Cleanliness Requirements of Caste System

In this thread, there`s mention of how some of the habits of Westerners could possibly be considered really gross to Indians. Of course, I am grossed out by some of the habits of some Westerners too, but I would love to know more details about what things we do that we think of as normal and clean that would not be seen as such through foreign eyes.

My understanding from the thread I linked to is that these are specific requirements of the Indian Caste system, so since this is GQ Im more looking for that than I am Well, here in Elretland its polite to wash our knees before lunch , so its gross that you dont.

Heh. I won’t answer much, and leave it to the professionals, but I can say two things - we wipe our butts with our right hand, and we don’t use water but paper.

Now I am pretty Americanized so those things seem normal to me, but I do know that they are gross to Indians. Plus, we eat beef, which is pretty disgusting to people who revere the cow.

I’m really looking for some explanation here. I used to have a co-worker who was from India and nobody – I mean NOBODY – wanted to share a cubicle or office with him because he smelled SO BAD with body odor, as if he slept with a dead animal and never washed. You could tell where he’d been because the odor wafted after him. Does this mean he was from some lower caste? Or just an aberration within the culture?

Personally I would just say he’s ignorant. And disgusting. I mean, I’ve met plenty of smelly non-Indians - I’m a gamer, I should know! - and pot-smokers tend to be a category all to themselves. No offense to pot-smokers, who are generally nice people, but they do seem to eschew bathing a lot…

But I don’t really know about the castes. I’ve been pretty protected from the whole caste thing, growing up in the States. I’m of mixed-caste anyway - my mother married lower - and while my grandmother may have had something to say about it, she passed away before I was born and everyone says she was even kind of untouchables.

Buddy of mine, name of Vishnu, would practically sit on his left hand when he ate. Fairly sure it grossed him out to watch us eating with our left hands. He mumbled something about the left hand being dirty and used for personal hygiene when I asked him about it, but I didn’t press him because he didn’t really seem comfortable talking about it (or anything Indian, really).
He was fairly Americanized and was quite glad to be out of India, hated to visit the place, but that one thing he never did change.

:confused: How would the average Indian know how any given American conducted his or her bathroom habits?

They also have National Geographics

I must have missed the one with the full-color spread of Americans wiping their asses. Was it before or after Outer Mongolia: Land of Yurts and Yaks and Manatees: Cows of the Sea?

Bolding mine.
Surely this is a minor dyslexic attack – everything I’ve been told about people who make a point of using only one hand is that they use their Left hands for this purpose, hence the associations of left with not-so-good ("sinister"0, and the insistence on shaking right hands.

Or have I stumbled on a sub-culture that holds the opposire view of things? I can see potentially fatal misunderstandings with such a group…

See the post above yours: if one uses a given hand for wiping, and no paper, then it’s pretty nasty to use the same hand for eating. At least, that’s my guess.

I’d be curious to know to what extent these cleanliness issues are really hygenic, and how much they involve “ritual” cleanliness. For example, in parts of East and SE Asia, it’s really rude to point the soles of one’s feet at someone, not because one will literally give that person cooties but sort of conceptually you’re directing the lowest and dirtiest part of you toward them.

It’s not dyslexic; you misunderstood: That’s what Aanamika is saying; we use our right hands and that’s what makes us icky. But how would they know?

How would an Indian know if “one uses a given hand for wiping” or, if so, which one?

IOW, it seems odd to me to consider all Americans icky for a habit that you (the observing Indian) don’t actually know any of them practice.

Well, what if the observing Indian saw me eating fried chicken with both hands? That would be a sure bet some ickiness is going down.

And anyway, it’s the left hand for wiping. Everyone knows that. What’s wrong with these Americans eating chicken, corn on the cob, sandwiches, and whatnot whilst not practically sitting on their left hands? Eeeeeeew.

I kind of wondered whether it would be these two.

I mean, my ancestors were called beefeaters, fer pete’s sake! That must have been a hell of a shock for the Indians when the British arrived. ("They eat what?)

It’s not a question of right hand vs left hand. (which Americans don’t discuss much in public, so your poor foreign friend may not know.)
But one thing is obvious to him–Americans don’t restrict themselves to always using only the same hand. Which probably grosses him out.

In Arabic and Indian culture, everybody restricts themselves to the same social standard–the left hand is dirty, and you never use it to shake hands, to pass a business letter to a customer, and certainly not to eat.

And another thing–sitting directly on the floor, “cross-legged” they call it, instead of crouching with feet flat on the floor and knees somewhere around the shoulders. Didn’t their grandmas tell them placing one’s bottom directly on the ground will give them intestinal parasites?

(I’m guessing, pls feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

They wipe with their hands!?! How can that be considered cleaner than using paper? First off, how would someone’s bottom be cleaner when wiping their hands? And second, I would much rather have some trace amounts of fecal matter left on my bottom than on my hands or under my fingernails.

  1. Chappachula’s got it right. It’s not a question of knowing which hand you specifically use for personal hygiene, but seeing that you use both hands for eating.

  2. No, Koxinga, Indians have no problems with sitting on the floor, so long as it’s clean.

  3. Just to be clear, this “purity” rules really only affect very conservative Indians. “Westernized” Indians do whatever the hell they want and are often not burdened with as many purity concerns.

  4. As I noted in the other thread, Hindu vegetarians have very strict rules about being contaminated by meat and meat eaters.

  5. One huge purity concept is the notion of entho. The act of eating itself is a source of impurity. So if you pick up food with your right hand and eat it, your hand is now impure. And now, anything that your hand or your mouth touches are impure, including your plate. And now, anything that touches your plate is impure.

For those who follow the rules of entho, they will not touch any of these things until they have been thoroughly washed with soap. So no sharing of food from one person or another. No touching someone else’s plate. People get majorly grossed out at the idea of eating something that has been on someone else’s entho plate, or worse, has been bitten from.

A couple of generations back, the impurity spread to any chairs or tables being used by the eaters, and also to the whole damn dining room. Traditionally, dining rooms were made of polished stone, so after a meal, they were washed from top to bottom with soap and water and scrubbed in order to remove the impurities (traditionally, in every room there is a drainage hole on the outside wall, allowing an entire room to be washed with water).

for all of those who are asking how Indians know which hand you wipe with, here’ ho it goes.

The majority of people are right-handed, right?
So are Indians.
Indians (and Muslims) deliberately use their left hands to wipe with.
So they try not to eat with their left hands.
They see Americans eat with both hands.
Non-easterners don’t have the same taboo about this, so they simply wipe with their dominant hand.
The thing that comes uppermost in Easterner’s heads is EWW - they are eating with both hands and they don’t differentiate!

Because in Indian bathrooms as soon as you get up and come out of the toilet there is a sink to wash your hands with soap and water. And you don’t just wipe with *bare *hands, there is usually a watering can or something right next to toilet, and they wash. Right then. I’m not getting into any more grisly detail, suffice it to say, this is how it’s done, I’ve done it, and I make no comments about either system except to say - Well, I’m American. And think American.

Oh, and if you put something impure in the refrigerator, then the entire refrigerator and everything in it is now contaminated.

Additionally, many Indians are grossed out by the idea of leftovers. They will not touch food that has been stored, whether refrigerated or not (in fact, a lot of Indians believe that that eating food that has been refrigerated is bad for your health or that refrigeration actually poisons cooked food). As soon as the meal is over and the remains are taken away, those remains are referred to as bashi (“stale”), even if a lot of people might consider them perfectly edible.

My mother was annoyed when relatives who were staying over cooked huge amounts of food every day and wouldn’t touch food left over from the day before. If they absolutely had to eat leftovers or refrigerate food, they had a tendency to recook it.

Once, my mother made a batch of (very yummy) Buffalo-style chicken wings. Next day, my aunt recooked the leftover wings as a curry. It was horrible, but I guess to them it was better than the thought of eating refrigerated food.

A batch of bagels from the grocery – on the day it was bought, no problem, toasted bagels with breakfast, bagel sandwiches at lunch. Next day, the bagels were now “stale” and had to be revivified. My aunt said she had learned a trick to deal with stale bread. She soaked them in water and then microwaved them. So, soggy, lukewarm bagels. Ta-dah!

From an Indian point of view, with paper, you’re not actually cleaning anything. You’re just spreading it around. Cleaning requires the use of water.