Cultural Differences between the US and India

There are many cultural differences between the US and India. Countless, really. And let me tell you, culture clash is a very real thing.


And usually I like to think I’m pretty level headed about cultural differences. Normally I arrive pretty quickly at “this isn’t wrong, it’s just different”.


Culture clash - An example from India.

For example, in East Indian Culture


  • -They use sprayers instead of toilet paper.
  • -Often times toilets are the “squat” variety.
  • -They eat with their hands.
  • -There are cows in the street.
  • -Men often pee in public (though turned away from the crowd).
  • -Married women wear gold jewelry.
  • -Shoes are taken off when entering a home.
  • -Driving is on the left side of the road and done aggressively.
  • -Tea time is strictly followed.
  • -Most food is veg.


And the list could go on and on. I’m totally okay with all of the above. I like to think I’m an adaptable person.


And of course, there is a lot of diversity in India and I’m painting with some broad strokes. You would have to write and read many books to cover all the many customs in India. In fact, if you’re heading to India I highly recommend buying the book Culture Shock! India. It’s available in paperback and kindle versions.



Gift Giving Etiquette


Only one thing has bothered me about Indian culture so far. This past Christmas I realized how much I prize my American customs involving gifts.


We had stayed in one place for several months and had a house helper and a watchman. I love to crochet, btw. In particular, I love to crochet beautiful, colorful, intricate doilies (because I’m an old lady at heart).




So for Christmas I put a lot of time and effort to make a doily for my house helper and our watchman’s wife.


Culture Clash 1:

Indians do not open gifts in front of you. If you present them with a wrapped gift, they will say thank you and put it away for later. This squashes the American love of watching someone open a gift and see their reaction to it.
I truly expected them to open the gift when I gave it to them!


Culture Clash 2:

Not only will they not open a gift in front of you, they will not mention it later. In America, if the gift-giver was not present for the gift-opening the giftee will make a big deal out of it the next time they see the gifter.


Thank you so much! It was beautiful! I love it!


So when they didn’t open the gift I assumed they’d bring it up later. I was wrong.


I don’t pretend to understand the reasons for this in Indian culture and I tried very hard to be rational about it but at the end of the day my American heart took over and I was confused and disappointed.


It’s just one of those culture clashes. I’ll never know if they loved the thing that I put so much work into. I can assume they did. I asked an Indian friend about it later and she laughed and said yes, they would never mention it but they would cherish it in their hearts. I hope so!


Have you ever run into a cultural difference that you had a hard time with?


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  1. That is interesting. I know that we’ve given gifts in other countries and had them not be opened in front of us, but there’s always a mention later. Odd indeed.

  2. The differences in cultures can be very big sometimes and I think the way you say it: it’s not wrong, it’s just different. But I can imagine how it must feel to give people gifts and you’ll never know if they like it or how happy they are with it. In our culture there would be no point of giving gifts if people wouldn’t unwrapped it in front of you! I can imagine you’re having a hard time with it, I would too!

  3. Interesting, you said you would never know if they liked it, but couldn’t you have brought it up or would that have seemed awkward and made the situation worse? One of the cultural differences I’ve had a hard time with over the years and I’ve seen this in many countries is the shooting of snot rockets by people – men and women, as they are walking past you.

    • I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up. I just don’t know enough about the nuances of the culture to know if that would be super awkward or offensive. I was talking to an Indian friend yesterday about this and she laughed and said yes, they would take it home and open it and treasure it but never mention it.

  4. Culture is a very big word and I don’t think it can be generalized by the behaviour of a few. India is country of myriad cultures, every few miles languages, culture, food and everything changes. Also there are different India’s, rural India, Urban India, etc. The diversity of India is something that all may not understand. But I do look forward to a Christmas gift :)

    • Of course, we must be careful to not use anecdotal evidence when labeling a culture. I have spoken about this with a few friends from various parts of India and they confirmed that this is the practice.

  5. I always forget not to open my gifts when I celebrate my birthday with my indian family in Chhattisgarh…

    • This whole thing really surprised me. I think when you go abroad you prepare yourself for many things to different. Clothes, food, religion, etc. But I just didn’t expect gift-giving to be so different!