03 Mar 2016 20:31 IST

Change an old Indian habit

Or fail in the 21st Century! Here are some etiquette rules to remember when you travel abroad

Too often, Indians are termed “unclean” in the use of toilets.

It is time to stop admiring our airports like T3 in New Delhi, and help with the upkeep of the facility by the using toilets properly. If you don’t switch from this article at this point, you are committing to be a true global Indian.

First, I want to share my utter admiration for the insightful Rudyard Kipling, whose mind was filled with India decades ago:

Father, Mother, and Me

Sister and Auntie say

All the people like us are We,

And everyone else is They.

And They live over the sea,

While We live over the way,

But — would you believe it?

They look upon We

As only a sort of They!

And today, I find when I coach expatriates on the subject ‘Working with Indians’ that I use “we” and “they” interchangeably while referring to my own fellow Indians. I use ‘we’ about Indians when highlighting our strengths or stating facts and ‘they’ while describing challenges to be overcome.

This perspective is taken with utmost respect for our country. Highlighting the positives, while downplaying, although acknowledging, the negatives, is a must in today’s globalised world.

We vs. They

As Indians who aspire to ‘travel over the sea’, we can figure out how to handle some of these challenges by beginning in our own country.

For instance, the Indian toilet use. ‘We’ consider water to be the ‘clean all’ element. For us, wet means clean. Rural India wakes up to sprinkle water on its front steps, uses the toilet and washes out all areas around it with buckets of water, to flush out the bacteria.

Whereas, ‘they’ think of dry as clean. Water in toilets or spilt on the floor is considered messy. Toilets in the Western world often do not have faucets or taps. Paper replaces water as a means of cleansing. A stop at the washbasin is mandatory and includes washing with soap and water, as that washes off the millions of bacteria that may well be swarming on our palms.

Truth be told, the health faucet or water jets found in toilets today might be the best via media — so long as they do not leak and are well maintained, they will reduce the use of paper and actually cleanse the body well. Then, we must adopt the soap and water routine to wash our hands, shaking off the droplets of water, then wiping dry.

But till then…

But till this becomes the norm, if we use a public Western-style toilet in the many malls springing up in India, at restaurants, at the wonderful T3 Delhi International Airport, and indeed even at our work locations, we simply have to play it by the Western rules of “dry” being clean.

The toilet has to be left the way it is found soon after a thorough cleaning, with no spots or stains in toilet BSFAW — Bowl, Seat, Floor, Around Washbasins.

Let’s put our cell phones away, at least when we flush, and be mentally as well as physically present and attentive. That way, we can run this BSFAW check and leave a clean room behind us.

Tips for baths when travelling abroad

~ Use the shower curtains that hang inside the bathtubs to prevent the floor around from getting wet.

~ Shut shower stalls fully if there is a door.

~ When there is no curtain or door it might be harder but try not to wet the floor; even if it means crouching with a hand shower.

~ Shampooing hair means removing all traces of hair from the bath afterwards.

~ No one but you cleans toilets and baths.

And then, the amazing last verse by Kipling says poignantly:

All good people agree,

And all good people say,

All nice people, like Us, are We

And everyone else is They:

But if you cross over the sea,

Instead of over the way,

You may end by (think of it!) looking on We

As only a sort of They!