Tomes can and have been written on the myriad social customs of a land as complex and variegated as India. For the visiting
foreigner only a few simple guidelines can be mentioned, most of which are a matter of simple common sense.
Taking off shoes is mandatory when entering temples, mosques and other religious centres and should be observed when visiting
inner rooms of people's homes, though in this latter case the host or hostess may vociferously discourage the practice. A
quick glance to see if the denizens are shod or otherwise will help decide your course of action (When in Rome....).
As in many countries, if eating with the fingers (a most practical habit), always wash your hands before the meal (ask if
facilities are not obviously available) and try not to use your left hand at all (certainly never in taking food from a
shared dish). If you are not offered a finger bowl after the meal, ask for facilities to wash again.
In some houses, you may find yourself eating off, or drinking from, different crockery from the host's. Don't be offended;
you happen to have been born in different circumstances. Likewise, a family, and especially the ladies, may not join you for
a meal which they have prepared and served. Husbands, uncles, grandfathers and guests come first.
A clue in the previous paragraph rests in the use of the word 'ladies'. This is how women are commonly referred to in Indian
English and hints at the special status they have in the ideal, if not in everyday reality. Worship of the mother goddess is
never far beneath the surface.
India is a land of the warmest hospitality and interest in you, your marital status, numbers of children and a host of other
intimate personal details is commonplace, frequently expressed by complete strangers. If you are not further armed with
stunning conversational gambits covering the latest cricket series, nuclear fusion, chaos theory or the whereabouts of the
Mars curiosity rover, we recommend you resort to the one universal language understood by all true civilisations, and smile.