Being polite gets you places and good manners are appreciated whether you are in Dubai, Toronto or Bengaluru.
In the many years I spent in Saudi Arabia — the cosmopolitan cities of Jeddah, Al Khobar and Riyadh to be exact — I learned that pointing your feet at anyone was frowned upon and putting our feet on the desk as some western nationals would do sometimes to show that they are casual, was a definite no-no.
But unfortunately I could not squat on the floor, and whenever there was an official luncheon in the desert in a tent I would squirm and hold my legs close to me but my knees would stick up and I had to stretch my numb feet in front, pointing my sock-clad toes towards the other guests.
I was jealous of people who could squat on the floor effortlessly and it was only many years later in Dubai that I learned that my hips were “locked”. A physiotherapist then suggested a couple of hip-muscle unlocking exercises and only then could I finally get down on the floor without getting red in the face.
Recently, when Shri (an honorific in Sanskrit) Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flew down to Bengaluru from New Delhi to lead the party’s fight for supremacy in the deep south of the country, he was accorded a hero’s welcome, with huge billboards welcoming him to India’s Garden City where the opposition, Congress, is in power. He got people rallying behind him but then surprisingly made a social faux pas. During his meeting with Nirmalananda-nath Swamiji of the influential Vokkaliga community, Shah is seen in a photograph pointing his foot in the direction of the head priest while speaking to a party member at his side.
That obviously created an outcry and people pointed to his bad manners and the arrogance of the North (there is a huge North-South divide in the country with their own unique cultural norms and separate languages).
The swami had to come to his rescue, saying that Shah was unaware that he was in the room as he had stepped out earlier.
When Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra, an international star who has starred in the Hollywood movie Baywatch and the TV series Quantico, dropped in to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Berlin, where she was shooting for a movie, it created a ruckus, at least on the social media Twitter, because she was wearing a skirt, and her shapely legs were bare. Huffpost had seven reasons why there was such an outrage and tongue-in-cheek remarked that there is an abundance of patriarchy in India, and that sexism is a pastime in the country.
Indian women are very vocal today and hit back at trolls at any sign of discrimination from the male-dominated society. Priyanka immediately posted a picture with her mother, both wearing short dresses, with the caption: “Legs for days” and a hashtag, #ItsintheGenes.
Just as the British Consulate in Dubai advises citizens on how to behave when abroad, here are a few tips if you are travelling through India on a holiday:
1) No kissing in public (Though a peck on the cheek should be fine)
2) Remove your shoes when entering a temple, a mosque and even someone’s home. (The host might say it’s alright to just walk in with your shoes, but ignore that and leave them at the door)
3) Do not offer food with your left hand (That hand is used for cleaning your unclean parts)
4) Arrive 15 to 30 minutes later than the stated time for a dinner party (This is according to an online portal for diplomats)
5) Never say, “I will try”, that generally means, “No”.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. You can follow him on Twitter @mahmood_saberi.