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CULTURE & COMMUNITY
CULTURE & COMMUNITY

Public Displays of Affection
Besides holding hands it is considered offensive for couples to indulge in public displays of affection. You will, however, still find young couples loitering in gardens and along highways, hiding behind their scooters or under a treaa with their backs turned towards the public.

 

Beaches

The Gujarati people generally dress very modestly and almost never expose their legs. Although swimwear is acceptable on beaches, you are still unlikely to find a local woman in a bathing suit, let alone a bikini. In Gujarat, beaches are generally used for family picnics and evening walks, not as a place to take in the sun or the waves.

 

A Positive Attitude
Chaale literally means “to walk” in Gujarati and is used to indicate a carefree attitude. It is important to be laid back when dealing with things like customer service, government offices and ticket reservations. India works at its own pace and in its own way, and to get frustrated will only demoralize you. Learn to curb your expectations and learn from the process when dealing with little things that require large chunks of your time, or when somebody decides to take their tea break just as you reach the front of the line. Picking up some of the local language and making friends with local people who can help you understand how things work will make everything much easier. India and Gujarat alike are developing quickly, and improving in the quality and efficiency of service, but these changes will take time, and more often than not, you will have to test your patience.

 

Hospitality
Atithi Devo Bhava is Sanskrit term that means the “Guest is God”. It is a living philosophy that is one of the unifying elements of the country and a big part of its identity. Gujaratis are extremely welcoming and hospitable and will quickly befriend you and invite you into their homes. Whether rich or poor, people will always offer their guests water and food, even if it means passing on their own ration for the day. Eating as a guest is a great experience. Inevitably, the host will insist on putting more into your plate and your stomach, and refuse to believe that you could possibly be full after just having had a third helping. It helps to eat what you like first, so that the refills are foods you enjoy. If not a meal, you will be offered tea or cold drink. Hosts will go out of their way to help you. Although it is not customary, it is considerate to return their grace by showing up with a box of sweets, helping clean up afterwards or any other number of creative ways.

 

Beggars
Everyone has a different reaction to beggars, often because it is uncomfortable and guilt provoking to see poverty at such close proximity. There is no right or wrong solution to poverty but you should remember a few things. Giving money can be problematic since it encourages begging as a living and since you do not actually know for what or whom the money will be used. Once you give something to one individual, it is very likely that a crowd will build up around you asking for the same. Passing out food is also questionable because it only supports the habit, especially in children. Instead acknowledge the person(s) begging, talk with them and give them respect and love without necessarily giving them anything else. If you want to give something you can also keep small packets of biscuits or chiki (a dry fruit treat healthier than chocolates) to pass out to children. The most sustainable option is to contribute money and or time to non – profit organizations that work directly with the community.

 

The Right Hand
In India most people eat with their right hand since the left is associated with cleaning yourself in the toilet. Remember to follow this etiquette as it is otherwise offensive and considered polluting. If you are sharing dishes, it is acceptable to use your left to serve yourself. Generally most things are done with the right hand such as accepting Prasad and shaking hands. If you are offered a gift, however, it is respectful to accept it with both hands.

 

Understanding Feet
It is customary in most Indian households to remove your shoes as a sign of respect. Thisi is also expected before entering a religious space. Pointing your feet at somebody or stepping on books or paper (seen as forms of Sarasvati, the Goddess of Knowledge) is also considered offensive. Touching the feet of elders demonstrates reverence and love.

 

Holy Places
Each place of worship has its own implicit rules. Always remove your shoes before entering any religious space in India. In Hindu and Jain temples, gurudwaras and mosques, women and men are expected to dress modestly and not expose their upper arms or legs. Sometimes non- Hindus not allows into the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple. Before entering a Jain temple, remove all leather (belts, shoes, etc.) since the production of it is seen as an act of violence against animals. Men and women must cover their heads (with a handkerchief, scarf, or hat) before entering a mosque or a gurudwara. There is also a water tank just outside mosques where followers partake in ritual cleansing before playing. Women are sometimes not allowed to enter functioning mosques. So check with locals prior to entering. Parsi agiaris are not open to non-Parsis. Please respect the sacredness of any idol or interior of any place of worship and refrain from taking pictures.

 

Pushing Personal Limits
Locals will love to test their English out on you and quench their curiosity about you by making conversation. More often than not, the first questions asked will include if you are married and what you do. If you look Indian, you will also be asked your last name, so that the person can gauge where in India, you re from and what community you belong to. The questions will get progressively more personal; however, this is not considered rude and is actually a friendly Indian inquisition. Take the opportunity to ask questions back and gain insight into local culture.

 

Do not be put off by the long stares you may experience during your travels. Indians often stare beyond a point of comfort for most westerners, but it is culturally acceptable and usually not intended to be harmful. Of course if a man is ogling at a woman, take it for what it is.

 

Personal space is a foreign concept to the Gujarati and Indian cultures. This means that people may rummage through your stuff, stand in close physical proximity to you and always insist on giving you company, even if you don’t want it. Often, an entire family lives in a one-bedroom house and forty people cream into an 8- person jeep. Although this can be uncomfortable initially, it is easy to get used to, and even miss once it is gone.

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