Any layman on the road wants to talk something with you. They love talking. That is talking a lot even with a total stranger on the street. Such communications hardly starts with introducing each other by name. The starting topic is generally a subject of popular interest. They can talk for hours as if they are long time friends. At the end they may depart even without knowing each other’s name!
To a foreigner the first question is invariably about his country. Everyone is licensed to ask anyone on the street the latest cricket score! Probably this explains the high sound levels in public places.
It’s a patient but emotionally sensitive race. Personal attachments and intimacies are valued. They are notorious for asking personal questions. This may not be with any malicious intend. They socialize and ‘come closer’ by sharing personal information. It typically range from where they live, where are they going, what business they do…. and the list is endless. Never get embarrassed if a total stranger standing next to you in a queue ask such blunt questions. The fun is that if you are not asking such questions back you’ll be regarded as impolite or rude. In Indian customs this is a bit of insult to the initiator.
Not looking at your face when answering is not a sign of impoliteness. Eye contact in face-to-face communication is much less compared to the western practice. The funniest fact is that you will attract a lot of stare when you are not talking to them. This is more so in a rural or a small town setup.
English is the de facto communication language for government and business communications. A business traveler faces much less or no trouble at all in speaking in English as compared to the tourist. India has the second largest English speaking population after the US. But majority of this is in the professional, academic or business community. As a regular tourist you may not encounter them in any direct sense.
Your concern is the English knowledge of a taxi driver, a counter clerk or a layman at the bus stop. But you’ll be able to manage in public with English. Almost every Indian language uses a good amount of English vocabulary. What this means is people may not understand the sentence but they can pickup the key words.
Even the English spoken in India has its own style. The accent is distinctively different. Each and every letter in the word is pronounced distinctively. You’ll be addressed ‘Yes Madam’ (d not silent!). They don’t bother much about it .
The worst is the structure of the sentences. They try to translate and speak verbatim as spoken in the local language. The infamous “You are from which place madam?” is a perplexing question for a novice listener. Almost everyone at the street (read as taxi drivers and vendors) knows to count in English. Speak to them in English without grammar!
Culturally there is no “NO” in India. An evading answer is equivalent to NO. Never use the word NO if you don’t want to harshly deny something. “I just had a tea” is the polished way of saying NO to a tea offer than a polite “No. Thank you”. Never deny an invitation by saying that “I Won’t be able to join”. “I’ll try to come” almost means, “don’t wait for me,” told in a polite way.
In written communication also the NO is not usually communicated unless it is very formal. A long silence from the other end can be treated as a negative answer.
The name India is short and crisp. Hiding in that short name is a giant and diverse country.