Ways of greeting in India – “Culture shock reloaded”

Some readers and especially some colleagues told me that they want to read more about my “culture shock” experiences. They want to know more about “Dos and don’ts in India” because my first three experiences weren’t enough.

So let me tell you more about another part of Indian culture which seems to vary significantly from my German habits. It is the way how you greet somebody in India you don’t know yet.

The German approach
German handshake
A firm handshake

In Germany it is easy. You offer your hand for a firm handshake, look your “new friend” straight into the eyes and greet him or her with a nice “Grüß Gott” (a formal greeting in the southern part of Germany). In India things can be different and a little bit tricky.

Being on an exchange nobody would be offended if you greet your host parents the same way. They know that a foreigner is coming and they are familiar with this western kind of greeting ritual. But for greeting your exchange partner’s grandma or the school’s principal another strategy is recommended.

The Indian way

The Indian word to greet somebody respectfully is “Namaste“. This words derives from Sanskrit and can be translated to “I bow to you”.  The right pronouncation of this word can be learned by watching this video. “Namaste” combined with a humble smile is never the wrong choice. If you want to be more formal while being introduced to an important guest or family member you can fold your hand in front your chest while speaking your “Namaste”. But this guesture would be inapropiate e. g. to greet your waiter in a restaurant.

If somemone greets you with “Namaste” just mirror his or her gestures and answere “Namaste” likewise. And if your opposite offers you his/her hand to shake please don’t be too shy to greet in the western way. As mentioned above, a lot of Indians know western habits very well and in the last years I noticed the handshake becoming more common especially between male business partners.

Hugging while greeting
Way too much body contact for a formal Indian greeting!

To make a long story short. Body contact is not as common in India as it is in Europe. And being a German I find my selve often in akward situations when I have to greet somebody and both of us were trying to respect each others culture. Most of the times my handshakes were to firm (not common in India) or I didn’t know what to do with my hands when beeing introduced to somebody (just do nothing). Often my greetings were too formal.

But this is the interesting part of an cultural exchange. To get to know different habits, traditions and to see nobody will be insulted if you try greet him or her with respect.

More about greetings in India

While writing this articles I got the Idea to write more about this topic. So be prepared to read about the way how to greet somebody very respectfully (touching the feet) or about the cultural training we got about greeting habits.

If you want to add your thoughts about the different ways of greeting in Germany or India, please drop a comment.


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