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All About the Aashirwad – How to Know When To Touch Someone’s Feet

touching feet in indiaRemember a few years ago, when Obama met with Emporer Akihito in Japan? Being the culturally sensitive man that Obama is (yes, he even pronounces Pakistan correctly), he took upon himself to bow when meeting the Emperor.  However, there was an immediate frenzy following the meeting saying that Obama “bowed too low” and it was considered offensive.

In India, it’s common for people to touch other people’s feet as a sign of respect and to ask for blessings (aashirwad). For Westerners, this can feel awkward and perhaps you don’t know when you’re supposed to “go in for the dive.” So in order to prevent a how-low-can-you-go situation like Obama, Good Indian Girl will try to explain why you do it, who you do it to, and when to do it.

When you touch a person’s feet you are signaling to them that you respect them. This gesture symbolizes that you are willing to bow down and surrender to their age, wisdom and spirituality. In return, the elder generally places his or her hands on top of your head, blessing you. You might hear your elder say something along the lines of “May God be with you,” which simply means that he or she is praying that you will be free of obstacles and live a happy, healthy, and successful life. Sounds pretty good, right?

Though it can be difficult to judge whose feet to touch, it’s never frowned upon when you touch someone’s feet. If the person whose feet you are touching insists that it is unnecessary, he or she will generally help you up and give you a hug instead. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, parents-in-law, non-shady priests are all fair game. We say just decide who you respect and whose blessing you want, and that should be a good enough compass.

For us, the timing always throws us off.  Do we do it when we enter? When we leave? When they sit down?  Do we do it all the time or just on special occasions? Awwwkward. This really comes down to personal preference.  We know some people who do it every time they see their grandparents, we have some people who do it only on special occassions, and we know some people who don’t do it at all.  Generally, the best time (from our own awkward trial and error experience) to touch feet is when you are entering or leaving an elder’s home, celebrations (birthdays, graduations, festivals, weddings, etc.), or anytime you feel like you generally feel like you have extra some love to give.

It’s really flattering when someone makes the gesture, so even if it feels awkward, the gesture in it of itself is a huge compliment. Have any awkward feet touching stories? Share them with us!

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