Described by many as a land of striking contrasts, India is a diverse country made up of awe-inspiring landscapes, varying from the mighty Himalayan ranges to the vast sub-tropical Thar Desert and to the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced and culture-rich cities of Mumbai and Delhi. Not forgetting that it also stands out from the crowd with its wonder of the world, the phenomenally beautiful ivory-white monument, the Taj Mahal. Simultaneously, whilst dazzling the world with these sparkling jewels, this Indian treasure trove also offers plenty of opportunities for international business enterprises, being one of the world’s fastest growing large markets. However, it is important to note that diving head first into any global investment requires research, especially with regards to culture and business etiquette. If a business venture wishes to bear fruit rather than to shrivel and die, it must understand the ins and outs of its target market.
Like colour being an essential part of an artist’s painting, learning a country’s culture should be second nature when conducting international business. Dip your cultural brush here for some colourful tips on business etiquette in India.
The meet and greet showpiece
Shaking hands may be customary in the UK and accepted in India by Westerners, but if you really want to show respect and that you appreciate Indian customs it would be polite to greet your potential clients with the word ‘namaste’ (na-mas-TAY), whilst placing both hands together with a slight bow.
The art of body language
The corporate picture
The arrangement of business dates
Since India is home to an eclectic array of religions, seven to be exact, business is conducted around the multitude of holidays, so if you don’t want to arrive home empty-handed it would be wise to know the Indian holiday calendar (dates varying from year to year).
The Indian concept of business dress
To achieve the pièce de resistance in dress code etiquette, the simplest mantra is ‘Conservative all the way’!
The gift-giving masterpiece
The art of gift giving in India seems to be underlined with religion
Etiquette also requires that you proffer the gift with both hands, as well as not expecting it to be opened in your presence. Even the colour of the wrapping paper needs to be considered as some colours suggest luck (green, red and yellow), whilst others have a more negative connotation (black and white).
‘Portrait of a lady’
India still paints the picture of a particularly male-dominant society, which means that women remain on the backbench when it comes to business negotiations. Promptly establishing your position and title might warrant you a better audience in male company, but be aware that as a woman, you might not be included in conversations or social events.
The canvas of business language
It appears that there is no need to brush up on your Hindi, the official language of India, as most international business is conducted in English. Nevertheless, some English words have hidden meanings in the world of Indian business. It would not be customary for an Indian counterpart to utter a flat out ‘no’ as they see this as offensive and would much rather say ‘no’ by saying ‘we’ll see’ or ‘yes, but it may be difficult’.
These are just a small selection of cultural tips to consider, therefore, if you wish to add a more detailed cultural picture to your collection, it is advisable to carry out more groundwork in order to ensure a smoother international integration.
By Madeline Prusmann, January 2017