Why Westerners Think Indians are Prudish – 27 Jan 11

Indian culture

I mentioned that in the west people have much more hesitation to get close to each other than people here in India. Some readers who have travelled to India and experienced life here, might object and say that in the west men and women are more open with each other and that friends of different gender can more easily hug each other or be close to each other. Of course there is truth in this statement.

I described already that tourists here in India on their first days sometimes have the impression that there are many homosexual people in India. They see boys, friends, who hold hands, hug each other and walk closely arm in arm and think they are gay, because in the west, guys don’t do that. Somehow it is more usual that girls walk arm in arm with each other. Or, naturally, if couples walk like that.

In India, you will never see a couple get close physically outside on the road and not even inside the house, in front of family or friends. Physical contact happens when they are alone with each other. You can walk arm in arm with your friends of the same gender, not with your partner. Western people often see this as frigid or prudish behavior.

There are several more things that strengthen this impression. Whenever we bought tickets here in Kerala, be it for the boat ride for getting around in Cochin, the boat ride in Kanyakumari or entrance tickets for monuments and sights, there were two queues, one for ‘Gents’ and one for ‘Ladies’. The funny thing was that the person selling the tickets was always the same, selling tickets in turn, one to a woman, one to a man. What was really funny to us was, when we wanted to enter the boat in Kanyakumari and they separated us into two lines again in order to distribute the life jackets and go on board. This only led to a medium-size chaos inside the boat where husbands tried to get through to their wives to sit together with them.

The sense of this procedure was however, if I guess right, to protect women from being molested while standing in the queue. In a big crowd, where people press forward and push against each other, women often feel discomfort and are sometimes indecently touched by men who seem to find this in some way entertaining.

So it may be that to westerners, it seems frigid behavior and an unnecessary action to separate men and women in this way, but they may be also happy about it if they once experienced it in another way. However I believe that when people get more educated, this will also not be necessary someday anymore. On the other hand, Kerala is already the state with the highest literacy rate in India. The question of closeness between women and men also has a lot to do with what is rooted in culture. With time and education, this all will change but until then, westerners will keep on seeing Indians as prudish.

(4)

  1. Jatti Martinia

    I like that though. And I do the same with my husband, who is Indian. Our relationship is a possession of our hearts, and we dont need to expose ourselves and our feeling to the world.

  2. Emily

    I have been thinking of this topic lately, and it seems that there are many shades of gray when comparing Western and Indian cultures. The above examples you mentioned show that sexual behavior is not common in public in India, where the opposite may be found in the West.
    Yet, Ayurvedic massages and even yoga postures are displayed in full nudity or very little clothing covering only the genitals… This is not something you would find as common in the West.
    While women in the West can show lots of areas of skin but often not their bellies, women in India must cover their shoulders and legs, but not their bellies.
    While heterosexual males can display affection in India and not the West, homosexual males can display their love in the West and not India.
    Many shades of gray… still trying to figure that one out!!

  3. Mirela

    Neither the Indian nor the Western behaviour outside on the road should be regarded as weird or strange. These are simply cultural differences, caused by society, religion and concepts of partnership and family. There is no better or worse 😉

  4. Tricia

    This is so interesting to read about as it is a cultural thing that I am not accustomed to. But can I just say that I prefer it that way? I’m not a very touchy feels person and actually prefer to keep my hands to myself, and prefer not to be touched…when I went to college however all of my friends challenged this as many were from the culture that gives huge hugs and such…one of my best friends actually is the biggest fan of hugging and giving the biggest hugs and now, although I’m still not s huge fan I’m warming up to the idea…haha

Leave a Comment