A Reddit thread by foreigners asking for advice before they travelled to India threw up some pretty interesting things.
There is no point in outraging over and dramaticizing the ignorance foreigners often show about Indian customs. Many of their concerns are real. If you travelled to Africa, you would be apprehensive about local threats and opportunities too. And would you enforce stereotypes? Of course you would. Foreigners are harassed for money and molested and misled in India. As they would be in any third world nation.
Having said that, they are also embraced with warmth in our small towns and cities and allowed access to our homes and welcomed to our meals.
There are certain stereotypes they help carry to their respective countries, and some they realise are a product of Western media.
This is the advice foreign tourists truly need to make India their home for the duration of their stay.
For those wisely suggesting travelers should carry their own toilet paper, all major cities and even some minor ones have supermarkets where toilet paper rolls are easily available. Local grocery stores stock up on toilet paper rolls these days. Carry a roll in your suitcase for emergencies if you absolutely have to.
Truth be told, India is teeming with slums and the poor often camp by the roadside. Sometimes children from shanties will follow you around for money. If you want to invite yourself to mealtime of a family you know, just to get a feel of the real and gritty India, think if this is the only sumptuous meal of the day for them. Often it is, and 8 out of 10 times an Indian will invite you to have a bite with them, regardless of who will go hungry that night. We are a proud and hospitable race.
A Yoga guru or a gym trainer who wants to meet you after hours to show you an India that you've not seen yet. Yes, nothing can go wrong with that. DON'T DO IT. The real India is right before you, read up on our history and visit the places that will add to your knowledge and experience. Don't hobnob with the shady kind, have a nightmarish experience and spoil your stay here.
Sorry to disappoint you, but the entire country is not a huge Hindi film set where you run into Shah Rukh Khan romancing Aishwarya Rai. Films are shot, yes, in film studios by professionals who know what they are doing and cordon off the area during a shoot in a public place. There are security personnel present who can whisk you off so fast your head will spin. You need to know someone in Bollywood to land a role in Bollywood.
Whoever told you to stay away from locals probably had a horrible experience with one. Of course the locals would want to make a few bucks off you and see you as a walking ATM, but that does not mean Indians are a dishonest lot on the whole. They'll help you if you are stranded, if you do not talk the language, if you need help finding your way back to your hotel, but you need to know whom to trust. Make all your enquiries at the hotel you are staying in. Mingle with the locals but know how and when to protect yourself from exploitation.
You can either read up and ask curious questions about local customs that people will patiently explain to you or walk all over them with arrogance and stupidity. Size up people and ask them questions they'll be eager to answer. They will save you a blush.
The temptation to photograph the holy man standing on his head may be too much. Or the woman with the huge nose ring putting out chilies to dry. However much you want to update your Facebook and Twitter profiles, respect the personal space of the locals. Ask before you take a photo. Everyone values their privacy.
If you have the urge to go sightseeing on your own disregarding warnings from your local guide, do it at your own risk. Or at least after you learn an Indian language.
There are several reputed cab services, take them, instead of winging it alone on an auto in the middle of night. Chances are that nothing major will happen, but why tempt fate?
India is as safe as any country in the world, if you know the boundaries and customs.