Indian Etiquette Guide
Avoid an Indian culture shock by reading up on some etiquette dos and don’ts
You will be unlikely to win a customer over and secure sales in India if you do not take some time to understand the culture of this fascinating and diverse country and behave accordingly. It is easy to cause unnecessary offence through ignorance and while there should be no linguistic barriers – English is the language of business on the sub continent – the cultural environment is very different from the UK.
Here are a few top tips on: meetings etiquette, dress code, conversation taboos, body language, negotiation and eating out. They could prevent embarrassing situations – and hopefully help you forge a warm, profitable and enduring business relationship. However, India is a land of contrasts, with a unique blend of Indian/Western values. People from different parts of society, educational backgrounds and religion may behave differently.
All of these tips, and more, can be found in Doing Business in India, a booklet compiled by Regional Language Network South West. To obtain a copy visit www.rln-southwest.com
- Questions about yourself and family are normal and not seen as intrusive
- Show deference, politeness and respect to older people
- Take time to build relationships as Indians do business with those they know and trust
- Be bold. Risk, pushing boundaries and innovation are encouraged
- Make appointments in advance, confirm one week before arriving and once you are there
- Arrive on time. Indians appreciate punctuality – although they don’t always practice it themselves!
- Allow plenty of time to get to meetings as travelling around can be difficult
- Business wear is conservative for both sexes
- Take plenty of business cards showing your title and qualifications and present them formally
- A smile or a nod may not mean yes
- Don’t point with your finger, whistle or wink
- Avoid public signs of affection – even at an airport or with your partner
- Business meetings start with a handshake – but wait for a woman to offer her hand
- Be patient. Aggressive behaviour is seen as disrespectful
- Concessions are expected in price and terms. Expect them in return
- Be flexible and aim for a win-win deal
- Indians don’t like to say “no”. Instead they will use phrases like “we’ll see”, “I will try” or “possibly” These probably still mean “no”!
- Successful negotiations are often celebrated by a meal
- Ask about the dress code of the restaurant beforehand
- Expect to be invited to wash your hands before and after eating
- Wait to be told where to sit. Guests may be served in a particular order, with the guest of honour served first
- Normally the person who gave the invitation will pay for everyone. Offering to pay will be seen favourably, but expect to be turned down. It is courteous then to invite your host out another time
- Remember: Hindus and Sikhs do not eat beef and many are vegetarians; Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol
- Don’t talk about…politics, sex or poverty. Obviously, never criticise
- Do talk about…your family, food, history, films, hobbies and sport (especially cricket – Indian fans are even “barmier” than the English!)
- British humour doesn’t always travel well…so think twice before making a joke!
This article is supplied courtesy of HSBC Trade Services and is an extract from their “India Supplement for Overseas Trade” used with kind permission.