Meditations on south Indian customs

Part of the process of exploring and participating in south Indian culture requires a sense of local customs here. While most of these mannerisms are second nature to locals; south Indians typically retain their sense of customs, even if they live abroad.

1. Neighborhood watch

Buildings in south Indian neighborhoods that have proper garbage disposal
You can tell which areas have better garbage disposals

Most uptown neighborhoods in South India have garbage disposal rules. For example, it’s a common requirement that you should pack and seal your garbage bags, before handing it to the garbage collecting vehicles. Retired members of the neighborhood volunteer to ensure people follows these rules. Residents tend to be fear them as they are known to go on wild power trips. They may become highly critical of your garbage packing skills if your diligence fails. These garbage-Nazis are usually well connected to the local gossip circuit too.

Street banter between two friends in south India
Street banter

It’s common for people in south India to speak English in its colonial form. Informal British expressions like I say, Bugger, Bloody Hell, Bogs and Man are part of their local dialects. Rural speech, though, is forthright, in the sense that people use subtle hints to express their feelings. The ability to read such hints is an important social skill in south India.

3. Thoughtfulness

There's no age too early or too late for showing respect
There’s no age too early or too late for showing respect

People in south India are careful not to offend others and their respect comes through in the way they speak. Every local dialect includes respectful names to address strangers and older family members. Names in south India usually follow with a suffix like Anna (big brother) for men and Akka (big sister) for women.

4. Apparel

Baby wearing an ethnic dress
No age is too young for ethnic wear either

If not everyday, people in south India wear traditional apparel during festivals and cultural activities. Rules to wear traditional clothing is unwritten but expected. Beyond that, most young south Indians choose ethnic attires at weddings. At these occasions, it’s very easy to feel under dressed in a sea of kanjeevaram silks and gold jewelry.

5. Leaves

Palm leaves made into bowl and plates to eat from
Palm leaves saves on plastic and makes eating all the more fun

While dining, people use banana and palm leaves for serving or wrapping food, everyday in rural areas and occasionally in cities. Wiping the leaves clean before eating and tearing off the damaged parts is all part of the fuss here. People serve food on plates and bowls made from leaves too – which cuts down on plastic and paper at feasts and weddings.

6. Philter coffee?

Coffee in south India in a steel glass
Potion of love, culture and instant mood life

Traditionally, people serve coffee hot unless the city bistros and cafes offer cold coffee variants. While traveling across the Deccan plateau, tea and coffee shops sell filter-coffee ground from locally grown coffee beans. Any south Indian home will have a reserve of coffee powder to serve guests and their family. Cooling decanted coffee in a steel bowl before drinking it from a steel glass is customary and fun too.

7. Compliments for the cook

South Indian Dosa
Hearty meal

Complementing food in South India needn’t always be a polite phase. Asking for a second helping and not wasting food is sure to impress people in south India.

8. Presents

Festivals are an excuse to exchange presents and love
Festivals are an excuse to exchange presents and love

Spoiler alert: south Indian gifts are usually boxes of fruits, sweets and fabrics. Relatives, neighbors and colleagues exchange such presents at festivals or while making happy announcements.

9. Work culture

Employee in an office in south India
Working and waiting to get going

Event if employees in south India finish their work; they tend to stay late in the office if their team or their boss is working late. Most people wait for their boss to go home or feel uncomfortable being the first one to leave.


Click here to continue to part 2

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    1. Sometimes a pat on the back supports you to work harder- even more so when I’m writing in English which is my third language!
      Today, your words are reassuring me and my work.

      I can’t thank you enough for taking time out from your travels to read my articles💓

      You’re too kind, Mabel. Thank you so much again and here’s a pat on your back for the amazing work that you do across Europe too!


      1. Dear Alisha, only love and hugs for you for the fantastic person you are and for your hard work. It’s my pleasure that I came across your blog and it’s informative contents and can’t but pat your back and congratulate you😍
        I too come from close to your part of the world (Mangalore) and English was my third language too when I was in school. So don’t you worry about languages, if I have learnt anything in life it’s that language itself is not knowledge!
        Also, it’s wonderful to know in detail a few things that I have already seen and experienced in South India❤️
        Thank you for appreciating my blog too. I’m just trying to document my expat living here in Europe.
        Lots of love😍😘

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much for sharing an important lesson for everybody who is writing in a language which is not their own. I am happy that you are speaking in a genuine voice, dear Mabel, inspiring me to keep my blog as genuine as possible too.

        I wish you the very best with your work and I’m eager to know more about the present tense in Europe through your eyes! Here’s to documenting, writing and sharing a typical west meats eat moment with each other.

        Much love and good wishes ❤️❤️

        Liked by 1 person

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