Minding your manners in India – Part 1 Minding your manners in India – Part 1

Minding your manners in India – Part 1
23 Feb 2018

India is a land of cultural diversity. It has one of the oldest civilizations in the world and is a complicated mixture of old and new traditions from both West and East.

The vivacity of its large cities, the variety of its people, the mêlée of sounds, the richness of colours and smells and the unpredictable nature of day-to-day life – they all define India. But if you plan to do business with or in the country, it is important to try and understand the astonishing richness of this vibrant culture.

Given India’s complexity, it is also essential to avoid generic assumptions about how business is conducted here. Regionalism, individual industries and peoples are all factors that must be taken into account. This means that it may be necessary to modify your behaviour and approach depending on with whom you are working.

In this first of a three-part series on business etiquette in India, we explore how to greet, and communicate with, Indian colleagues and what their major public holidays are.

Making business appointments

India’s constitution designates both Hindi (written in the Devanagari script) and English as the country’s official languages, but English is used as the business tongue. All middle class Indians speak English and many other workers can communicate at a basic level too. A further 22 recognised regional languages are also spoken in the country.

The time format in India is expressed in the British manner: day, month, year. So August 15, 2009 is written as 15 August 2009 or 15/08/09. The business calendar year is from April to March, and there are multiple holidays throughout the year that vary according to region and religion.

Email is the preferred and easiest method for setting up meetings. Indian names are comprised of a given name and family name in a similar style to those in the West, but it is possible to infer both class and religion from them.

It is common to use “Mr” or “Ms” in initial communications, but once contact has been established, formality levels decrease. In any initial communication, be sure to provide a clear overview of yourself, your role and a brief description of the organisation you represent.

When visiting the company’s office, it is also prudent to detail what you would like to discuss during your meeting – such courtesy is appreciated, among other reasons, because of the long time it usually takes to travel across India’s cities. If you are setting up a lunch or dinner meeting, it is also advisable to check if the guests are vegetarian or prefer Indian or Western food.

It is likewise worth bearing in mind that meetings tend to start a few minutes late and will be subject to various interruptions, which should not be considered as a sign of disrespect.

To foreigners, Indian culture can come across as having a slow and informal pace, which includes business dealings. Many Indians believe that schedules should be flexible in order to accommodate different people’s timetables. This means it is advisable to build time into your schedule for unexpected delays such as traffic or meetings running late.

Furthermore, if you visit government officials, be prepared to wait. Also be aware that Muslim colleagues may take small breaks during meetings to say their prayers.

In India, unlike some East Asian countries, you can be straightforward about what you would like to achieve from the meeting. The idea of “losing face” does not arise and Indian colleagues will appreciate you being clear and forthright. In other words, be specific about what you are looking for and carry documents to back it up. Also set clear timelines and monitor all deliverables.

Greetings

The traditional Indian greeting is the “Namaste”, which you do with hands pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointed upwards in front of the chest with a slight nod or bow of the head.

In a business setting, it is customary to shake a male colleague’s hand. Shaking hands with women is less common and it is advisable to wait for them to take the initiative here. In the absence of a handshake, you can do a Namaste. It is very common for people, especially those younger than you, to call you “Sir” or “Madam” out of respect.

Many foreigners are perplexed by the non-verbal signal that many Indians make of shaking their head from side to side. It appears to be a combination of a verbal yes and no. In India, this gesture is a visual way to communicate to someone that they understand what you are saying or that they agree with you.

Major religions and holidays

India is composed of a multitude of coexisting (although not always peaceably) religions. The dominant belief system is Hinduism, but significant numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Jews and Christians also live in the country.

Religion is a key aspect of life and must be respected to maintain successful business relationships. Despite the elimination of the traditional Hindu caste system, caste-ist attitudes still remain and aspects of the system still influence the hierarchical structure of business practices today.

Holidays come in all shapes and sizes and vary based on religion and region. As there are a significant number of them, before scheduling appointments it is important to check online first to avoid time conflicts. The three largest national holidays in India are:

January 26: Republic Day

August 15: Independence Day

October 2: Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday)

Below is a list of additional government-approved holidays for 2018:

February 13: Maha Shivaratri

March 2: Holi

March 25: Ram Navami

March 29: Mahavir Jayanti

March 30: Good Friday

April 29: Buddha Purmima

June 15: Eid-ul-Fitr

August 22: Eid-ul-Adha

September 10: Muharram

October 19: Dussehra

November 7: Diwali

November 21: Eid-e-Milad

November 23: Guru Nanak’s Birthday

December 25: Christmas Day

Please note that a number of these holidays occur over weekends including: Mahavir Jayanti; Eid-ul-Zuha; Dussehra; Muharram; Guru Nanak’s birthday and Eid-e-Milad.

The notion of Karma - that everything happens for a reason – runs through many of these festivals and is a significant feature of Indian culture and decision-making.

Islam and Eid ul-Fitr in India

Islam is India’s second most practiced religion after Hinduism. More than 14.2% of the country’s total population (over 172 million as per the 2011 census) identify themselves as Muslims, making them the third largest Islamic population outside of Indonesia and Pakistan.

Eid ul-Fitr (Eid) is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan. Eid means “festivity” in Arabic, while Fitr means “to break fast.” Celebrated on the first day of Shawwal, the Eid ul-Fitr celebration lasts for three days.

In India, the night before Eid is called Chand Raat, which means “night of the moon.” People often visit shops and malls with their families for last minute Eid shopping. Women also generally paint their hands with traditional “henna” and wear colourful bangles.

During Eid, the customary greeting is “Eid Mubarak” and frequently includes a formal embrace. Gifts are given – new clothes are traditional – and it is also common for children to be given small amounts of money (Eidi) by their elders. Children usually greet their parents and adult relatives by saying “salam” (peace) and after the Eid prayers, most families visit graveyards and pray for the salvation of departed family members.

Diwali

Known as the Festival of Lights, this national holiday typically occurs between the end of September and end of November. In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom, Ayodhya, after defeating the demon king, Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the epic story of Ramayana. It also celebrates the slaying of the demon king, Narakasura, by Lord Krishna.

Both stories signify the victory of good over evil. In some ways, with its colour, noise and firecrackers the holiday could be described as an Indian version of the Chinese New Year. It takes place when the country is cooling down after its long hot summer and monsoon seasons.

To celebrate the event, people light small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil within themselves. They also wear new clothes and share sweets and other snacks with one another.

Some Indian businesses start their financial year by opening new accounting books on the first day of Diwali to encourage good luck during the year ahead.

 

First published by India Briefing.

Since its establishment in 1992, Dezan Shira & Associates has been guiding foreign clients through Asia’s complex regulatory environment and assisting them with all aspects of legal, accounting, tax, internal control, HR, payroll and audit matters. As a full-service consultancy with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India and ASEAN, we are your reliable partner for business expansion in this region and beyond. For inquiries, please email usat info@dezshira.com. Further information about the firm can be found at: www.dezshira.com.

India is a land of cultural diversity. It has one of the oldest civilizations in the world and is a complicated mixture of old and new traditions from both West and East.

The vivacity of its large cities, the variety of its people, the mêlée of sounds, the richness of colours and smells and the unpredictable nature of day-to-day life – they all define India. But if you plan to do business with or in the country, it is important to try and understand the astonishing richness of this vibrant culture.

Given India’s complexity, it is also essential to avoid generic assumptions about how business is conducted here. Regionalism, individual industries and peoples are all factors that must be taken into account. This means that it may be necessary to modify your behaviour and approach depending on with whom you are working.

In this first of a three-part series on business etiquette in India, we explore how to greet, and communicate with, Indian colleagues and what their major public holidays are.

Making business appointments

India’s constitution designates both Hindi (written in the Devanagari script) and English as the country’s official languages, but English is used as the business tongue. All middle class Indians speak English and many other workers can communicate at a basic level too. A further 22 recognised regional languages are also spoken in the country.

The time format in India is expressed in the British manner: day, month, year. So August 15, 2009 is written as 15 August 2009 or 15/08/09. The business calendar year is from April to March, and there are multiple holidays throughout the year that vary according to region and religion.

Email is the preferred and easiest method for setting up meetings. Indian names are comprised of a given name and family name in a similar style to those in the West, but it is possible to infer both class and religion from them.

It is common to use “Mr” or “Ms” in initial communications, but once contact has been established, formality levels decrease. In any initial communication, be sure to provide a clear overview of yourself, your role and a brief description of the organisation you represent.

When visiting the company’s office, it is also prudent to detail what you would like to discuss during your meeting – such courtesy is appreciated, among other reasons, because of the long time it usually takes to travel across India’s cities. If you are setting up a lunch or dinner meeting, it is also advisable to check if the guests are vegetarian or prefer Indian or Western food.

It is likewise worth bearing in mind that meetings tend to start a few minutes late and will be subject to various interruptions, which should not be considered as a sign of disrespect.

To foreigners, Indian culture can come across as having a slow and informal pace, which includes business dealings. Many Indians believe that schedules should be flexible in order to accommodate different people’s timetables. This means it is advisable to build time into your schedule for unexpected delays such as traffic or meetings running late.

Furthermore, if you visit government officials, be prepared to wait. Also be aware that Muslim colleagues may take small breaks during meetings to say their prayers.

In India, unlike some East Asian countries, you can be straightforward about what you would like to achieve from the meeting. The idea of “losing face” does not arise and Indian colleagues will appreciate you being clear and forthright. In other words, be specific about what you are looking for and carry documents to back it up. Also set clear timelines and monitor all deliverables.

Greetings

The traditional Indian greeting is the “Namaste”, which you do with hands pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointed upwards in front of the chest with a slight nod or bow of the head.

In a business setting, it is customary to shake a male colleague’s hand. Shaking hands with women is less common and it is advisable to wait for them to take the initiative here. In the absence of a handshake, you can do a Namaste. It is very common for people, especially those younger than you, to call you “Sir” or “Madam” out of respect.

Many foreigners are perplexed by the non-verbal signal that many Indians make of shaking their head from side to side. It appears to be a combination of a verbal yes and no. In India, this gesture is a visual way to communicate to someone that they understand what you are saying or that they agree with you.

Major religions and holidays

India is composed of a multitude of coexisting (although not always peaceably) religions. The dominant belief system is Hinduism, but significant numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Jews and Christians also live in the country.

Religion is a key aspect of life and must be respected to maintain successful business relationships. Despite the elimination of the traditional Hindu caste system, caste-ist attitudes still remain and aspects of the system still influence the hierarchical structure of business practices today.

Holidays come in all shapes and sizes and vary based on religion and region. As there are a significant number of them, before scheduling appointments it is important to check online first to avoid time conflicts. The three largest national holidays in India are:

January 26: Republic Day

August 15: Independence Day

October 2: Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday)

Below is a list of additional government-approved holidays for 2018:

February 13: Maha Shivaratri

March 2: Holi

March 25: Ram Navami

March 29: Mahavir Jayanti

March 30: Good Friday

April 29: Buddha Purmima

June 15: Eid-ul-Fitr

August 22: Eid-ul-Adha

September 10: Muharram

October 19: Dussehra

November 7: Diwali

November 21: Eid-e-Milad

November 23: Guru Nanak’s Birthday

December 25: Christmas Day

Please note that a number of these holidays occur over weekends including: Mahavir Jayanti; Eid-ul-Zuha; Dussehra; Muharram; Guru Nanak’s birthday and Eid-e-Milad.

The notion of Karma - that everything happens for a reason – runs through many of these festivals and is a significant feature of Indian culture and decision-making.

Islam and Eid ul-Fitr in India

Islam is India’s second most practiced religion after Hinduism. More than 14.2% of the country’s total population (over 172 million as per the 2011 census) identify themselves as Muslims, making them the third largest Islamic population outside of Indonesia and Pakistan.

Eid ul-Fitr (Eid) is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan. Eid means “festivity” in Arabic, while Fitr means “to break fast.” Celebrated on the first day of Shawwal, the Eid ul-Fitr celebration lasts for three days.

In India, the night before Eid is called Chand Raat, which means “night of the moon.” People often visit shops and malls with their families for last minute Eid shopping. Women also generally paint their hands with traditional “henna” and wear colourful bangles.

During Eid, the customary greeting is “Eid Mubarak” and frequently includes a formal embrace. Gifts are given – new clothes are traditional – and it is also common for children to be given small amounts of money (Eidi) by their elders. Children usually greet their parents and adult relatives by saying “salam” (peace) and after the Eid prayers, most families visit graveyards and pray for the salvation of departed family members.

Diwali

Known as the Festival of Lights, this national holiday typically occurs between the end of September and end of November. In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom, Ayodhya, after defeating the demon king, Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the epic story of Ramayana. It also celebrates the slaying of the demon king, Narakasura, by Lord Krishna.

Both stories signify the victory of good over evil. In some ways, with its colour, noise and firecrackers the holiday could be described as an Indian version of the Chinese New Year. It takes place when the country is cooling down after its long hot summer and monsoon seasons.

To celebrate the event, people light small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil within themselves. They also wear new clothes and share sweets and other snacks with one another.

Some Indian businesses start their financial year by opening new accounting books on the first day of Diwali to encourage good luck during the year ahead.

 

First published by India Briefing.

Since its establishment in 1992, Dezan Shira & Associates has been guiding foreign clients through Asia’s complex regulatory environment and assisting them with all aspects of legal, accounting, tax, internal control, HR, payroll and audit matters. As a full-service consultancy with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India and ASEAN, we are your reliable partner for business expansion in this region and beyond. For inquiries, please email usat info@dezshira.com. Further information about the firm can be found at: www.dezshira.com.