India is an amazing country that is full of colors, amazing food, and endless culture. However, in Indian culture there are certain things expected of women that may not be in the United States, such as modest dress and different social expectations. While at first I may have been confused on proper dress and etiquette followed by women in India, I knew that when traveling to a different country, it’s important to be mindful and considerate of your host culture. It may be challenging to adapt to Indian culture as a woman at first, but with time, this can make your experience in the beautiful country even more enjoyable. Here are three tips on how women traveling India can navigate Indian culture.
Wear Modest Clothing
In most of India, it’s important to dress modestly. This means that your legs and shoulders are covered, and that your shirt is solid and long enough to cover below your waist. Most women living in India dress this way, and it will bring less attention to yourself, while being respectful of India’s culture. You even can buy traditional Indian clothing such as Kurtas and Dupattas. The fabric of these garments is generally made for India’s weather, and you’ll be able to experience the culture in a more authentic way.
Communication with Men May Be Different than in the U.S.
When communicating with men in India, things that may seem simple and friendly to you may mean something else in Indian culture. For example, while it may be common to make eye contact and smile at men when passing by America this behavior may come off as flirty in India. That doesn’t mean you have to be rude, but rather you may want to just want to nod your head with a straight face instead. Touching between different genders is also seen as flirtatious. So while you may be used to hugging your male friends back home, that may be taken the wrong way to your male friends in India.
You May Experience Catcalling
Just as women experience in many countries, you may occasionally endure catcalling on the streets of India. You may avoid bringing attention to yourself by dressing modestly or by wearing traditional Indian clothing, but this will not completely prevent catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment. Usually, this can be harmless, but it’s safe to carry a working cellphone with you in case of emergencies, and avoid walking places alone late at night. When being catcalled, the best way to react is to ignore it and to keep walking to your destination.
All of this information may seem overwhelming, but the IFSA-Butler staff does an excellent job of equipping women students traveling India through their programs with all the necessary resources and information. My resident director for The City, The River, The Sacred in Varanasi, India was extremely helpful in assisting us find appropriate clothing, understanding different cultural norms, and figuring out the best ways to be safe in India. If you’re interested in traveling India and want to learn more about the difficulties of doing so, you can reach the program advisor for all IFSA-Butler programs in India, Kerry Springer. She did a wonderful job of making me feel prepared before my trip to India.
Don’t let the challenge of traveling India as a woman keep you away. Though challenging, traveling in India has been extremely rewarding, and these tips have helped me experience the culture in a deeper way while also remaining respectful.
Grace Carson is a Journalism and Political Science major at the University of Denver and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on The City, The River, The Sacred program in Varanasi, India in Fall 2017. She served as an International Correspondent through the IFSA-Butler Work-to-Study Program.