Cross Cultural Etiquette-India
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Cross Cultural Etiquette-India

Cross cultural etiquette is an important aspect of international business in the modern age. This article explores the etiquette one must keep in mind while visiting India.

As businesses continue to go global, the need to understand and accept the global audience increases. For the business to grow successfully and penetrate an overseas market, it is necessary to learn, respect and appreciate the cultural differences. Culturally diverse people need to come together and work towards a common goal. To make this interaction smooth and frictionless, businesses need to train their work force on cross cultural etiquette.

India is a culturally rich and diverse country. Having a sound knowledge of the cultural etiquette and mannerisms followed here boosts the business. Also, due to the cultural similarities, having a good knowledge on Indian etiquettes helps you understand Asian cultures and people in general.

The Indian climate is hot and humid and not much pleasant during summer. Take this into regard before finalizing a trip to India either for business or for pleasure. It is advisable to plan all your business meetings well in advance and have the Indian counterparts informed on the same. Ideally avoid business meetings around the Indian holidays.

The Indian states have their own official languages. Although, the Indian Constitution recognizes 22 languages as the official languages of India, Hindi is the most widely language used for official purposes. However, English is considered as the language of international trade and commerce when doing business in India. Generally, it is a safe bet to use English in business environment.

There are certain gestures to bear in mind while meeting your Indian counterparts. Make sure not to bring up any taboo topics like poverty, illiteracy, religion, politics etc.


Acceptable Social Mannerisms

•    While Meeting and Greeting:

>> When you meet your Indian counterparts, exchange your business cards at the beginning of the meeting. Take care to offer your card with your right hand. Using the left hand is considered disrespectful and unclean.

>> You may shake hands during formal meetings; however, greeting each other with a "Namaste" (na-mas-TAY) is lot more appreciated, particularly, in informal environment. While greeting with a Namaste bring your palms together at the chest level with a slight bow of the head.

>> Men shake hands with each other when they meet. However, men do not shake hands with or touch women. Traditional Indian women may shake hands with foreign women but not usually with men.

>> Take care to use the appropriate formal title (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Doctor, Professor) and then his or her surname (the family name) when you address an Indian. It is also acceptable to address as Sir or Madam.

>> Indians, in general, do not appreciate dealing with each other on first name basis.


•    While Interacting Socially:

>> Public displays of affection are considered indecent.

>> Use your right hand only to touch someone, pass money or exchange merchandise. The left hand is considered unclean.

>> Never point with a single finger or two fingers. Point with your whole hand or thumb.

>> Indian men may involve in friendly back patting simply as a sign of friendship. However, do not try this on the women.

>> Swearing and use of slang words are not appreciated in social gatherings.


•    While Dining Together:

>> Footwear is considered unclean and is not used inside the Indian households. Preferably leave your footwear at the entrance of the house; else let the host guide you.

>> Indians love to welcome their guests with flowers. Accept it gracefully.

>> It is a traditional practice for the host to serve food to the guests. Allow the host to do so.

>> The Indian host feels responsible for the guests and wants them to enjoy their meal. Do not out rightly refuse a second serving as this might give an impression that you are not enjoying the food and hospitality. Instead take a small serving.

>> Indians love to have their food with their fingers. If your host eats with fingers, you must do the same. However, if the host provides cutlery, you may use them instead of eating with fingers.

>> Most Indians being Hindu consider cow as sacred and do not eat beef. Similarly, pork is generally avoided as it is considered unclean. While dining with Indians, it is usually a safe bet to stick to seafood and chicken.


•    While Exchanging Gifts:

>> If invited for an informal dinner, carry gifts for the host. You may buy perfumes, chocolates or items of china, etc. Do not gift leather or alcoholic products.

>> Present the gifts sincerely with both hands.

>> If you receive any gift from an Indian, accept it but do not open it in his presence.


Acceptable Corporate Mannerisms

•    Dress Code

>> Men should be formally dressed in suits, tie and shoes for business meetings. Informal business meetings can be attended in short-sleeved shirts, blazers and long pants.

>> Women should be conservatively dressed for business meetings. Formal dresses and pantsuits are a good choice. Women should not dress in a revealing fashion in formal as well as informal meetings.


•    Business and Meeting Conduct

>> Indians tend to use intuition, feeling and faith to guide them in their business decisions instead of relying entirely upon statistics, empirical data and presentations. Do not lose patience or express frustration.

>> Age and social hierarchy are essential factors to establish the importance of people in India. In social and family circle, the elderly are respected and looked upon highly. However, in government and in business organizations, hierarchy and positions of power are given more importance.

>> Start the business meetings by greeting the most senior Indian person present first.

>> Carrying out business successfully in India requires building relationships. Indians prefer to work with people whom they can trust.

>> Meetings may not always necessarily start sharp on time. Do not be discouraged immediately if the meeting gets rescheduled.

>> Meetings may start with some small talks as a part of opening up process.

>> Decisions making, in India, is often centralized at the highest levels of hierarchy. Hence the decision making or negotiation process is slow. Do not try to hasten up the process.

>> Eventually when a trustworthy relationship is developed, you may be invited to the homes too as a goodwill gesture. Take care not to bluntly refuse an invitation to an informal dinner. However, if you do not wish to attend or cannot attend it for some reason, give a believable excuse.


Helpful Hints

  • Indians find it difficult to negate or reject anything. If they are in doubt about something, they may not be direct about it. Saying “No” out rightly is considered indecent. Instead they may say, “I will try”, “We will think about it” etc. Consider this as a polite “No”.
  • Ask for permission before smoking in someone’s presence. Indians perceive smoking in the presence of elders as rude and immodest.
  • Cordial respect is of utmost importance in the Indian society. Duly apologize if your feet or shoes touch another person.

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Comments (8)

I love to be an Indian and glad to meet you here. voted up and spread the word, keep writing.

Excellent presentation. hope to visit Indian one of these days.

Thanks a lot Deepa and Daniel..... Please do visit India....its an experience in itself and am sure you will fall in love with the country....

Being a Indian I found this very interesting to read. I am glad you have hit many of the cultural etiquettes dead on! Just a small correction, Indian government recognizes 22 languages as the official languages of India but the main languages are Hindi and English.

Thanks a lot Ebey.... Point noted and necessary modifications done....

What a great article! I could almost see myself back in India (little village of Sagar Nagar in Andrea Pradesh) as I read your list of cross-cultural ediquette. I loved India and hope to one day go back. The group I was with taught us a few of these things about proper etiquette for the 6 weeks we were there. One thing that struck me that I was not prepared for though was my first ride in an (electric) rickshaw from the airport to the village. Oh my! People walking in the middle of the streets, cows walking wherever, busses terribly overloaded with people hanging out the open doors, very few cars other than white taxis and everyone seemed to drive with one hand and their other hand was on the horn. Ha! I never did figure out the road system. Good thing I did not drive. I loved reading this article and believe it is of the utmost importance to know, and respectfully observe, the culture of the country you are matter how long you are there or for what reason. Will be back to vote this up but have already buzzed/promoted it. Thank you for sharing with us.


Interesting DeviPriya. Voted up. Hope to have your friendship and support.