Avoid These Faux Pas in North East India

What are some cultural faux pas in North-East India?

Though there’s a tendency to bracket North East India as one region, it has eight highly diverse states with many communities, cultures and lifestyles. Always, remember this point zero about diversity. Other than that, and for whatever it is worth, here’s a general list of things to avoid:

  1. Do not be racist: Most people in the region have mongoloid features. Please note that I use the word ‘most’ and not ‘all’. Remember point zero about diversity? So, do not ask patronizing questions like: “Why do you look different?” Or “Why don’t you look mongoloid?”
  2. Do not question citizenry: Unless you want to attract angry reactions, do not ask patronizing questions like “Do you think of yourself as Chinese (or Myanmarese or Nepalese)?” As an offshoot from point number one about race, this is one of the most insulting questions.
  3. Do not invoke political conversations: Most places in north east India are peaceful and are welcoming for tourists. However, a few people might be sensitive to topics such as insurgencies or AFSPA. As a thumb rule, avoid conversations around these topics, unless in the company of trusted friends.
  4. Do not be a religious jerk: Needless to say, diversity exists in the realm of religion too. In addition to Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam there are indigenous religions / religious beliefs in north east India. Do not ask patronizing questions like: “Why are you a Christian?” Or “Why aren’t you a Christian?”.
  5. Do not alienate food preferences: From the ghost-peppered eromba in Manipur to the near-absence of spices in Mizoram, north east India offers one of the widest spice-spectrum on the culinary menu. In a restaurant, there are options for both meat-lovers and vegetarians. However, if your palette desires something familiar, do not irk your hosts by asking for ‘Indian’ food. Be specific, ask for parathas, dosa, etc. When with strangers, do not ask questions like “do you eat dog meat?” in a patronizing manner. Some eat. Most do not. Remember point zero about diversity?
  6. Do not feign ignorance with alcohol rules: Out of eight, Manipur and Nagaland continue to be prohibition states. So, unless you want to risk legal troubles, do not carry alcohol (to gift to someone) while travelling to these states.
  7. Do not patronize social systems: The cultural landscape in the north east is unique. For instance, in Meghalaya, a man might live with his wife at her parents’ home after their wedding. The youngest daughter takes care of the parents and inherits the family wealth. While this may be the norm in Meghalaya, it is not the case for everyone in north east India. In other places, you may come across some (not all) couples living-in and a formal wedding may only happen after a few years. If you harbour an alternate perspective on love and marriages, keep quiet. Do not patronize local systems and do not use your own moral lens to question lifestyle choices.
  8. Do not raise an alarm when you see people carrying arms: In some areas, hunting may co-exist with agrarian practices. So, you might observe people carrying guns and machetes (daav). Mostly, these are licensed guns and do not represent a threat. Hence, there is no need to be shocked or to raise an alarm. Be calm.
  9. Do not be loud: In the hills, people might frown upon a loud voice and an aggressive tone. Please be mindful of this. On the other hand, people in urban centres of Guwahati or Agartala may not only tolerate it but also be loud themselves. It is contextual.
  10. Do not carry a poker face: People in rural areas, will invariably offer a smile and a warm greeting to strangers. So, drop that poker face. However, this may not happen in crowded cities like Guwahati or Agartala or Imphal. It is best to observe such nuances on the go.
  11. Do not visit anyone’s house empty-handed: When someone invites you home, do not go without a souvenir (howsoever modest that might be). If there are kids in the hosts’ family, take goodies for them. This is more of a good practice than something that might attract arguments.
  12. Do not forget point zero about diversity in the north east India. Its never enough to stress this bit so you do not stereotype people.

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