Indian Culture in a Nutshell, From a Local
Updated: Feb 21
From delicious food to crazy festivals, there are so many amazing parts of Indian culture. Growing up here was incredibly fun, and I didn’t even realize the breadth of my culture until I started talking to my friends who are outside of it. Some of the main things that make India what it is today are: food, religion, fashion, and more.
One of my favorites is food. Known as a country full of intense flavors, there’s a wide variety of what you can find here. From indulgent curries to quick street food, each type represents a different part of India. Each region has its own specific dishes and flavors.
For foreigners, it can sometimes be intimidating to try the different dishes since they are known to be of a strong flavor. Indians love their spicy food – I would say that’s part of the culture in itself. But don’t let this hold you back from trying it! More often than not, people will make it milder if you need, and yogurt and milk are always good options if you do get a dish that’s too much.
People show their love through food. If kids and parents get into a fight, the parent will show their apology through cut fruit rather than words. That translates over to the dishes you will find on the streets and dhabas, which you can learn more about in our other blog, “Where to Eat in New Delhi [From a Local]”. Regardless, when you taste the flavors of India, you’ll get a feeling of what it’s like to be from here.
Fashion is a huge part of how people represent themselves in India. Everyone keeps up with the new trends coming out, so much so that much of the daily wear is beginning to transition to more western clothing. This includes perfume and cologne culture as well. When you go out, people will notice how you look and smell right off the bat – so be sure to make sure you dress up even when you’re going for a quick lunch!
Fun fact, people wear white to funerals and when in mourning, not black. If you’re ever invited to an Indian wedding, avoid wearing white. Traditionally, the bride wears red so it’s best to avoid that as well.
Wedding outfits, for both guests and the party, are much more elevated than those you wear to parties or other events. They are bedazzled in hand-sewn shine and glamor. Some of the most beautiful outfits are found here, and they’re heavy too!
Indian culture is very family oriented. People will prioritize their family above anything else. There’s often a lot of pressure to get married and have a family since it’s so important within the culture. Arranged marriages are also very common, even nowadays! While it can mean you meet the person on the day of your wedding, it usually just means your family or friends introduce you to someone with the thought that it will eventually lead to marriage.
While this seems like an out-of-date idea, Indians see marriage as two families coming together rather than two people coming together, so they have less of a problem allowing their family to help in the process. After all, marriage and family are a pivotal part of Indian culture. I have known of a lot of successful marriages that were arranged. Some of the happiest couples I know!
Like many cultures in Asia, Indian culture is known to be more traditional than other cultures in the west. However, over the years, you’ll see that it has evolved to be more accepting and open, especially in the more urban areas. You can pretty much dress or act how you want, but within reason of course.
If you’re visiting more local or rural areas, they will tend to be more traditional. Be sure to dress more conservatively and act with higher caution.
People Will Stare at You
One thing to note is that regardless of what you wear and how you act, if you look even moderately foreign, people will stare. One time when I was with my aunt and cousin, who are blonde and have blue-eyes, dozens of people came up to them asking them for a picture. While it might seem intimidating, take it as a compliment rather than an insult. People here are so fascinated with western people and culture that they memorialize it when they see it. This is very normal in Indian culture!
About 80% of the population is Hindu, and the remaining 20% believe in various religions including Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and more. As someone who grew up Sikh, I went to the Gurdwara (my place of worship) growing up. It’s open and welcome to anyone and everyone, and they even give free meals 3 times a day for the public. When visiting, be prepared to cover your head when entering a Gurdwara or Hindu Temple (Mandir).
Religion is very prevalent throughout the country. It’s a huge part of what makes up people’s values and beliefs. India has a much higher portion of vegetarians in comparison to other countries, often because of religion. Since Hindus find cows holy, many refrain from eating beef or other meats. People often have small shrines to the gods in their homes, where they can pray when they don’t go into their place of worship.
I highly recommend going to at least one temple or Gurdwara while you are visiting. As long as you are respectful and research before you go, the locals will respect you for being there.
Want to Learn More?
Start your list of recommendations by downloading our app, Locals Insight. It enables users to discover new unique experiences at home and abroad to make lifelong memories. Download it now! (Available on iOS).
If you want to see Trisha’s specific recommendations, find her profile in the Locals Insight app by searching “A One Kathi Rolls”. There’s your first rec right there!
If you want to explore, check out our other resources on India to learn more!