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 you’re 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 you’re 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 don’t have 5’s). 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 doesn’t 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 don’t 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 can’t do that, wrap it up in bandages. Indians don’t 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. Don’t eat with your left hand. Don’t give money with your left hand. Don’t 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 you’ll 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 you’re 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 men’s 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 you’re a foreigner you might be permitted a handshake - it’s safer to namaste. Do not touch anyone’s head, even a child’s. The head is considered the seat of the soul, and the act of touching someone else’s head implies an intimacy that you really never will have (unless you’re married).