General tips, eating and drinking
Hospitality is a key value in Indian culture, and the guest is considered the equivalent to a god. Indians normally go out of their way to accommodate the requirements of the guests. Any breach of etiquette by the guest is normally ignored and never brought to his or her attention.
A foreigner visiting India is likely to receive social invitations from even minor acquaintances. This is mostly because Indians like to make a visitor feel welcome.
Visitors from some countries are often perplexed by the rather casual and unclear invitation extended to them to ‘drop in anytime.’ This is, however, a genuine invitation. Nevertheless, it is advisable to phone before going to someone’s house.
Conversely, you should also not expect that your Indian guests will always inform you before their arrival. It is normal among Indians to ‘drop in’ for a social visit.
A direct refusal to an invitation [e.g., ‘sorry, I will not be able to come’] is likely to be seen as impolite, or even arrogant. If you have to decline an invitation, it is more acceptable to give a somewhat vague and open-ended answer such as ‘I’ll try’ or ‘I will confirm with you later’, etc.
It is common practice in India to offer beverages [tea, coffee or soft-drink] with some light snacks/ refreshments to a guest, even in business settings. When refreshments/ snacks or beverages are served, it is customary [though not mandatory] to refuse the first offer, but to accept the second or third. It would, however, be a breach of etiquette not to accept it at all. Even if you don’t want to have the refreshments/ snacks, it is advisable to accept them–though it is acceptable to leave these offerings untouched later on in the visit.
Important Do’s and Don’ts about Eating and Drinking
Eating and drinking are intimately tied to Indian customs and religions. In planning any invitations, a knowledge and sensitivity to these customs are very important.
For a large number of Indian Hindus, eating meat is a religious taboo. While planning a meal for your Indian guests [or placing an order in a restaurant], it is advisable to ask if they are vegetarians or non-vegetarians.
If you are hosting a dinner or lunch party, it is advisable to have a few varieties of vegetarian dishes. It is also important to keep the vegetarian and meat dishes on separate tables, and label them to enable people to select what they can eat.
Many Hindus keep a fast once a week, and during this time they can eat only fruits. When inviting people, do check and make arrangements for them accordingly.
Non-vegetarian Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork. Muslims eat meat which is ‘halal’ or ritually slaughtered. Jains eat cereals and lentils, but do not eat meat, honey, and even most vegetables.
In planning for [or ordering] non-vegetarian dishes, chicken, lamb or fish are safe options.
Indians are very particular about cleanliness. It is essential to wash both of your hands before and after meals.
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