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Doing business in India

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Helmsley Palace Hotel from New York had a failed advertising campaign in regards to Indian cultural heritage. Their promotion included the slogan "In India it's the Taj Mahal. In New York it's the Helmsley Palace. Service and appointments fit for royalty - you - our guests." Unfortunately, the organisers realised only later that they were actually inviting their guests to enjoy "royal" customer service and conditions in a mausoleum.

  • India's motto is the Sanskrit phrase "Sayameva Jayatet", which means "Truth Alone Triumphs"

  • The official name of India is the Republic of India.

  • Languages: Many languages are spoken and recognised, the official languages being English and Hindi.
  • Capital New Delhi.

  • The population is estimated to 1.2 billion people.

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Business Mentality


  • In India you are likely to encounter two types of companies. The first is a traditional, family-run business, the second being a more modern hi-tech operation working with western business methodology.

  • Being the boss usually means ‘the boss’ in India. As the boss you are expected to ‘play the part.’ Senior managers are not expected to engage in work which could be done by somebody lower down the organisation.

  • Most decisions are made at the top of an organisation and it can be a waste of time negotiating at the middle levels of a company if top level approval has not already been given.

  • Working hours in India usually start from 10am. However, some companies in large cities such as Mumbai are known to start as early as 7.30am. This is an attempt to avoid congestion.

Greetings


  • There is and has been a hierarchical culture in India for a long time. Therefore greeting the eldest or most senior person first is usually most common.

  • Indians consider it important to use a person's title wherever it is possible, titles such as "Doctor" or "Professor" etc. Use courtesy titles such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss” for those without professional titles and wait to be invited to use first names.

The Art of Conversation

  • The official languages are English and Hindi. English is widely used in business, politics and education.

  • Popular welcome topics include politics, cricket, films and, in recent times, Indian Economic Reforms. Take some time to do some preparation on these subjects, as it can be very helpful in building a positive relationship and gaining one's acceptance. It is important to appreciate that India is an ancient and rich civilization, of which most Indians are proud and happy to discuss.
  • Although Indians are tolerant people, avoid discussing religious beliefs. Stay clear of the topic of their country's poverty and the relationship to Pakistan.

  • Indians don't like using the word "no" as it is considered negative. Instead, what is common is to use something more acceptable like "maybe" or even just telling the individual whatever they want to hear. In terms of body language, if they say "yes" to a question while bobbling their head (a mixture between a shake and a nod), that generally signifies "no".

  • Sustained eye contact is not generally the norm, especially for a woman looking at a man.

  • Indians do not generally touch as part of communication.

  • The distance between people is usually 3 feet apart.

  • Standing with your hands on your hips will be interpreted as an angry, aggressive posture.

  • Never point your feet at another person as feet are considered unclean.

  • Do not touch someone else's head, not even to pat the hair of a child. The head is considered the seat of the soul.

Business meetings and meals


  • Normal business dress for men is suit and tie. Since India has a warm climate, often just a full-sleeved shirt with a tie is also acceptable. It is also important to select neutral colours, which are subdued and not very bright. For foreign women, pant-suits or long skirts are appropriate, which cover the knees, are more acceptable to wear.

  • Indians appreciate punctuality but may not reciprocate it. It is advisable to make appointments at least one month in advance and confirm them when arriving in India.

  • Business cards are commonly distributed. There is usually no need to translate part of the business card if it is English as it is widely spoken by many business men and officials in India.

  • Status is determined by age, university degree, caste and profession.

  • It is quite common to carry flowers or even sweets to give to the host as a gift. Gifts are not opened when received, instead the recipient of the gift will put the gift aside and wait till the person who gave it has left.

  • Never give leather as a gift to Hindus, as many are vegetarians and will consider the skin of a dead animal offensive.

  • Always eat with your right hand. In India it is considered inappropriate to eat with your left hand. It is usually considered unclean or quite offensive.

  • Some Indians believe that giving gifts eases the transition into the next life.

  • India experiences six seasons: summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer monsoon, and winter monsoon.

  • The country is one of the largest producers of tea in the world.
     
  • The game of chess originated in India.

  • Snakes and ladders also originated in India.


Did you find this article useful? If so, you might also enjoy our guide to business etiquette in China.

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