home so I easily adapted to this concept. As we no longer relied on toilet paper, we were pros at using public bathrooms (which was usually a hole in the ground and a bucket of water, a powerful hose if in places like airports or posh places). The toilets were a madness, I can smell it as I’m thinking of it now. Yea, you wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I think just the overall cleanliness or hygiene of the country, on the trains, streets and in public areas. I lived there for a year so I must say I was completely used to my surroundings and nothing really phased me. If I had been going on holiday however, I think the culture shock would have hit me so hard.
- You eat with your right hand, never the left. Left hand is for cleaning yourself.
- Piercings were normal and part of the culture, babies and young children would have noses pierced.
- Burping and other strange sounds are normal and are not socially unacceptable. There were quite a few times that I would get mad at my students for burping in class and I remember one of the students saying “But ma’am it’s normal”. At the time I still lectured my students about manners but I noticed that other teachers would randomly burp and no one would bat an eyelid.
Travelling in India was such an amazing experience and people would really go out of their way to help you.
Do you know any customs or traditions for your country? Share in the comments below!