INDIAN CUSTOMS, ETIQUETTE AND MANNERS

INDIAN CUSTOMS

British customs such as tea time endure. In some places it has not hard to find tea served with scones and muffins. Cricket is the most popular sport. Many upper class Indians send their children to exclusive boarding schools in Britain and hope they can get into Oxford or Cambridge and seek knighthoods for themselves.

Indians are very hospitable. Deepak Mehta posted on Quora.com: “We treat our guests with utmost respect and hospitality: Atithi Devo Bhavah ( English: 'The guest is God' or 'Guest become God') is a motto that almost all Indians follow with utmost dedication and compassion. Even the poorest of the poor treat their guests to all kinds of luxuries.” [Source:Deepak Mehta, Quora.com, March 28, 2013]

Phil Reeve wrote in the Independent, “Few places are as hospitable as India. The countryside seems populated with people willing to drop everything to help an unknown foreigner find his destination or to serve him tea.” Hospitality is valued by Hindus. Muslims and Sikhs. Providing hospitality is an important responsibility for Muslims. Hindus are taught to treat a guest like a God. A great effort is made to make sure a guest is happy and well provided for. Faux pas are overlooked.

A special effort is made to make foreigners feel welcome. Tourists who venture outside the cocoon of organized tours find they overwhelmed with invitations for tea, food or a visit to a person’s home. It is not uncommon for an Indian to approach a foreigner on the street and invite him or her to a village festival or a wedding party. Sometimes poor families offer extraordinarily nice meals. Offers of money are inevitably turned down and regarded as an insult.

Greetings in India

Hindus fold their hands in the namaste greeting and touch their forehead as a sign of respect. To perform a proper namaste, one should hold his or her palms together, with the fingertips at chin, level and nod rather than bow and say " Namaste." " Namaste" literally means "I bow to thee” or “I honor the godhead within.” The gesture is a sign of respect and is used by men and women when meeting members of the same or opposite sex. It is similar to praying gesture performed before an image of a deity at a temple. [Source: The Traveler's Guide to European Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

The degree of bowing in a namaste is often determined by the caste of the person addressed. A person of low caste is expected to raise his hands high and bow deeply to a person of high caste while a person of high caste often barely acknowledges a person of low caste.

Muslims shake hands and say " Salaam" or Salaam al-eikum. Sikhs show their respect by saying the name of the person they are greeting followed by " Sat Sri Akal." Sometimes they follow the handshake by touching their forehand or heart or both.

Westernized Indian males often shake hands with one another and with foreign male visitors. Westernized Indian females often shake hands with one another and with foreign visitors. Handshakes tend be on the limp side. Sometimes Indians of the same sex hug one another. " Ram! Ram! is an invocation of a Hindu deity often used to hail a friend on the street.

Indians generally don't shake hands with or even touch members of opposite sex. They use the namaste greeting. In Bombay you can young people that greet each at nightclubs with kisses on the cheek and even scandalous kisses on the lips. But many Indians find such behavior to be shocking. As a rule Indians are not that big on touching one another, especially people they don’t know well.

In some formal situations—at welcoming ceremonies for VIPs, important events—visitors are welcomed with garlands of marigolds or other flowers draped around their neck. If this should ever happen to you, you should wear the flowers for a while and then give them to somebody to hold. You should never casually drop them or leave them behind.

Introductions and Goodbyes in India

When being introduced to a stranger, or are in a group, as rule let the Indian people make the first move when it comes to introductions. Sometimes there are caste and hierarchy considerations that have to be taken into account when introductions are made.

Some Indian men shake hands when saying goodby. Others say goodbye by pressing their palms together with their thumbs striking their chest. Some bow or do a namaste. Tamils often say goodby by saying poi varungal, which means “I’ll go and come back.” American-style waves are generally not appropriate when saying goodbye. If you are departing a groups try to say goodbye to everyone.

Indians don’t like to say thank you because they realize that an exchange has taken place and thank you isn’t really necessary. Sometimes saying thanks is even considered rude: a kind of offer of payment for something that should be accepted as hospitality.

Names in India

Some Indians have only name. Traditionally, Indians had a given name (first name) and a honorific but no surname (last name). Both men and women put the initial of their father’s name before their own given name. Married women were known by their given name plus their husband’s given name. These days many Indians have European-style names with the given name first and the family name second. Some Indians use their caste or village or region as their last name.

Indians rarely call each other by their names. Relatives are often referred to by the equivalent of father, mother, son, daughter even if they are not those things. Family friends are often called "auntie" or "uncle" as a sign of friendship and respect. Older people are sometimes called "father," "mother," "grandfather," or "grandmother," even if they are not blood relatives. Strangers are often greeted with the equivalent of “brother” or “sister.” Even a wife in a traditional family does not call her husbands by his name but calls him “the father of so and so.” Husbands and wives often address each other by their first names.

In formal situations or with people they don’t know very well, Indians generally use "Mr.," "Mrs.," "Miss," "Sir," "Madam," or use titles such as "Dr." Sri is the Indian equivalent of Mr. Pandit is an honorific term that means teacher. Ustad is the Muslim equivalent of Pandit. Indians sometimes greet male foreigners with the honorific term Sahib ("master,” and pronounced “saab,” like the car). With women Indians sometimes add ji to the end of the woman's name. Muslims refer to each other using the terms bin for a man and binti for a woman, followed by the father’ given name.

Public Customs in India

1) Direct eye contact is often considered rude. The importance of eye contact between the gods and humans helps explain why Hindu disdain eye contact in public, even between husband and wife ( See Darshan Under Hindu Worship, Hinduism). 2) Outward expressions of anger are considered boorish and crude. Having a fit will not help you get your way: it will only make people think you are crazy. People generally go out of their way to avoid conflict.[Source: The Traveler's Guide to European Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

4) Don' eat while walking down the street. It is considered rude and inconsiderate to people who might be hungry and can not afford to eat. 5) Don’t blow your nose in public. 6) If you see two men or two women holding hands, they are probably friends, siblings or cousins. It doesn’t; mean they are gay. 7) A lot of times Indians are not big on forming lines. There can be a lot of jostling and pushing on public transportation and in trains with unreserved seating. 8) Show respect towards elders.

Indians often tell you what you want to hear rather than telling you the real story. People will say "yes" even when the answer is no so as not to upset you. Even when they say no they don't say no directly. Sometimes certain kinds of yeses actually men “no.”

Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Men and women rarely show affection in public. It has traditionally been considered respectful for men and women to maintain a distance of one meter from one another.

Gestures in India

Indians are a very expressive lot. They use a lot of hand gestures. Clasped hands are an expression of submission. Touching the ears is considered an indication of sincerity or repentance.

Indians wobble their head in a way that is strange to Westerns to indicate “yes.” In northern India, people twist their head sideways more while people in southern India seem to move their head from side to side and up and down at the same time in a fluid motion. Many foreigners think they are going “no.” The twisted head gesture has many purposes. It can mean “okay,” “sounds good” or it indicates that a person is listening and paying attention. In India, “nodding also means “yes” and a clear up side to side shaking means “no.”

Don't gesture by pointing with your finger. Indians often point using their chin or eyes. When beckoning someone don't use your finger; face your palm downward and move your fingers, together, back and forth. Don’t whistle or wink. Whistling is something you do to beckon an animal. Winking is associated with flirting. These are regarded as vulgar gestures. Don’t stand with your hands on your hips. This is regarded as aggressive. Don’t fold your hands. This is regarded as arrogant. Don’t cross your legs. It is considered dirty to show the show the soles of your feet. See Head and Feet below

When accepting or giving something, you should use your right hand. The left hand is considered dirty. The taboo of using the left hand is especially strong in the south, places where people eat with their hands and among Muslim. See Eating Customs, Toilets, Hygiene

Instead of clapping their hands after a performance Indians traditionally have shouted of " Va Va!" American-style waving hello is often interpreted as “I am leaving”. In its rudest sense it can mean go away. A raised little finger means I need to go to bathroom. Usually kids use it.

Head and Feet in India

Among many people in India and Southeast Asia, the head is considered the highest and most sacred point of the body, both literally and figuratively, and the bottoms of the feet are lowest, least sacred and dirtiest part of the body. In passages from the Riga Veda that justify the caste system the head of primordial man gave birth to the highest castes while the feet gave birth to the lowest ones.

Thus, it is considered rude to point your foot at a person or a sacred object. Pointing your foot at someone is like saying you are the lowest, dirtiest creature on earth. Also don't expose the soles of your feet. Never put your feet on a table or couch. When sitting on the floor keep you legs crossed do tucked under you so air no not to point your foot at anyone. When sitting in a chair don’t cross you legs. Don’t push anything to anyone with your feet. Don’t step over someone or a special object that is on the floor. Apologize if your feet accidently touch something, particularly a person.

Because the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body a great effort is made to avoid steeping over someone, food, utensils and sacred books. It is much more polite to ask someone to move than to step over them. If you accidently touch someone with your feet you can touch your hand to their feet or make a gesture that implies that you apologize.

Touching someone's feet is a sign of respect and, in many cases, subservience. Some women kiss the feet of their husbands or their in-laws. Because the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body willingness to touch them is taken as a sign of reverence. In ancient times, Hindu commoners showed respect by kissing the feet of the their sovereigns. Ths is still done among people—notable politicians—who crave this kind of attention. To be hit with a sandal is the ultimate insult and sign of disrespect.

Children have traditionally shown respect to elders and teachers by bending down and touching the feet of older people and bringing their finger to their eyes. The traditionally gesture of deep respect shown to Hindu deities and holy men is lie down and extend oneself at the feet of subject of worship.

Don't pat a child on the head. Patting the head is disrespectful. Many South Asians carry good luck charms in their shirt pockets instead of their pants pockets, because the higher up you go on the body the more evolved it is.

Social Customs in India

Indians are very welcoming and willing to chat with strangers. All you have to do is introduce yourself. They extend al kinds of invitations and are very hospitable. If you want to decline don't say no directly say you are doing something else. [Source: The Traveler's Guide to European Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

Safe conversation topics include food, films, family, children, clothes and cricket. Topic that should be avoided include politics, Pakistan, religion, Muslim and Hindu relations, women's rights, sex, caste, poverty and things like snake charmers and widow burning. Indians love to talk but they can be very opinionated. Foreigners can generally enter such conversations and say what they think. But refrain from saying anything insensitive or too controversial. Remember anti-American, anti-British and anti-Western sentiments sometimes run high.

People often ask personal questions almost immediately after meeting. They ask questions about marriages, and sometimes ask how much money you earn. This is sometimes don to size you up and work out the most respectful way to communicate with you. People you just met often will ask for address. It is considered rude to refuse. It is best to give a vague address or even a false one if you expect to never see the person again.

Indians are not very punctual. For a dinner expect them to be 15 to 30 minutes, and possible an hour, late. Even so, they often expect foreigners to be on time. Soureesh Ghosh posted on Quora.com: “I don't know why Indian people are so fascinated in being late. If there's a meeting at 6, their brains record a time of may be 7. It's involuntary, they can't help it. It's probably a result of lack of discipline. Lack of discipline, gradually results into complacency. Complacency makes way for incompetence; and slowly the whole system starts appear to be flawed and substandard. [Source: Soureesh Ghosh, Quora.com, June 17, 2013]

When Indians invite someone to a party they are very welcoming. If you are late or bring along some friends that is generally no problem. By the same token they expect to be treated the same when they are guests. If you invite some Indians don’t be surprised if they are late and bring along some friends.

Indians exchange business cards in all sorts of social situations.

Indians often go silent when they don’t understand something.

Home Customs in India

Home customs vary from place to place. In many places homes are segregated. Even when they are not men tend to hang out with men and women hang out with women. As a general rule don't enter the kitchen or wander round the house. Indians are known for making vague invitations and saying “drop by anytime.” People sometimes drop by unannounced during visiting time between 5:00pm and 9:00pm. [Source: The Traveler's Guide to European Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

It is customary to remove one's shoes or sandals when entering a private home, Hindu temple or mosque. In homes raised off the ground, shoes or sandals are left at the stairs. Otherwise they left outside the doorway. Sometimes they are placed to the side of the door. Don't have holes in your socks.

There sometimes aren't many chairs in an Indian home because families often spend most of their indoor non-sleeping time sitting or lying on the floor. In a traditional home, one sits on low seats or cushions on the floor. Tables tend be low. Men may sit with legs crossed Indian-style or folded to one side. Women sit with legs off to one side.

Many homes have servants. Treat them with respect. To do otherwise is considered rude not only to them but also to their employers. At the same time don’t be shocked if your host orders the servants around to do things they could easily do themselves. Don’t offer to help; servants are expected to do that.

Sweets, flowers or fruit or something from your country are common gifts. Don't give leather, beef pork or alcohol. People usually don't open their gifts in the presence of giftgivers. Gifts of money with odd numbers are thought to be auspicious. Hindus believe that giving gifts will make it easier for the soul of the deceased to move onto to the next life after death. Moving into a new house is an occasion worthy of celebrating with a party.

Fire is sacred.. This means guest are never invited into a kitchen and one should never throw anything into a fire. Never enter the kitchen of someone of high caste. If you touch something there you may effectively pollute the entire kitchen and a special cleansing ceremony is required by a Brahmin priest to purify it again. Before that time no food can be prepared there.

On some of the bad household habits of Indians, Rama Rao Garimella posted on Sulekha.com: “Spitting and stubbing cigarettes wherever they please is another abhorrent practice. Even in the parties of the well heeled, some guests can be seen either spitting at all odd places or stubbing cigarettes on the floor/carpet much to the chagrin of the hostess. Even page 3 personalities indulge in this. If this happens in the parties of the well heeled, one can imagine the havoc it creates in ordinary people’s homes. It shouldn’t take long to find a nearest bathroom to spit or an ashtray to stub the cigarette. One should also imagine the size and extent of damage the stubbing will cause to the carpet/rug and the owner. Similarly spitting and throwing the cigarette stubs out from the balconies of high rise apartments can cause considerable damage to people down below. More bad habits like belching loudly, gargling after a meal and making odd noises while eating and bathroom habits are common knowledge. [Source: Rama Rao Garimella, Sulekha.com, 2007]

Eating Customs in India

Eating customs also vary from place to place, income level to income level, religion to religion and caste to caste. People often sit on the floor when they eat. Peasant sometimes sit outside when they eat. In Westernized household people are more likely to eat at a table. People wash their hands before a meal in the washroom or from water-filled bowls.[Source: The Traveler's Guide to European Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

A typical meal may include a dozen or more dishes. Different dishes, such as meat, lentils, rice, vegetables and bread, are placed in different bowls and served from a tray called a thalis. With guests, Indians typically offer them lots o food. It is not considered rude to leave food on your plate. At the end of a meal, guests may be served tea or fruit, which should not be refused. One should at least take a taste.

Many Indians don't eat off of plates. Especially is the south they like to eat off a banana leaves. Disposable Pressed-leaf bowls and red clay cups are used throughout rural India, This is done in part to prevent upper castes from touching things that have been touched by lower castes. India is famous or its esoteric eating restrictions. According to a study in Tamil Nabu, pregnant women are forbidden from eating more than a hundred kinds of food, including meat and eggs, and many kinds of fruits grains and beans.

In some places burping is a polite way to indicate that you are finished eating. After the meal is over guests are given a towel and expected to wash up at a sink. After a meal many Indians have paan (a sweet betel nut concoction) rather than sweets or deserts. In some places rock sugar or roasted licorice-flavored fennel seeds (known as sawaf) are offered as a breath freshener.

On some of the bad eating habits of Indians, Rama Rao Garimella posted on Sulekha.com: “Licking fingers is perhaps indicative of the appreciation of the taste of the food imbibed. Eating food with hands is bad enough and presents a revolting sight in foreign circles but licking fingers as chewing bones to suck the marrow looks downright repulsive. Although eating with the help of a knife/spoon and fork hands is more hygienic, even the rich and well heeled use their hands at the dining table leaving the cutlery aside. Eating with hands and licking fingers involves eating not only the food but everything that was on the hands before the meal. This practice should be stopped and the change should percolate from top. The Media especially the cinema must show even the lower middle class heroes and heroines eating using cutlery. Similarly all the TV serials must compulsorily show the affluent and middle class people eating only with the help of the cutlery. The masses will imitate and get into the habit.” [Source: Rama Rao Garimella, Sulekha.com, 2007]

Eating at an Indian Home

When Indians invite guests to a meal, they usually invite them to their home rather than go out to a restaurant. It is considered an insult to the guests and the wife to go out. Guest often arrive at around 8:00 but don't begin eating until after 10:00pm. In some places, particularly in the south, guests are invited for lunch because that is the main meal of the day. If someone invites you too meal or to their house it is considered rude to turn them down.

At some homes a guest is served while everyone else sits around and watches. Often the men eat first, with women and foreign guests being included among them, while the women serve them. At dinner parties, dishes are served by the host or hostess or servants. It is considered rude to help yourself. Muslims often eat communally from the same bowl or plate.

If someone invites you to dinner at a restaurant they generally pay. You are expected to return the gesture if someone invites to their home or out to a restaurant.

Westerners are often offered forks, spoons and knives. When Indians eat with Western utensils they usually eat British-style with their spoon in their right hand and fork in their left hand and push food with the fork onto the spoon and eat with their right hand using the spoon. People use a serving spoon to dish themselves food from serving bowls at the middle of the table. Don't touch the serving spoon to your plate and don't touch the food in the serving bowl with your hand. Also don't eat food off another person's plate. Pass dishes with your left hand, supporting them with your right hand palm down. Some people also pass things with their right hand.

Eating With Your Hands

Many Indians eat food with their hands. Some restaurants don't have any utensils at all to give their patrons. Instead each table comes with a water pitcher that is used to clean the hands after the meal. As a rule, Indians eat with their right hand. The left hand is kept clean and sometimes used for things like holding a glass and passing dishes to others. Some people also pass things with their right hand. When in doubt watch what other people do first and try to avoid a situation in which you need to pass something when you right hand is covered with food from eating.

Northern Indians eat with only first two joints of their fingers, not their entire hands. Southern Indians make sure their sleeves are rolled up and eat with their entire hand. In the north, most meals come with chapatis (pancake-like bread) that is used to scoop up the food which is usually something that resembles stew. In the south (and to a lesser extent the north too), meals come with rice and a number gravy-like and stewlike dishes in bowls. You mix a little bit of stewlike dish with the rice and make a ball which you then eat.

Indians believe that eating with your hands gives you the feel of the food and eating with a spoon or fork adds a metallic taste to the food. Indian cooking teacher Shashi Gandhi said, "Using your fingers—not knives or forks—you can enjoy dining much more. Brushing beans and tearing off a piece of chapati with your fingers adds to the enjoyment of the meal. In doing so, you are not able to only smell and taste, but also to feel the food."

Muslims and Hindus have traditionally used their left "dirty" hand to take care of wiping their dirty butt and other "unclean" bodily functions. As a result, they never eat or touch someone with their left hand. People always eat with their right hand even if they are left-handed.

Drinking Customs in India

Sometimes alcohol is offered to guests and consumed. Sometimes it is not. When it is consumed at dinner most drinking takes place before the meal rather during or after it. When alcohol is not offered tea or coffee is consumed. Foreign guest are generally offered beer or whiskey when at an Indian person’s home along with a snack such as peanuts or papadum (crisp, flat bread).

Drinking customs of defined by Hindu beliefs about pollution. When drinking from a cup one should hold it away from mouth so that liquid flows into the mouth but the lips do not touch the cup. This is done less for health reasons that caste reasons. Upper caste Indians don't want their lips to touch something "polluted" by the lower castes.

In peasant homes guests are often offered a glass of water when they arrive. Sometimes it has been cooled in a clay pot and has cardamon seeds added as a flavoring. When drinking many Indians tilt their head back and pour water in their mouths with their lips not touching the container.

When drinking with a group in a party style atmosphere it is customary to pour drinks for other people not yourself. When drinking from a communal container or glass don't touch your lips to the container or glass. As a rule women are discouraged from drinking and smoking.

Bathing and Bathroom Customs in India

Hindus believe that the gods will smile on them if they clean their homes before sunrise. Villages practice centuries old tidying techniques. Even so the smell of urine is everywhere because there are few public restrooms or even household bathrooms where people can relieve themselves properly.

Many Indians prefer squat toilets. They don’t like Western toilets for health reasons. Squat toilets often have a bucket with a scoop for flushing. Nonflush latrines are banned in many states, bit these rules are clearly not enforced. Many are cleaned by women Dalits (Untouchables) who earn less than a dollar a day.

Indians often don’t use toilet paper. They clean themselves using water and their left hand and thoroughly wash themselves every time they go to the bathroom. Some Indians are appalled that Westerners wipe their butts with paper only.

In much of rural India there are not toilets, people take of their business in fields. Salman Rushdie wrote in the New Yorker, "The absence of simple toilet facilities obliges millions of women to control their natural functions so that they can relive themselves under cover of darkness. Saris worn with underpants make it possible for many women to relieve themselves on the side of a road in a field without compromising modesty.

In homes toilets and showers are often in separate rooms. Sometimes only cold water is available for showers. Some people take two or three showers a day because of the humidity. Men and women often bath and shower outside while wearing clothing. People often wash their feet when they wash their hands.

When no soap is available people rub their body with coconut oil. Women often shampoo their hair with a mixture of buttermilk and ghee and they bath while wearing their sari. With water often being in short supply women can take a bath using nothing but the water from a basin. Some people wash their feet and underarms with lemon juice in an effort ro get rid of unwanted body odors. A lot of people blow their nosed into their fingers.

Clothing Customs in India

Indian are reasonably tolerant people and almost any clothing style is acceptable. Some Indian dress smartly and fashionably. Others dress in jeans or shabby clothes. Indian men generally don't wear shorts. They wear long pants even in the hot weather. Some wear sarongs. It is generally acceptable for foreigners to wear shorts, but don't wear clothes with holes or go without a shirt.

Among women it is often more important to keep the shoulders covered than the midriff area. Women in jeans or short skirts are seen in the cities but may offend some people in the countryside. Keep in mind also that shorts, exposed shoulders and short skirts are may be regarded unacceptable in mosques and some temples.

Dress properly in mosques and temples. No baseball caps and the items mentioned above. Some mosques and temples require women to cover their head and arms and men must war slacks. Off the beaten track women should wear long dresses and cover their arms. Men should also wear long pants. At beach resorts, shorts and T-shirts are acceptable.

Hindu Temple Customs

Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter some temples or some parts (particularly the inner sanctum) of temples. Sometimes there are signs indicating where non-Hindus are not allowed. Sometimes there are not. People should avoid entering a temple with items made from leather since cows are regarded as sacred. Women are not supposed to enter Hindu temples when the are menstruating. Some temples have two doors. One is for menstruating women and people from lower castes. The other is for ordinary Hindus.

Hindu temples that allow non-Hindus generally require visitors to remove their shoes and headwear. Short pants and skirts are often regarded as inappropriate dress. Men wearing shorts are sometimes given a sarong or robe at the entrance. Women should have their knees and arms covered. It is important to step over the threshold not on it when entering a temple. When moving around inside a temple or outside always move in a clockwise circular direction, with your right side facing the venerated object. To walk in a counterclockwise direction is regarded as inauspicious and disrespectful to the temple god.

Visitors to temples are sometimes offered a pieces of coconut or banana. It is considered a great honor to be offered these things. One should take it and eat it. It is considered sacrilegious to refuse. If you are worried about eating it for health reasons give it to someone else. Don't throw it away. If someone puts a thread bracelet around you arm, you are expected to give them a few rupees.

India’s temples feed millions of people every day. They are among the world’s largest food buyers. Many have their own agricultural land. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams temple in Madras spends $70 million a year to provide free meals. Sikh temples also provide lots of free meals.

As is true with mosques, Hindu temples use crackling loud speakers to blare chants and prayers. The Hindu equivalent of a muezzin is mandira, which is a form of chanting blasted out of loudspeakers at 5:00am.

Mosque Customs

Mosques and shrines are often not open to non-Muslims. Those that do welcome them expect them to be appropriately dressed: no shorts, short skirts, revealing halter tops or exposed shoulders. Mosques that allow women often require them to at least wear a head scarf. Some require them to cover their entire bodies, except the face, hands and feet, and not wear trousers. Sometimes mosque provide women who don’t have one with a head scarf. Sometimes they have robes for men wearing shorts.

The Muslim faithful are expected to remove their shoes and wash their feet in a sacred basin before they enter the mosque. If no water is available Muslims are supposed to wash themselves with sand. Foreigner visitors s can usually get away with just removing their shoes and are not required to wash their feet. In any case, make sure you feet or socks are clean. Dirty feet in a mosques are regarded as an insult to Islam. In large mosques you remove your shoes and place them on a shelf with a number.

Inside a mosque don't walk in front of someone who is praying, don't touch the Koran, never sit or stand on a prayer rug and never place a Koran on the floor or put anything on top of it. Also, don't cross your legs in front of an older people and don't step over someone who is sitting down Show respect, remain quiet and stay out of the way. Taking photographs is frowned upon.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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