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Indonesia: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Melissa Chang |

Indonesia, Regions, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

INDONESIA: FACTS & STATS

 Indonesian Ocean

Location: Southeast Asia, archipelago between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

Capital: Jakarta.Map of Indonesia

Climate: Tropical, generally hot and humid, more moderate in the highlands.

Population: 237,512,352 as per July 2008 estimates. About 17.8% of the population live below poverty line and the country has an unemployment rate of 9.1% as of 2007. Agriculture and industry prop up the Indonesian economy aided by reforms in the financial sector and improved investments. Petroleum and natural gas, textiles, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, wood products, rubber products and tourism are the main industries.

Ethnic Make-up: Javanese 40.6%, Sudanese 15%, Madurese 3.3%, Minangkabau 2.7%, Betawi 2.4%, Bugis 2.4%, Banten 2%, Banjar 1.7%, Others 30%.

Religions: Muslim 86%, Protestant 5.7%, Roman Catholic 3%, Hindu 1.8%, Others including Jews, Buddhists 3.4%. The Constitution grants all citizens the right to worship according to their faith, but restrictions have been applied to some religious activities. The government only recognises 5 major religions and others coming under the unrecognised category and are therefore not protected by law.

Mopeds in IndonesiaLanguage: Bahasa Indonesia, English, Dutch, Javanese and other local dialects.

Government: Republic.

Travel Issues: Nationals of about 62 countries have the facility to obtain a tourist visa on arrival for a period of 30 days at one of the 14 airports and 23 seaports of Indonesia. However these visas may not be converted to another category or extended. All others need to apply for a valid visa at their nearest embassy. All travellers need to possess a passport with at least 6 months validity and documents proving onward or return journey. No vaccinations are mandatory. Travellers from about 11 neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Philippines etc do not require a visa to enter Indonesia but have to enter through stipulated ports. Enquire at your nearest embassy to ascertain your requirements.

Health & Safety: Indonesia is said to pose high risk of infection if precautions are not taken against Hepatitis A and E, typhoid, malaria, dengue fever, avian flu, and diarrhea.

SOCIETY & CULTURE

Children in Indonesia

The People

Indonesia has about 300 ethnic groups each with their own specific cultural patterns and beliefs. A mix of European, Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultural heritages go together to form the Indonesian ethnicity. People of Indonesia are known for their extremely friendly demeanour and welcoming attitudes. However, they have conservative attitudes governing their social behaviour.

The Religion

Indonesia is an Islamic country but is secular in nature. Various faiths are practiced by the citizens without fear. Missionary works have been conducted by North American churches but such activities are restricted in certain areas. The Aceh region is supposed to be an Islamic state and follows religious tenets very strictly.

Role of Family

Indonesians value the extended family structure and draw great support from the interdependent style of living. Families often share the same accommodation or live nearby within minutes of each other. The oldest male is the patriarch and he has the final say in all matters. Women have the traditional role of housekeeping and are the primary caregivers for children. In the cities there is a break away from tradition and nuclear families live in high rises. Women work outside homes but not in any large numbers.

Ancestors

Ancestors are revered and remembered via special prayers and religious rituals during their anniversaries and on special days of the departed. Balinese Hindus believe ancestors to have powers that can protect and help the living members of the family if they are shown ample respect. On the other hand, if ignored, they can turn spiteful and cause destruction and sorrow. Funeral rituals are extremely elaborate and as extravagant as a family can afford.

Recreational Activities

Badminton and tennis are national favourites. Traditional forms of recreation include cockfighting, kite flying, bull racing, and boat racing. Another old favourite is sepak takraw played with a rattan ball. Some forms of martial arts like Pencak silat have avid followers.

Anything else important for this culture

Indonesians have a laid back and relaxed attitude to life and are often taken aback with the hurried lifestyle of westerners. They are a very conservative society and hold fast to religious beliefs. There is a social hierarchy that might not be visible to outsiders, but which nevertheless pays to be followed.

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Meetings & Greetings

Greetings take the form of a low bow that is done at a slow pace to show respect. the more the respect the lower the bow when greeting elders. A limp handshake followed by “Selamat” is also acceptable. Others merit a slight bow or even just placing your right palm over the heart.

Courtesy

Often first meetings revolve around getting to know each other rather than discussing anything serious. The purpose is to avoid loss of face to any one concerned. Loss of face or malu is an Indonesian concept that focuses on avoiding humiliation or embarrassment to any one. The use of passive voice, avoiding direct confrontation, denial, or arguing, and generally beating about the bush rather than coming to the point is all a means of avoiding loss of face. Introductions have to be made starting with the eldest person first.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is an accepted mode of showing appreciation or goodwill. If invited to a home it is good to arrive with a token gift. Avoid buying locally available items that may be everywhere. Souvenirs from your land or a box of fancy chocolates may be ideal.

Dress Code

Indonesia is a very conservative society and it is important to cover up, especially for women. Keep shoulders and knees well covered. It is important to don formal suits for business meeting even in hot humid temperatures.

Dining Etiquette

Dress formally as casual attire may be considered insulting. While at the dining table again wait to be seated. Do not begin to serve or eat till the elders have done so. Avoid alcohol and pork products if dining in mixed company.

Visiting a home

If invited for dinner at a home, it is alright to arrive a few minutes late but do not delay further. Bring a token gift for the hostess. Leave your footwear outside and once inside wait to be invited to be seated.

Communication Style

Though not many people speak English it is surprisingly easy to communicate as far as basic needs are concerned. Indonesians are extremely warm and eager to help foreigners who appear at a loss. Do not attempt direct conversation with the opposite gender unless they initiate it.

Dos and Don’ts

The head is considered sacred, so do not touch anyone on the head. If you do so accidently, apologize profusely. Do not use your left hand to hand over things such as business cards, money, or food. Do not photograph people without permission. Foreigners are not expected to know the nuances of Indonesian behaviour, but if you do your attempts are well appreciated and you earn their respect. Avoid causing embarrassment or loss of face to your counterparts by not raising your voice, loud laughter, and poor jokes.

Kid with hat and rice fields by John Yavuz Can

Birds photo by flydive

Traditional Dance by giuseppeportale_cartorange

2 kids by Victor Velez

Ocean by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten

carving by marc_smith

Food stand by Apple Jia

Moped by simminch

Papua New Guinea: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Oceania, Papua New Guinea, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

Papua New Guinea Festival?
Photo by jurvetson

FACTS & STATS

Location: Oceania, the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia and north of Australia.

papua new guinea mapCapital: Port Moresby.

Climate: Tropical, with rainy seasons from December to March and May to October.

Population: 5,931,769 according to July 2008 estimates. Of the total population about 37% live below the poverty line as per 2002 estimates. Close to 80% are unemployed in the urban areas as of 2004. The economy of Papua New Guinea suffers from a lack of proper exploitation of its rich natural resources. The population, especially in the rural areas, is dependent on agriculture which contributes to about 34% of the economy. Export of precious metals such as gold and copper as well as oil, seafood, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee is another form of revenue for the government. The country also benefits from substantial financial aid from Australia.

port moresbyEthnic Make-up: Melanesian, Papuan, Negrito, Micronesian, Polynesian.

Religions: Christian 96% (including Roman Catholic 27%, Evangelical Lutheran 19.5%, United Church 11.5%, Seventh-Day Adventist 10%, Pentecostal 8.6%, Evangelical Alliance 5.2%, Anglican 3.2%, Baptist 2.5%), Bahai 0.3%, Indigenous faiths 3.5%. The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice all faiths. Missionaries of various denominations freely preach their faiths and convert people.

boys swimming papuaLanguage: Melanesian Pidgin, Motu, and about 820 indigenous languages. English is spoken by about 2%.

Government: Constitutional parliamentary democracy.

Travel Issues: Travelers to Papua New Guinea need to own a passport that is valid for up to a year since date of arrival, a valid visa, documents to prove return or onward travel, and proof of sufficient funds to support their period of stay. It is possible to obtain business and tourist visas for up to 60 days on arrival at Jackson International Airport but this might prove more expensive.

papua volcanoPNG Customs have strict regulations against bringing certain food and animal products into the country. Dairy products, wooden objects, exotic animal products, fruits and vegetables are some of the banned items on a list that includes fire arms, pornography and drugs.

Health & Safety: Travelers to PNG require a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate and need to watch out for outbreaks of cholera and malaria. It would be wise to drink only bottled or boiled water and use it for personal ablutions as well. Eat well cooked food and fruits you have peeled yourself.

Political turmoils are often a cause for concern and it would be a good idea to get a picture of the current situation before setting out. Ethnic violence happens even in the urban cities and can break out unexpectedly. Adhere to curfew times and stay away from trouble spots. Security issues such as pick pocketing, armed robbery, car jacking, and similar petty crimes may happen in peace times too and should be guarded against by dressing casually and not drawing attention to your self.

papua boy in boat?
Photo by JennyHuang

SOCIETY & CULTURE

papua airThe People
PNG has a culture that is a melange of about 800 different varieties all of which still retain vestiges of its ancient elements that go back about 10,000 years. One striking feature that seems relevant to all is their lifestyle which is close to nature and a part of it rather than apart from it. This means there is no exploitation but a sharing that returns to nature a part of what came from it. Boiled food, stone-baked bread, and palm leaf abodes are some instances of this life style.

boys in papua new guineaThe Religion
About 96% of the population of PNG are Christian and include almost all denominations from Roman Catholics to Anglicans. A small percentage practices their indigenous faiths while new faiths such as the Bahai have made their presence felt in the urban areas.

Role of Family
The extended family is the norm, and they live either under the same roof or in clusters in communities. Children consider aunts and uncles as parents, and adults do not differentiate between their offspring and other youngsters in the family. Infertile couples are often given a child by relatives to rear as their own.

papua new guinea marketMost societies are patriarchal with the exception of a few who are traditionally matriarchal. Men take care of heavy work such as construction of houses and boats, clearing land and farming. It is also their responsibility to uphold family and tribal honour for which they often take up arms. Women take care of the home front, children, and domestic animals. In cities, small numbers of women work outside the homes but in restricted fields.

Ancestors
Ancestors are revered, and they follow all rituals such as the Day of the Dead and other relevant anniversaries. Older relatives are taken care of within the extended family structure and it is normally the duty of the female relatives to offer physical care while the males ensure financial help.

papua new guinea tree houseRecreational Activities
With the missionaries came rugby, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. Game hunting is a traditional sport and this is done with sling shots and bows and arrows. Playing cards and stori, which means “sit and talk,” are other strong favourites. Music and dance are enjoyed by all ages and form an integral part of all get togethers.

Anything else important for this culture
A long history of western acculturation has left its mark in the urban population. But such concepts as eating out, buying ready-made clothes, and other forms of consumerism are generally steered clear of by the local people mainly due to prohibitive prices. Traditionally, violence plays a ritualistic part in PNG society when it comes to protecting tribal honour but in recent history this has paved the way for vicious ethnic conflicts powered by deadly modern weapons that cause mass destruction. It is never a good idea to bring this up in conversation.

 Woman at Port Moresby market
Photo by ximenatapia

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Meetings & Greetings
Shaking hands is an acceptable mode of greeting along with a pleasant Yu orait? or Yu stop i orait? (How are you?) to which the typical response would be Mi orait. Na yu? which, of course, means, “I’m fine, and you?” depending on the time of day, your greeting could be Moning (Good Morning), Apinun (Good Afternoon) or Gutnait (Good Night).

png riverCourtesy
When addressing seniors or important people you should use their full title and full name. It is considered correct to address senior citizens as papa and mamma. Once relationships have been established, it is alright to drop formalities and use first names.

Gift Giving
There is no formality attached to gift giving, but it is normal for visitors to drop in with some form of eatables. If you have received some gift, it is considered proper for you to return the favour when you visit.

Dress Code
In the urban scenario it is usual to don suits for business meetings and other formal affairs. Women are expected to dress formally and keep shoulders and knees covered. This is essential if you are to be taken seriously as women are generally considered less competent by the average PNG male.

PNG boat celebrationDining Etiquette
Dining consists mainly of two large meals—Kaikai bilong moning (breakfast) and kaikai bilong apinum (evening meal). In rural areas you may be seated on the floor, be served on large leaves, and eat with your hands. In the city areas you will have dining furniture and cutlery. Food is served by an important member such as the elder, a parent or even the guest. It is normal for guest to eat some food and take the rest with them for others. Second helpings signify that you’re not satisfied and so this should be avoided. If dining at a restaurant do not leave a tip as it is considered insulting. A polite thank you is all that’s expected.

Visiting a home
It is usual for visitors to drop in unannounced and be welcomed warmly. They eat whatever the family is having or just share a smoke and chew tobacco. They might even stay for days and be part of the family for that period of time. However, in the urban areas this style of visiting is rare and guests find it convenient to confirm their time of visits. This may not apply to relatives. It is a good idea to bring a token gift in the form of candy or toys if there are children in the home you’re visiting.

Communication Style
English is spoken by a minority in the cities and so, it would be of immense benefit to you to learn a few basic terms. There are about 800 ethnic languages, and so, this should apply to the area you intend to visit. Locals do not use their local language in the presence of others who may not understand as this is considered rude.

PNG Tribesman
Photo by 710928003

Dos and Don’ts

Carry drinking water with you wherever you go. Ensure you have adequate supplies of malaria and cholera medication. Always take advice from trustworthy sources such as hotel travel desks regarding best places and times to visit. Certain areas are best avoided. Do not take advice from quack tour operators, taxi drivers, and strangers. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid falling for scams. Foreign tourists have been targeted and robbed of valuables and documents by smart operators.

Volcano, swimming photos by tarotastic
Two painted boys, yali tribesman by 710928003
Air bldg by  Global Integrity
Boat festival by jurvetson
Port Moresby photos by ximenatapia

Peru: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Peru, South America, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

snow mountain peru
Photo by Rick McCharles

FACTS & STATS

map of peruLocation: South America, bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.

Capital: Lima.

Climate: Tropical in the east to dry desert weather in the west and temperate to frigid in the Andes.

Population: 29,180,900 as per July 2008 estimates. About 44.5% of the population live below poverty line according to 2006 estimates. A 2007 statistic puts the rate of unemployment in Lima at 6.9% while the rest of the country faces widespread underemployment. Peru’s economy is affected by a lack of modern infrastructure to support investment leading to overdependence on traditional avenues of income such as metals and minerals. However, the period between 2002-06 saw some stability with a growth spurt in 2007. Other than metals and minerals, Peru’s economy depends on exports in agriculture, textiles and newly developed natural gas projects.

peru manEthnic Make-up: Amerindian 45%, Mestizo 37%, White 15%, Others including Black, Japanese, and Chinese 3%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 81%, Other Christian denominations 2.2%, Others including Judaism, Baha’i, Islam, and Hinduism 16%. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and citizens may practise their faiths unrestricted. Evangelisation ministries and charity works are carried out by various Christian denominations all over the country.

Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, other Amazonian languages.

Government: Constitutional Republic

peruvian marketTravel Issues: You require a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining validity to enter Peru. North and South American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and most West European nationals can obtain a visit visa on arrival for up to 90 days stay. You will be given a tourist card which has to be kept safe and returned when you leave the country. It is very important to not lose or misplace this card as it can cause quite a lot of grief if you do so. For a period longer than 90 days for a tourist visa you need to exit the country for at least 2 days, possibly to a neighbouring country such as Chile or Ecuador, and obtain another 90 days validity. You may also renew at the Department of Immigration in Lima or Cusco for a period of 30 days and a maximum of 3 renewals.

Health & Safety: Visitors to Peru need to watch out for and be immunized against high risk of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, cholera, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, Oroya fever and yellow fever. An International Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever is required if you are arriving from an infected region.

machu picchu in fog
photo by kudumomo

SOCIETY & CULTURE

girls with lamas peruThe People
There is a distinct difference between the various cultures, none more so pronounced as the one between the white creoles of Spanish descent who inhabit the cities and the local indigenous people of the mountains. Cities such as Lima have most modern conveniences suited to a western lifestyle while the rural areas continue a more traditional life. Most families are dependent on farming for sustenance.

dancers in peruThe Religion
The population of Peru is predominantly Roman Catholic due to their Spanish colonial history. Other religions such as Buddhism and Baha’I have established themselves due to the influx of migrants from the East. Modern day missionary works have resulted in various Christian denominations such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, and others taking root in Peru society.

lima slumsRole of Family
Family structure is distinct in the indigenous culture and the European people of Peru. Among the Inca people, for instance, social duties such as work, marriage, and property ownership are focussed within the members of a large extended family. They perform as a unit with the onus being on interdependence rather than individuality. Among the European Creole culture, the values are more along the lines of the modern nuclear family living in the cities.

Ancestors
Ancestors are revered and worshipped by all indigenous people. Burial grounds are held as sacred grounds and elaborate rituals are held in remembrance of ancestors. Respect for the dead and all of life is an integral part of their beliefs that are based on the need to assure enqa, or the eternal life force, that ensures fertility and harmony.

ancient peru maskRecreational Activities
Football (Soccer) is a national passion enjoyed by all ages. The dramatic landscape of Peru naturally encourages outdoor sports such as hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, white water rafting, surfing, paragliding, and sandboarding.

Anything else important for this culture
The culture of Peru dates back 10,000 years and is still rooted in it to a large extent. This is a vibrant society that celebrates about 3000 festivals a year and has a huge variety of indigenous arts, crafts, music, and dance. Spanish colonisation and Asian immigrants have added elements to this ancient culture that give it a universal appeal. It is wise to avoid discussing ancestry with people, especially with indigenous Indians.

 schoolgirl in peru
photo by tinou bao

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Meetings & Greetings
Handshakes are an acceptable form of greeting; however, there is a difference when greeting an Amerindian and a Peruvian. The former are less extroverted and may not actually shake hands but rather brush hands with minimum of contact. Peruvians are more exuberant in their greetings and shake hands on meeting and taking leave. The common form of greeting is a cheerful Buenos dias (good day), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good night) depending on time of day. Conversation on first meeting should hover around light, non-controversial topics such as health of family, the sights you’ve enjoyed seeing, or food you liked particularly.

smiling woman in peruCourtesy
In a country that has various cultures there are many local names for the different cultural groups that may have connotations not obvious to the outsider. For instance, the word indios refers to Amerindians but is not considered as polite as indigenas which is the acceptable form. Gringos denote any foreigner and need not be considered an insult. Cholos refers to Peruvians of colour but is racist. To be on the safe side refrain from using any of this sort of descriptions to address people or refer to anyone.

Gift Giving
Peruvians are very friendly hospitable people and have no qualms inviting friends to their homes. If you receive such an invitation, it is acceptable to arrive with a gift. This gift should not be too expensive or flashy. Rather than going for local fare it would be a better idea to gift some souvenir or packaged goodies from your own country.

Dress Code
Dress code hovers around neat casual for business and formal occasions. Show of skin is considered unclassy, especially when visiting churches, museums, and other sacred or historical places.

peruvian train
photo by  exfordy

Dining Etiquette
If you’re invited to dinner, it’s wise to remember that this could be rather late. Have a little snack to prevent hunger pangs till meal time gets underway. If you initiate an invitation to dinner, it is your turn to pick up tabs. If on the other hand you have been invited by a Peruvian friend, you could offer to pay your share but this would inevitably be turned down.

Visiting a home
When visiting a home it is proper to arrive with a suitable gift. This could be a box of chocolates or a good bottle of wine. Punctuality is not a virtue in Peru and people may be late by a better part of an hour. So be prepared to dine late.

 peru town square
photo by 00dann

Communication Style
Spanish is widely spoken and so it would be helpful to learn a bit of useful phrases to get you through. Use greetings to break the ice an start conversations. Peruvians are very friendly and helpful and any effort you make at conversing will be appreciated and encouraged.

Dos and Don’ts
Do not discuss politics, drugs, or indigenous groups unless you have developed close relationships or understand the culture. You are bound to cause offense without even realizing it if not. Amerindians do not make eye contact when communicating unlike the less reserved Peruvians. Do not use your index finger to motion to people, rather use your palm facing downwards and beckon with all fingers sweeping down. Do not discuss money, wages, financial prowess or status with locals. If faced with such questions deflect them diplomatically and talk in general terms.

kids with lamas by Phillie Casablanca
slums by James Preston
map by  thejourney1972
dancers by  Miguel Vera
smiling woman by quinet
market girls tinou bao
mask by
rosemanios

The Importance of Appointing a Power of Attorney When Traveling Overseas

by Corey Brook |

Planning to Go, Travel Health & Safety

flowerAs Christians we know that our souls would be blessed if we were to ever die for Christ’s sake. This, I believe, includes missionary work. Unfortunately, if something were to happen to us while overseas our business affairs would have to be dealt with and failing to appoint a responsible person could lead to conflict and unnecessary and additional heartache among those we love. Death while abroad isn’t the only event which warrants the drafting of a will and appointing a power of attorney. An accident could render us unable to speak for our self. This would then leave us at the mercy of local medical staff that may be unaware of our best wishes. A living will and appointing a power of attorney is then as essential as buying the plane ticket when traveling overseas.

When appointing a power of attorney it is important to choose someone that can be reached, that you trust, and who knows your wishes concerning the type of medical treatment you do or do not want in certain circumstances. Some people want their lives spared at all costs. Some would never want to be hooked up to a vent. With no power of attorney, medical staff will normally assume the person wants all medical intervention.

Just picking a person is not enough. Due to the Privacy Act, U.S. consoler officers may be prohibited to give information concerning the location, health status, problem faced, or welfare of an American to anyone, including family or congressional representatives, without the American’s express consent. This could create problems. This is why written documentation providing permission for the consoler to give information as well as the power of attorney to receive information is very important in case of an emergency situation. To make things nice and legal and to be sure every ‘T’ is crossed, it is advised to seek help from an attorney. One can be found through the Department of State’s website

The U.S. government, through the Department of State, provides ample information for all kinds of emergency situations including death or injury. The Bureau of Consoler Affairs offers assistance to families when a death or injury of an American citizen occurs overseas. They also deal with other emergencies concerning American citizens such as arrests or victimization of crime.

Photo by  cattycamehome

Keeping Yourself Safe from Exotic Diseases with Vaccines

by admin |

Planning to Go, Travel Health & Safety

colored syringes
Photo by ad-vantage

When your mission across the border is finished, it’s nice to come home with stories and a new sense of faith and purpose, not to mention a certain pride for being a part of something so meaningful. It wouldn’t be so nice to come home with a horrible and potentially lethal but preventable disease. Our immune systems and routine vaccination programs are developed to deal with domestic diseases.  When traveling internationally, additional vaccinations are an essential weapon for exotic disease prevention.

Before we get into those additional vaccinations it is important to be up to date with our routine vaccinations.  Just because we have those horrible childhood memories of being mutilated by those mean nurses with their big needles doesn’t necessarily mean we are up to date with our shots.  The recommended vaccines for any given person depend on multiple factors such as age, health status, and medical history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has a questionnaire on their website to determine what routine vaccines a person should have. However, this questionnaire concerns routine vaccinations. International travel requires additional vaccinations. 

The CDC recommends a visit to a doctor for vaccinations 4 – 6 weeks before departure. This is because it takes time for our bodies to develop immunity given by the vaccinations.  Also, some vaccines must be given in a series over days or weeks. The Hepatitis B vaccine is given in a series of 3 shots, the second shot is given one month after the first, and the third is given 6 months after the second.

Yellow Fever Immunization RecordThe only required vaccination for international travel is yellow fever when traveling to certain countries in tropical South America and sub-Saharan Africa. To satisfy this requirement, the yellow fever vaccine must be taken by an authorized clinic. The CDC has a search tool for finding such a clinic on its website. 

The type of vaccine that you should get depends on your destination. (The CDC has a website tool for this too on the destinations page.) For example, when traveling to Columbia, travelers are recommended to have the Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Rabies vaccines which are in addition to their recommended routine vaccination schedule.  The only vaccine included in this Colombian travelers list that shows up in a routine vaccination schedule is the Hepatitis B vaccine for certain individuals. 

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about a number of horrible diseases at home like Yellow Fever or Typhoid.  Abroad, it’s a different story. It is imperative to educate yourself of the potential health threats of a given destination as well as measures available to prevent infection. Good old washing of the hands and bathing are the first line of defense to prevent infections; vaccinations are the next line of defense. Overall, educating yourself will help keep your healthy.

Photo by davebushe

Mexico: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by admin |

Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Mexico, Travel Health & Safety

MEXICO: FACTS & STATS

Mexico Flag
Photo by
Esparta

Location: North America; bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico on the East, Belize and Guatemala on the South, the North Pacific Ocean on the West and the U.S. on the North. 

Capital: Mexico City

Climate: Cold and dry in the North and hot and humid with rainfall in the South.

Mexican RancherPopulation: 108,700,891 according to July 2007 estimate.

Economy: The Mexican economy benefited from trade with the U.S. and Canada since the implementation of NAFTA. The economy is both agriculture and industry based, but modernization is yet to take off. Disparity in income distribution finds about 14% of the population below poverty line. The unemployment rate hovers around 4%. 

Ethnic Make-up: Mestizo 60%, Amerindian 30%, White 9%, Others 1%

Religions: Roman Catholic 76%, Protestant 6%, Unspecified 18%. There is freedom of religion and evangelism is widespread. 

Mexican little girlLanguage: Spanish, Mayan, Nahuatl and others

Government: Multi-party democracy

Travel Issues: Visitors to Mexico require a visa for entry. You need to submit a completed application form along with a valid passport, visa fees, and passport sized photos to the Mexican embassy in your country. 

Health & Safety: Immunization against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Polio, Tetanus, and Diphtheria are recommended. Yellow fever shots are mandatory for those travelling from or transiting through African countries and other South American countries.  

SOCIETY & CULTURE

Mexican Guitar Players
Photo by  shutter.chick

The People: The people are of mixed European and Native American descent. Family bonds are strong and extended families of several generations live together. Mexicans are generally warm, friendly people and quite laid back in their way of life. 

Folklorico DancerThe Religion: Roman Catholicism is the major religion of Mexico. A large number of colourful religious festivals are celebrated with a great deal of pomp and show, with long processions and parades. 

Role of Family: Family values are handed down through generations. Traditionally women looked after the home and children, while men were engaged in farming. It is a way of life for extended families to gather around a large table for lunch and catch up with the latest gossip late into the afternoon. Now many young families migrate in search of a better life, usually to the U.S. 

Ancestors: Mexicans celebrate November 1st as the day of the dead in honour of their ancestors. There is no sorrowful mourning, but rather a celebration where streets and buildings are decorated with flowers. They pray for the souls of the dead and pay respects to their memory by decorating graves and lighting candles. 

Puebla at nightRecreational Activities: Bullfighting is a passion in Mexico. Rodeo events such as charreadas draw huge crowds who participate with exuberance. Soccer (Football) is also a national pastime and is popular with all ages. 

Anything else important for this culture: Mexicans tend to stand close when they talk. If it makes you uncomfortable, take care that you step away discreetly and not precipitately, as this may seem insulting.  

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Mexican Folklorico
Photo by  dave_apple

Meetings & Greetings: A firm handshake is an acknowledged form of greeting for both men and women. Casual conversation sets the tone for further serious discussions. Do not use first names unless invited to do so. Women are greeted with a kiss on the cheek, but do so only if the lady leans her cheek forward for you to do so. Some form of physical contact is inevitable in greeting, as a mere Hello would be interpreted as cold and impersonal. 

Courtesy: Common courtesy includes Please and Thank you at appropriate times. Social meetings are never inflexibly rigid, but tend to be rather casual. The use of titles is very important. Those with a professional title are addressed as such. You can take your cue from the introduction. 

Mexican Candy StandGift Giving: Gifts are tokens of appreciation and should be given when visiting for the first time. A box of chocolate will take care of most situations. Women can be presented flowers or perfumes. It is usual to present a gift to people who have done you a favor. If giving a gift to the opposite gender, indicate your spouse or partner’s role in it. 

Dress Code: Business suits are worn by men for most formal meetings. Extreme hot weather may find them in shirt sleeves and loosened ties. Women wear suits with either skirts or pants. 

Dining Etiquette: There isn’t any particular etiquette to be followed, but good table manners are always appreciated. If you invite someone out, you are expected to pay the bill. Splitting the bill is unheard of. It is the responsibility of the host to order the food after ascertaining the likes and dislikes of the guest. It is customary to linger at the table after the meal, and not leave immediately. 

Colorfule Adobe Mission
Photo by RussBowling

Visiting a home: When visiting a home you could carry a token gift with you. Flowers and chocolate or a bottle of good wine are perfect for any occasion. Exchanging pleasantries will take care of the initial breaking of ice, which may then slip into comfortable camaraderie. 

Children in MexicoCommunication Style: There really is no hard and fast style that can be termed uniquely Mexican. But be prepared for a flamboyant expansiveness and some amount of gesticulations that are considered normal. Resting your hands on your hips when talking is considered aggressive, while having them in your pockets is regarded as rude.

Dos and Don’ts: Petty crime and gang fights are quite common on the streets in certain areas, and it would do you well to be aware of such situations. Do not carry large sums of money on you. Credit card fraud is widespread and so it may be a good idea to pay cash at small outlets and shops. When drawing money from ATMs take care that you’re in a well-lit crowded place.

Rancher photo by wonderlane
Little girl photo by kretyen
Folklorico dancer photo by kretyen
Puebla photo by RussBowling
Candy stand photo by 
sean_mcgee
Kids photo by Jesse Michael Nix

Mission Trip Safety Tips

by admin |

Travel Health & Safety

Danger Sign

Going on a mission trip is exciting for everyone whether traveling together or alone. Often times you will have a mix of veteran missions trip travelers who know more of the ins and outs of staying safe, along with some new people who are going out for their first time. Whether you are going on a long-term or short-term missions trip, there are some safety tips that you should keep in mind.

Follow the Leader

Never underestimate the safety procedures that are given to you by your leaders or agency. If going alone, it is imperative to contact those already on the field for tips and advice. If that isn’t possible, try to find someone from that country who can give you the ins and outs. Once there, always pay attention to trusted nationals. They know their country the best and will know what is or isn’t safe and what is or isn’t culturally appropriate. 

Sudan Soldier

Emergency Plans

Make sure that you and your companions have an emergency plan for different situations, such as needing to evacuate an area in case of unexpected weather conditions, political turmoil, and other emergencies that could arise. It is very important that you know where your local embassy is located and if there are any local areas that should be off limits due to their level of unrest or crime. 

Politics

NEVER attend a political rally or public demonstration. These often end in violence. Besides, it is never a good idea to discuss politics in another country whatsoever if safety is your concern.  Also, never take pictures of military bases, soldiers or policemen, as this is usually illegal and can often result in the confiscation of your camera at the least. You will also want to read up on the laws that govern your mission field so you know ahead of time what should be avoided.

crowded bus in india

Personal Safety

Avoid bringing any jewelry with you on your trip. They are best left at home. Many organizations suggest that you buy an under-the-clothes passport holder to keep your money and documentation on you and out of sight at all times, while also keeping a copy of the documentation in your luggage and where you are staying in case it does get stolen.  They also suggest using a passport cover, so your home country won’t be visible to all, in case being from that country make you a target for thieves or others. Stay in groups or with your hosts while working in the field, and do not accept transportation from strangers.

Food

When it comes to food, follow the advice of your leaders as to what is ok for your to eat. Some foods that are very common to the locals can seem quite strange to you, but might be totally safe.  On the other hand, food that seems normal to you, such as water, milk, or even raw vegatables could be very harmful. Trust your leaders.

Take off Shoes

Do’s and Don’ts 

Be mindful of religious practices and cultural do’s and don’ts for the area that you are visiting or making your new home. For example, in Thailand it is extrememly rude to point your feet at anyone, and you must remove your shoes before entering anyone’s home.  In many parts of Africa it is very offensive to take someone’s photo without asking.  In some countries, a woman is never allowed to touch a man in public, even if they are married. You can find that kind of specific information for many countries here on MissionsLaunch.

Knowledge is power, especially when you are heading out on a missions trip. Being well informed about the area you are visiting is essential to your personal and group safety. But most importantly, listen closely to your leaders and hosts, and follow their decisions in all situations. They are usually very familiar with the area you are going and know all of the possibilities and conditions that could and will arise. 

Photos by Jef Poskanzer, hdptcar, Shayan (USA), alex-s

Afghanistan: Etiquette, customs, facts and vital information

by admin |

Afghanistan, Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Language Acquisition, Travel Health & Safety

AFGHANISTAN: FACTS & STATS Afghanistan Map
Photo by Image Editor

Location: Central Asia, bordering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the North, China in the North-east, Pakistan on the East and South, and Iran in the West

Capital: Kabul

Climate: Extremely hot summers and cold winters with rain and snowfall in the highlands.

Population: 31,889,923 (July 2007 estimate). A series of invasions, war, and drought are main factors in the impoverished state of this country.  The official unemployment rate hovers at 40%. According to 2004 World Bank figures, about 60% of the population are affected by severe poverty. A recent rise in economy is based on agricultural production, a major part of which is opium.

Afghanisan ManEthnic make-up: Pashtun 40%, Tajiks 25%, Hazaras 18%, Uzbecks 6%, Turkmen 3%, Qizilbash 1%, and 7% others.

Religions: Muslims form 99% of the population of which, 84% are Sunni Muslims and 15% are Shiite Muslims. The rest 1% comprises Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews. The Constitution of 2004 under the new government that replaced Taliban rule, states that Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic while granting religious minorities the freedom to practice their faiths within bounds of the law. However, evangelism is illegal and the consequences of conversion for Muslims may include the death penalty.

The language: About 50% of the population speaks Dari, 35% speak Pashto, and 11% speak Turkic. Dari is used for commercial and government transactions. Dari and Pashto employ Arabic alphabets when written.

Government: Islamic Republic headed by the democratically elected President Hamid Karzai.

 Mountains in Herat
Photo by jaxo2

Travel issues: Travel to Afghanistan requires a visa. Your visa application should include the application form, a couple of passport-sized photos, the visa fees, and a letter of support in the case of those working in Afghanistan. These have to be submitted to the Afghan embassy in your country.  Obviously, there is a war going on there right now, so you should also check with your embassy for travel warnings and additional requirements.

BurquaHealth & safety: Anti-malarial shots required for travel to areas below 6,561 feet for travel between April and December. Also recommended for all travelers are shots for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Hepatitis B. Adult travelers who have not had polio vaccine as an adult are recommended to take a one-time booster doze. If you’re traveling from, or through, yellow-fever infected areas in Africa or the Americas, you’re required to take Yellow fever shots. If you may come in direct contact with animals in remote areas without medical access, you need to consider rabies shots. If you’re born after 1956 and not had a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) shot, it is recommended that you get them. It is also recommended that you’ve had a Tetanus-diphtheria shot within the last ten years.

SOCIETY & CULTUREKabul Market
Photo by Olly L

The People: Farming and maintaining livestock are the two main occupations. Both men and women have important roles here. Being a patriarchal society, men do dictate terms, but women, especially in nomadic societies, make important contributions such as weaving carpets, producing dairy products, spinning wool, and even tent making.

The Religion: Religion is an intrinsic way of life and dictates all aspects of lifestyle from food to clothing. 99% of Afghanistan is Muslim. Afghanistan Family

The Role of Family: Strong family ties find families consisting of several generations living together as a household. The oldest male is the patriarch whose word is law. A group of such families form a village which has a religious leader, the Mullah, as the head. Traditionally, village women take care of children and household duties and are considered repositories of culture which they perpetuate through their children. Family honor especially that of women, is to be preserved at all costs.  

Ancestors: Elders and ancestors are accorded considerable amount of respect. Property and wealth are handed down through generations and the oldest living member is the one in control. Older women such as grandmothers are looked up to, especially if they have numerous sons.

Recreational activities: In more peaceful times kite flying and chess were popular recreational activities. In rural areas polo, ghosai—similar to wrestling, and buzkashi, played on horseback with the carcass of a headless calf, were sources of amusements.

ETIQUETTE AND CUSTOMS

Kabul Traffic
Photo by Colleeen Taugher

Meeting and Greeting:  Upon meeting, it is customary for males to embrace one another and then shake hands. Women kiss each other on the cheeks repeatedly on both sides, two or three times. In professional situations women may shake hands, but otherwise it is totally forbidden for men and women to touch each other or even hold eye contact. The traditional greeting in full form is Assalam u Alaikum, to which the reply is, Wa alaikum assalam.

Courtesy: Address people by title rather than first name.  It is common courtesy to initiate any conversation with general questions as to health, work, relatives, even to the extent of enquiring, “How’s everything?” You never enquire about female relatives, wives, sisters, and daughters. Tea will compulsorily be offered, and should be accepted gracefully.

Afghan FoodGift giving: When you’re visiting for the first time, it is customary to bring along a simple gift that is discreetly offered or left behind in an unobtrusive manner. This is normally something edible in the form of sweets or fruits. Gifts are not opened in front of guests.

Dress Code: Both men and women have dress codes that emphasize honor and dignity. Women, especially in rural areas, strictly follow a dress etiquette that covers their whole body. A long, loose robe called the burqa is worn over other clothes to totally hide the female figure. A head scarf or purda is worn to hide the hair and face. Foreign women are exempt from such measures but loose clothes that cover shoulders, arms, knees, and legs, and a head scarf are recommended. Men may wear formal suits.

Dining Etiquette: You will most probably be seated on the floor on carpets, with cushions for support. It is customary to sit cross legged, but if that can’t be achieved, you can sit any way you want as long as your legs are not stretched out and pointing at other people. There is a seating protocol based on seniority, so wait to be assigned a seat. Food is eaten with the right hand, using fingertips to convey small amounts to the mouth, with head lowered. When dining, leave a little food behind when you’ve had enough, or your plate will be refilled.

Afghanistan ChildrenVisiting a home: Always take footwear off before entering living areas. Never enter a room without first announcing your presence with a knock or a cough. If in a group, the elders enter first.  You should wait to be seated as this will be in accordance to your perceived status within the group. The host will never ask you the reason for your visit and it is up to the visitor to bring it up. It is important to remember that during the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Though foreigners are not required to do so, it would be insensitive to eat, drink, smoke, or even chew gum in their presence.

Communication style: In professional circles men and women do interact though under strictly regulated rules. You do not hold eye contact with the opposite gender. In rural areas, you do not even talk directly to the opposite gender. Foreign women may have some lee-way to speak to men, but it is important to avoid eye contact and keep your head lowered while communicating. A head scarf is useful to show your intentions are honorable.

Winter in KabulDos and Don’ts: It is considered decidedly bad taste to talk or laugh out loud in public, especially if you’re a woman. Keep your voice levels down and adopt a non-invasive body language. Keep the soles of your feet out of sight when seated. Muslims pray about five times a day and it is only right that non-Muslims do nothing to cause disruptions. Avoid smoking, joking, or any other trivial activities at these times, especially in front of elders. Though foreigners may not be chastised for such faux-pas, they will certainly be considered dishonorable.

You drive on the right side of the road and you need an International Driving License for this. Avoid or ask for permission before photographing areas next to military installations. Homosexuality is illegal; so is consumption of alcohol. Lone women travelers attract a lot of attention and is best avoided. Areas such as Kandahar are still Taliban strongholds and are best avoided by all travelers.

Man and Family photos by N Creatures
Burqua photo by Barbara Millucci
Food photo by rochelle, et. al.
Kid photo by Goosemountains
Winter photo by TKnoxB

Travel Tip: Healthy Travel

by admin |

Travel, Travel Health & Safety

Crowded TrainNo matter how healthy your lifestyle at home, traveling can be your #1 bane. Your routine immediately becomes non-existent, your menu consists of new and unusual foods, and your stress level has a tendency to blow through the roof. As impossible as it may seem, there are a few really simple ways to keep your body – and your mind – together in one, healthy piece.

Exercise

Travel almost always includes long periods of sitting,  during which your blood circulation can slow and your risk for blood clots increases. This is commonly referred to as “economy class syndrome.” This risk is easily and significantly reduced by standing and stretching every hour or so. If you are flying, just wait for a time when the seat belt sign isn’t lit and the aisle is clear, then stand up and walk around for a minute. If you have room while you are sitting, stretch your calves a bit, and if you have time to spare when you change gates, avoid moving walkways and trams. If you are in a car, make a point to pull over at a rest area or at an exit and do the same thing – walk around for a bit.

Food

Chicken Feet SoupOn the flight there, the airports are teeming with bright signs for McDonalds, Wendy’s, Taco Bell – you name it – but you shouldn’t feel as if your only option is to consume your daily calorie allotment in one meal. It may require some thinking ahead, but pack a meal or two – like sandwich, an apple and some crackers – in your carry-on or in the car with you. Not only is this healthier for your body, but you will feel better than if you had scarfed down a burger, fries, and a 32 oz. soft drink between flights.

Once in the new country, it might be a good idea to have packed some beef jerkey or trail mix for the trip in case there is a lack of protein – or in some cases, any food at all. I once went on a trip to Cameroon where meals were not readily available, and we were too remote to find any supplies.  The snacks I brought were all I had to keep up my energy. I did bring some granola bars, but they all completely melted.  If you are going to a hot culture with no electricity, stay away from anything that could possibly melt.

Water

Bottles of WaterIt’s a great idea to keep a water bottle with you while you are traveling. Dehydration causes your blood to thicken, again increasing the risk of blood clots, and can also intensify the effects of jet lag. Don’t feel like you have to chug a bottle at a time, but rather continually sip throughout the day. Do yourself a favor and avoid caffeine and alcohol also, as they speed up dehydration.  In the new country, it is imperative to keep your body hydrated with water.  In order to keep up your electrolytes, and enhance the taste of the water, it is a great idea to buy flavor packets to add to the bottles. On a recent trip to Africa, many of the team members got very ill, and those electrolyte packets really came in handy.

Please remember to keep enough water with you not only for hydration, but taking medication and brushing your teeth. Tap water in other countries can make some visitors extremely ill. Please check ahead before going if the water is safe for you to drink. 

Germs

I am far from “germaphobic,” but when I travel I am extremely conscious of what I touch, and wash my hands as much as possible. The last thing anyone wants it to end up at their destination with a cold, the flu, or possibly something worse. Carry (and use often) a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but remember to keep it less than 3 oz. and put it a zipper bag. However, please use it discreetly to as not to cause offense to anyone in your new culture.

To further assist my immune system I like to carry a few packets of a powdered vitamin  supplement. If you mix it in a little water in your water bottle and drink it down every so often, you will not only help your natural germ and bacteria defense, but will receive a noticeable boost in energy.  Cold Eeze or Zicam are also great, because you take them right when you are getting a cold, and they help you ward it off.

Sleep

Asleep on the planeBesides the extreme stress of travel and how that affects your body, the changing time zones and jet lag can really push you over the edge and lower your immune system.  Your best bet is to try to get as much sleep as you can, whenever you can.  Some people I have talked to actually start adjusting to the new time zone a week before the trip.  For me, I am too busy packing and getting ready to be that prepared.  However, once on the plane, I try to sleep on a schedule that coordinates with the time zone I am heading to.  I also just try to sleep anytime I can fit it in, because once there, sleep is sometimes hard to have time for with all the early wake-ups and in-country travel. 

Besides these ideas, make sure that if you need to take medication throughout the day that you keep them accessible and that you keep track of the time. This can be especially difficult if you are changing more than a few time zones, so plan ahead.

There is no reason you should have to fall victim to any of the potential health-related set-backs associated with travel. Don’t be paranoid, but always be wisely cautious. The planning ahead you do will pay off not only when you reach your destination, but you will be more likely to enjoy your travel as well.

Train photo by jim snapper
Soup photo by malias
Water photo by shrff14
Sleep photo by huong-lan

India: Etiquette, customs, facts and vital information

by admin |

Asia, Clothing, India, Travel Health & Safety

INDIA FACTS & STATS

Location: South Asia, bordered by Pakistan, Myanmar, and China in the North, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Bay of Bengal in the East, Sri Lanka in the South, and the Arabian Sea in the West.

Capital: New Delhi2-8-2011 3-45-13 PM

Climate: Highly variable depending on region. Hot, dry summers in the North followed by cold, dry winters. The South experiences hot, wet summers with tropical rainfall known as monsoons. The winter months from November to February have warm, humid days and comparatively cooler nights.

Population: 1,129,866,154 according to July 2007 estimates. The Indian economy is set to rise and is counted as the 12th largest in the world. 25% of the population live below the poverty line and this is a whopping figure when seen as a quarter of a billion. Unemployment rate is calculated to be close to 8%.

Ethnic Make-up: There are about 2,000 documented ethnic groups in India. It is a multicultural diversity that defies description.

taj mahal archReligions: Hindus 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, Others including Jews, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis 2%. Being a secular state, there is freedom to practice any religion. There is no present ban on evangelism, though some state governments have begun to note the disruptive forces that cause communal tensions due to conversions.

Language: Hindi is the national language, but there are about 22 other languages also recognized as official at the state and national level. In addition to these, about 200 other languages and their dialects are spoken by large communities of people. English is widely spoken and understood.

Government: Democratic Republic

Travel Issues: You require a valid visa to visit India and this can be obtained from an embassy in your country. You need a valid passport, a completed application form, two passport sized photos, visa fees, and a self-addressed and stamped special delivery envelope

Health & Safety: You need to immunize yourself against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio, Hepatitis B, MMR, Malaria, Tetanus and Diphtheria. If you plan to spend time in rural areas, Japanese encephalitis and rabies are recommended. Take precautions against traveller’s diarrhea contracted when eating from roadside stalls.

 varanasi, india
Varanasi and Taj Mahal photos by  amanderson2

SOCIETY & CULTURE

The People: Indians are generally very traditional, conservative people who are very family-oriented. Religion is a way of life and they hardly begin any activity without first offering prayers. Though one country, the people of various states have distinct modes of culture, language, dress, rituals, food, and even behaviour patterns. Respect for elders is a given and so is tolerance for other religions.

shiva statueThe Religion: The major religion is Hinduism with about 80% followers. It is more a way of life that permeates all aspects of life. There are about 33,000 gods in the pantheon, each having patronage over a distinct aspect of life. They believe in karma and re-incarnation.

Role of Family: Extended families have given way to nuclear families, especially in the cities. However, family bonds are revered and elderly parents are respected and taken care of. In villages, the extended families in large compounds still hold sway, with a patriarchal elder in charge. There is a bias against the girl child, while a yearning for sons to populate the family tree is intrinsic.

India family Jammu
Indian family in Jammu – photo by babasteve
 

Ancestors: There is enormous respect for the dead. Lengthy rituals and ceremonies are conducted for the welfare of the dead. There is a strong belief in re-incarnation depending on the merits acquired in the present life-time. This varies depending on culture, religion and community.

Recreational Activities: In rural areas, there is a range of recreational activities and games that have been handed down by generations. City kids have their playstations, and computer games. Cricket, hockey, football, chess, and tennis and badminton are all popular in that order.

Anything else important for this culture: Generally referred to as a poor third-world country, the wealth of certain strata of society might come as a surprise. Though there is a vast swathe of population that can barely afford one meal a day, there is an upper middle class with affluent life-styles that will not take kindly to being clubbed with the rest.

It is considered fine to be curious about personal details such as marital status, lifestyle, and other things you’d rather not talk about to strangers. Be evasive yet pleasant. Being unmarried might trigger efforts at matchmaking as singleness is considered “pathetic.”

 kids in rickshaw in india
Photo by mckaysavage

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

Meetings & Greetings: The traditional form of greeting involves holding your palms close before your chest while saying Namaste, which roughly translates to: I bow to the divinity in you. Hand shakes are acceptable among both genders in business circles. If a woman decides to do the traditional greeting, go with it.

Always greet and address the senior most person in the group first. Use appropriate title with the family name, rather than the first name. The suffix ji added to a name indicates respect.

Gift Giving: This is big business in India. Gifts are exchanged for the hundreds of festivals and holidays, births, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other occasions. When visiting or invited to dinner, it is customary to take along a suitable gift. This is normally something sweet packaged with aplomb. Gifts are put away and not opened in view of the guests.

You do not gift leather products to Hindus, or alcohol to Muslims.

Women in IndiaDress Code: This is an extremely conservative society, especially so in the northern states. If you were dressed in shorts and an old t-shirt, you would be taken for a poor person who can’t afford full pants. It is important for women to be fully covered. An Indian salwar suit is ideal to beat the weather. The cities are more forgiving and anything decent is acceptable. However, women should still avoid short shorts and mini skirts as harassment on the city streets is quite common. For business meetings, a suit is appropriate. For men, a business suit is mandatory.

Dining Etiquette: Indian food is best enjoyed with your hands, and cutlery may not be provided in most places. However, in upmarket restaurants, cutlery will be provided and you will be expected to use it to keep the upmarket image intact. If eating with your hands, it is important to not sully the entire palm area, but use only the fingertips to convey food to your mouth. Lowering your head may help you achieve this without too much trouble.

 south indian food
Photo by roland

You do not serve beef to Hindus or pork to Muslims. It is best to avoid alcohol in mixed company. Most North Indians are vegetarians and it would be rude to ask for meat when dining with them. Wait for all to be served before commencing to eat; normally in family situations, everybody waits for the elder to begin before they do. You are expected to finish everything on your plate, though some communities leave a small handful to go back to nature.

man in indiaVisiting a home: Visitors are welcomed even if they drop in unexpectedly. They are immediately invited in and made comfortable. You will be offered plenty of food and drink no matter what time of the day, and it is your job to eat what you possibly can. You will literally be treated like a god, according to traditional norms. Leave your footwear outside, even if they say it’s alright not to. Take a gift along for the children in the form of chocolates or candies.

Communication Style: This is a wee bit complicated since Indians almost never say no or contradict outright, as this is considered insulting. So while they may not commit to anything they’re not ready for, they might not tell you directly, giving you the impression that you’re half-way there when you haven’t even started.

Dos and Don’ts: Public display of affection is frowned upon. If you inadvertently touch anyone with your foot, apologize immediately as this is considered insulting. Beachwear is appropriate on the beach, but don’t even walk to your room without a robe or a towel wrapped around you. Getting agitated over delayed trains or bad roads will not get you anywhere as this is a way of life, and not considered an undue cause for inconvenience.

Photo of women in red clothing by Koshyk
Shiva photo by mattjkelley
Indian man with smile by zedzap

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