Culture Shock in India

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Culture Shock in India
With its unmatched diversity and a contrasting character that can both be enthralling and mystifying, expats may encounter some culture shock in India. Its hot and humid climate, muddled traffic blocks and hodgepodge of overexcited hawkers and guides are a lot to handle initially.  

That said, if expats can be patient and give themselves some time to adapt, it’s likely they’ll look at the country in an entirely different light as time passes.

India presents immense opportunities to open up socially. Hospitality is encouraged from childhood, and expats are often surprised to see the extent to which Indians are helpful and always ready to mingle.

In a nutshell, the country welcomes all with warmth. It just takes some effort and understanding to become comfortable with the attitude and approach of the locals. After all, its differences are one of India’s most attractive qualities.

Culture shock in the Indian workplace

India has successfully created an atmosphere for the coexistence of traditionalism and modernism by accepting many Western ways of living and working.

The corporate culture is similar to the West in its work processes and creativity. Office attire varies, though most workplaces expect formal or semi-formal dress, while certain organisations allow casual wear on occasion. 

To help expats settle into living in India, many companies provide new arrivals with cross-cultural training to help them understand the nuances of local culture and get to grips with the language barrier.

Women and culture shock in India

Women are treated equally in the office, although instances of the ‘glass ceiling’ are still present, as is the case all over the world 

Women should consider their destination and the occasion when deciding what to wear. On one hand, people living in cosmopolitan cities like Delhi or Mumbai are more open to Western-style dress. But expat women visit crowded places, local markets or smaller towns, may want to dress more conservatively to avoid offending anyone or attracting any unwanted attention. 

Furthermore, instances of 'Eve-teasing' occur more frequently when (especially foreign) women are found alone late at night. Travelling in groups after dark, particularly in unknown places, is advisable.

Language barrier in India

English is widely spoken in large cities and the workplace, so overcoming a language barrier shouldn't be a major challenge.

That said, expats should plan their routes before they go anywhere, as local vendors might not be able to effectively help with directions. Additionally, it's always best to choose one's day-to-day vendors carefully, and provide them with precise instructions in an expressive fashion.

Meeting and greeting in India

Greeting in India varies with geography and religion. Given the country's exposure to worldwide media and its history of colonial rule, people are accustomed to normal English greetings. Don’t be surprised if a youngster even greets with 'Howdy' or 'Wassup'.

Food and drink in India

culture shock in India - cows everywhereNumerous eateries offer a range of cuisine from continental to oriental. Expats should carefully pick where they dine and drink, since hygiene can be an issue at local restaurants. In most cities, however, plenty of hotels, restaurants, discos, pubs and bars cater to the expectations of a global clientele.

Expats should certainly try Indian delicacies during their stay. Each region claims superiority in the epicurean collage of Indian food and offers its own exotic tastes.


The north offers the spicy cuisines of Punjab and Rajasthan while milder, more complex cuisine can be found in Dosa, Utthapam and Idli in the south. The middle of the country provides innumerable opportunities to sample different tastes.

Drinking and smoking shouldn't be done in public places, such as parks and in the streets, and is considered an offence. In Gujarat, for example, liquor is only available at licensed hotels and has to be consumed inside hotel rooms.

Tips to overcome culture shock in India

  • Shoes should be taken off before entering mosques, temples and other places of worship. Put a cloth on your head before entering mosques or gurudwaras (Sikh places of worship).
  • Local women can be sensitive towards slang and casual gestures. Be mindful of your spoken language and your body language.
  • Avoid being too friendly with local guides and autorickshaw drivers to avoid cases of fraud and theft
  • Only drink bottled water as most of the water supply is contaminated

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