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10 Quirky Things I Love About the Culture in India

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.

This is India! 99a 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.

backpacking India 2 months

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.

3. Jugaad

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 MUST click over 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.

indian car washthis little waterhole becomes a car wash in the monsoon

advertisement painting indiaI love that signs are mostly all painted here

This is India! 100The 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).

jodhpur india

This is India! 103

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.

is travel to india dangerous

omni, india, expat, driving in india, cows

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!

baby on scooter india

dog on scooter india

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.

superstitions india

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.

goa monsoon this is india

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.

hampi karnataka india boulders

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!

Varanasi Travel Tips Ghats Indiabuddies 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!

sharpening knives indiaEvery 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?

 

2018-02-18T21:36:06+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing to live on the beaches of Goa, India almost four years ago where she is now a travel writer. Her website gives advice on the 35+ countries she's been to but has become the go-to site for India travel, focusing on offbeat places & “glamorous travel”. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE magazine, Tripadvisor, and Thomas Cook. Her blog is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world based on traffic. She also enjoys writing for BravoTV.

11 Comments

  1. jonny March 1, 2018 at 5:49 am - Reply

    great article, Rachel. I enjoyed the bluntness too. I found it funny when they said things like ‘OK give me 10 rupees’ instead of ‘Can you give me…?’ And the hand holding is pretty cute, too.

  2. Cindy March 2, 2018 at 12:56 am - Reply

    Rachel you forgot to mention that only one hand can be used when eating with your hands. When we were in India 42 years ago we offended a couple of Indian men in our train compartment as we used the wrong hand to pick up our food – they got up and left and never returned. We had the compartment all to ourselves for the duration of the trip. We did not know about this ahead of time.

  3. Lauren March 3, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    I went to India for two months and of all the things I admired from them, the best was how cultured they were, Sure, they are a bit too blunt lol, but the world needs a little more honesty, don’t you think? Eating with the hands is really fun to be honest , I sometimes o it when I’m at home, it grew on me like that.
    Anyway, you’ve inspired me a great deal. Thank you for sharing.
    Great post, cheers!

  4. Nik March 4, 2018 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    Great article. My wife (an American) has a huge collection of images and one liners on the back of trucks (like “Honk please” haha). My fav street side sign in “Speed thrills but kills”. What ingenuity. Another quirk i like about Indian people is the unique way of moving their head which a westerner finds so confusing but it is infectious :). Thank you so much for this post. I read it to my wife and we laughed nonstop for over 30 mins, not in a mocking way but in a way that we miss and enjoy India. love and peace!

  5. Becci March 5, 2018 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    I love this article! It’s so funny! I have never been to india but I lived in a Nepal for awhile and married a Nepalese guy and i think the culture is pretty similar… when i asked my husband what “please” was in Nepalese he couldn’t think of the answer I was like whhhaaat.

    • Rachel Jones March 5, 2018 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      Hahah, that is so funny! How amazing that you moved to Nepal and got married! Love it.

  6. thebritishberliner March 5, 2018 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Hilarious stuff Rachel!

    I love being able to buy things in the middle of the street, from someone hanging off a tree, or just anywhere. And they’re so helpful too and will go the extra mile, just to get you the thing that you asked for, even if they don’t have it!

    I love the fact that the kids are so fascinated by everything. Adults too, if true be told! And seeing a family on a motorbike with mum, dad, three little children, and a bundle of something on their head, is dangerous, but adorable!

    Having said that, the way of driving scares me to death.Nobody uses a seatbelt, and as you say, driving any which way is perfectly acceptable! I was in Africa many years ago, and some fellow stopped his car in the middle of traffic to hug some other chap and say “hello.” People were honking, but they just carried on chatting, so our driver got pass him, by driving on the pavement! It was craaaaaazy!

    • Rachel Jones March 5, 2018 at 11:08 pm - Reply

      Hahah omgsh! It’s so funny, too when those things happen and people don’t even get annoyed by it because it’s just normal :D

  7. chantae March 6, 2018 at 6:08 am - Reply

    OMG these are so great. I relate to a lot of them living in Fiji now where we have a massive Indian population (nearly 40% of Fiji’s population is Indian!). We have signs that say, “drive like an egg — die like an egg” with a picture of a cracked egg with red blood coming out of it. We also have “an arm and a leg — the price of drink diving” and “if you drink and drive, we’ll provide the chaser — the police”. I love the happy part of negotiating! Fun post :)

    • Rachel Jones March 6, 2018 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      I had no idea there were so many Indians there, why is there – do they come on work visas or they just live there? those signs are hilarious!!

  8. Megha Nagabhushan May 24, 2018 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Awesome Article! I live in the US and miss eating with my hand.

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