|Travel Do's and Dont's
- What can you eat: Anything that is cooked. This is the most commonly made mistake by
novice travelers - eat something uncooked, and you're really sick for at least 2 days. No
fresh vegetables. No fresh fruit (you can bend the rules here, but you have to know what
youre doing). No chutneys (ie. mint or otherwise). Yogurt and ketchup may be
suspect. Frozen foods like ice cream are not ok. Freezing pre-serves the little buggers;
it does not kill them. I have a cousin who went from 130 pounds to 85 pounds during a
month long bout with dysentery. This he got from eating Kwality ice cream. He had come to
India to find a bride; he fell in love with and married his doctor. If youre single,
go ahead and eat the ice cream. If not, try to stay married; avoid the banana split.
- Tipping is required. You usually tip beforehand to get decent service. In the hotel tip
a five or ten rupee note to every servant, the first time you see him. After those tip him
5 rupees every other time you see him. (Yes you can use a 10 if you dont have
5s). At the end of your stay be generous to the good servants (room service, your
room boy, your laundry chap) and give them a 20 or 50 rupee note. When dining the average
tip is 5% to 10%. More if the bill is less, and vice-versa. On no account ever tip more
than 50 rupees for dinner.
- Auto-ricks. Rick drivers will haggle like crazy. They are the Indian equivalent of a
French cabby, and will charge you 5 times normal. From one end of town to the other should
never be more than 30 rupees. The average is 10. If it is nighttime, rush hour, or things
are really busy be prepared to spend 20 rupees. The rule is to use the meter. If he
doesnt turn the meter on, you should pre-negotiate, pat the meter firmly until he
turns it on, or get out. On older meters the actual fare is about 1.5x the meter fare. Do
not under any circumstances touch the driver!
- Bargaining. Except in a hotel, bargaining for most things is expected. Indians like to
bargain; it determines a fair price for things - if you dont bargain, the shopkeeper
will be unhappy also. You should expect a 20 to 40% bargain on the street. In a
well-established shop, you can get 10% to 20% or more if you buy in bulk.
- The left hand. Chop off your left hand before you arrive in India. If you cant do
that, wrap it up in bandages. Indians dont use toilet paper. They use a squat
toilet, a bucket, and a pitcher of water. Guess what the left hand is used for. By the
way, the best way to get rid of a beggar (they make homeless people seem tame by
comparison) is to touch them with your left hand, and say chull-o or in
Bangalore, say hogu (the h is almost silent). If you can insult a
beggar by touching them with your left hand, think what a normal Indian person feels.
Dont eat with your left hand. Dont give money with your left hand. Dont
receive anything from someone else with your left hand. Keep your left hand in your
pocket. This applies to left-handers also. Sorry. By the way, if you really upset me, I
will get you a hotel room with an Indian toilet, and then youll quickly learn about
the left hand.
- Eating with your fingers. This takes some skill. Especially with only one hand. Indians
feel that food is sensual, and that feeling your food is part of the enjoyment of eating.
If you played with your food as a kid, you know what they mean. Although most of your
meals will have spoons, occasionally you may have to do without. Clean your hands at the
wash basin (they have one, just ask), dry them thoroughly, and enjoy the ex-perience.
Clean your hands at the basin when youre done. Generally, by the way, the wash basin
for meals is more accessible than the bathroom.
- Porters - beware of airport porters. Indians don't like to do servile things like lift
luggage. That's for porters. You, the foreigner are fare game for the porters. "How
can I separate that ferangi from his money?". Watch your luggage, and don't pay more
than 10 rupees.
- Keep some perspective. A dollar is worth 30 to 35 rupees. Although a rupee is the
equivalent of a dollar in the states, in terms of purchasing power, sometimes you will
find yourself haggling over 10 cents. Is the principle worth it? You decide.
- Touching. It is common for men to hold other mens hands, or to walk arm in arm
down the street. This is not a sign of homosexuality. It is permissible, between friends,
for a male to touch another male of the same sex with his RIGHT hand. Do not touch anyone
with your left hand, unless you wish to offend. Do not under any circumstances touch
anyone of the opposite sex. If youre a foreigner you might be permitted a handshake
- its safer to namaste. Do not touch anyones head, even a childs. The
head is considered the seat of the soul, and the act of touching someone elses head
implies an intimacy that you really never will have (unless youre married).