Indian etiquette

Posted on February 21, 2014


In the last two months I have managed to be in four different continents (America, Europe, Africa and now Asia).

I am in India, my ancestral home. I feel happy here, a lot of my childhood upbringing was steeped in Indian tradition and it makes me feel connected to the billions of people who live here. Although I have zero Hindi my Gujarati knowledge is helping in the lingo department. I’m by no means fluent, but it’s amazing what throwing odd words into a sentence will do.

My intention to travel like mad this year is coming together but with so many air flights it means that I’m taking indirect routes to save on cash. My journey over was taxing to say the least. I had to travel via Doha and my connecting flight was a 2.20am.

What I have to laugh about is that etiquette can be so polarised depending on your cultural upbringing. When you’re crammed into a tin cylinder for six hours, flying at 35,000 feet, you notice things. Indians have a certain je ne sais quoi about them, which sometimes can be misconstrued for extremely bad manners especially if you’re from Europe, but of course in India that kinda behaviour is the norm.

On the flight to Doha a young India man sat behind me clad in a tight black leather jacket, skinny stonewash jeans, high top trainers and a full-on handle bar moustache was hawking up phlegm, burping, farting and making some extraordinary noises out of every orifice. When the evening meal was served he took the paneer option (paneer looks like tofu and is a fatty Indian cheese and in this instance was curried).

How do I know he took paneer I hear you ask? Well after the meal trays were collected, I could still smell paneer rather strongly except it smelt off. A bit like sick. When I reclined my chair backwards, my nostrils began to curl and I was forced to bolt back upright. Yes my man had spilt his entire dinner all over the floor. There were tissues, plastic wrappings and god knows what else strewn everywhere. And to my surprise Mr Messy was more than happy to sit in squalor while thumping the back of my chair to every beat in a Bollywood soundtrack. Thankfully the stewardess did eventually ask him to move so she could bleach the carpet. A piece of advice, always travel with a scarf or pashmina saturated in your favourite scent – it saved me!

Doha airport was rammed. The bus journey to the terminal took 15mins, I am not joking. At one point I thought we were being driven to Delhi. Inside the building it’s not much of an improvement to when I last came through about six years ago, but at least less people were sprawled out over the floor.

The queue to board began an hour before departure. I decided to wait until the last minute before joining the line. Expect there was no order, only disorder with people hovering and then pushing in. Most oblivious that a line of people denotes the people in front of you go first. Once on board the flight I fought my way past those loitering in the aisles for no good reason and those insisting on shoving a suitcase too big into a space too small. I arrived at my seat and had a Goldilocks moment. There in my chair was a man.

In fact the the row of four seats contained an entire family, as I soon found out.

“Please my husband, you sit,” gestured the wife looking doe-eyed and motioning with her hands. I glanced at her, then the husband and the two little chubby boys.

“Oh bloody hell,” I thought “This is gonna be a bad idea.”
I didn’t have the heart to say no, but I would have liked to be asked first rather than being turfed out before I’d even sat down. When I checked in online I specifically moved my seat from a middle one to an aisle one. Now what was the ticket roulette going to give to me?

Bingo a middle seat not only sandwiched between two grumpy men who proceeded to point both their elbows into my seat space, but the row behind me had to have a shouting match for the next four hours. Not content with talking to his neighbour, one man stood up and shouted at his friend three rows back as though it was the most normal way to talk at friggin’ 3am in the morning. My hoodie went up, eye mask went on and scarf carefully wrapped around my ears to block out the live commentary. My body language said it all.

At baggage collection the circus continued. Everyone is huddled around the belt even women who are not picking up their bags because their husbands are doing that, are there watching with their beady eyes. They are of course supervising them so there’s not a chance they’ll make way for you. Sharpen those elbows if you expect to get a place. Also do not expect that if someone is wheeling a trolley with luggage towards you that they intend to avoid hitting you. Oh no, your ankles are fair game as I found out. Do not expect an apology, you’re not in Europe anymore – welcome to India.

Posted in: India