Minding your manners in India – Part 2 Minding your manners in India – Part 2

Minding your manners in India – Part 2
06 Mar 2018

In the second part of our three-part series on business etiquette in India, we explore relationship-building issues such as how best to go about making small talk without offending anyone, how to dress appropriately and how to negotiate effectively – every time:

Hierarchical social relations

Due to British occupation during the days of the Raj, Indians are accustomed to old-school British hierarchical customs, which means that people operate with a higher degree of formality than in the West. For example, it is normal to use “Sir” or “Madam” when talking to your superior. It is also recommended to use last names together with academic or other titles when meeting someone for the first time.

Hinduism and its ancient caste system have likewise served to create a culture that emphasises hierarchical relationships. Indians are quite conscious of social order and their status relative to other people, whether they are family, friends or strangers.

Every relationship has a well-defined hierarchy that must be observed if social order is to be maintained. For example, teachers are called “gurus” and are viewed as a source of all knowledge. The patriarch, usually the father, is considered head of the family. The boss is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in the business world.

But Indians also have a strong sense of community, which means that interpersonal relationships are seen as critical in business dealings. Given the country’s large population, in which several generations of families may still be found living under one roof, there is likewise a noticeable lack of privacy, and requirements for personal space are lower.

Business attire

The normal business attire for men is a button-down shirt, trousers and a jacket and tie depending on the formality of the meeting or the industry – for instance, suits are more prevalent in the banking and professional sectors, but in the IT industry, it is common to find employees wearing T-shirts and jeans with sneakers.

Because India has a warm climate, it is acceptable for men to wear just a long-sleeved shirt and to forego jackets and ties during the summer months. While it is also common for Indian males to wear kurta pajama, Western executives would be advised to don light summer suits – a silk and light wool mix is best – and absorbent cotton rather than silk shirts.

The business dress code for women, meanwhile, has changed a lot over recent years. In the past, most would wear traditional clothes such as the salwar kameez (long tunic and loose trousers) or simple saris to the office. But now women often wear trouser-suits or a blouse and skirt instead. Jeans and a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt are also acceptable as casual wear in informal situations.

If invited to a social gathering, it is acceptable to dress in casual Western fashion. But it is appreciated and often seen as a gesture of friendship or keenness to understand Indian culture, if a foreigner opts to wear traditional dress. If invited to an event such as a wedding, formal attire is recommended.

Making conversation

It is not uncommon for Indian people to ask questions that may be seen as overly personal or intrusive. Discussing family and personal life is normal here and enquiring about another person’s family is seen as a sign of friendliness and interest.

There are many topics of conversation that Indians find engaging, ranging from politics and cricket to films and, of late, the country’s economic reforms and growth.

Bollywood, India’s film industry, produces the largest number of films (between 800 and 1,000) per year in the world. The country has more than 13,000 cinemas and many people also watch the latest movies on TV or via live streaming as smartphone usage grows. Like cricket players, film stars are considered national icons and are the subject of a lot of discussion and gossip.

India’s vast diversity means that its people are generally very tolerant and accepting of religious and cultural difference. Given that religious practices and rituals play a major role in local life, a genuine inquiry into a certain religious practice will normally be met with an enthusiastic response.

The country’s relationship with its neighbour, Pakistan, on the other hand, has not historically been an amiable one. Some educated Indians view this as a failure on the part of politicians on both sides, but the majority of people tend to be biased, emotional and one-sided about the topic. In general, it is advisable to avoid it.

Another hard-to-ignore consideration is the country’s large divide between rich and poor. It is common to find wealthy, extravagant homes standing next to sprawling slums. Because many people are proud of India’s economic growth over recent decades, they can be sensitive and defensive about this poverty.

Negotiating a deal

In India, there are as many salespeople as buyers - the average Indian businessperson has a lot of experience in “wheeling and dealing”, which means it is important to be patient during the negotiating process. Decision-making is slow and final decisions are typically reached by whichever individual has the most authority. Delays are frequent and to be expected, especially when dealing with government figures.

 

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.

 

 

In the second part of our three-part series on business etiquette in India, we explore relationship-building issues such as how best to go about making small talk without offending anyone, how to dress appropriately and how to negotiate effectively – every time:

Hierarchical social relations

Due to British occupation during the days of the Raj, Indians are accustomed to old-school British hierarchical customs, which means that people operate with a higher degree of formality than in the West. For example, it is normal to use “Sir” or “Madam” when talking to your superior. It is also recommended to use last names together with academic or other titles when meeting someone for the first time.

Hinduism and its ancient caste system have likewise served to create a culture that emphasises hierarchical relationships. Indians are quite conscious of social order and their status relative to other people, whether they are family, friends or strangers.

Every relationship has a well-defined hierarchy that must be observed if social order is to be maintained. For example, teachers are called “gurus” and are viewed as a source of all knowledge. The patriarch, usually the father, is considered head of the family. The boss is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in the business world.

But Indians also have a strong sense of community, which means that interpersonal relationships are seen as critical in business dealings. Given the country’s large population, in which several generations of families may still be found living under one roof, there is likewise a noticeable lack of privacy, and requirements for personal space are lower.

Business attire

The normal business attire for men is a button-down shirt, trousers and a jacket and tie depending on the formality of the meeting or the industry – for instance, suits are more prevalent in the banking and professional sectors, but in the IT industry, it is common to find employees wearing T-shirts and jeans with sneakers.

Because India has a warm climate, it is acceptable for men to wear just a long-sleeved shirt and to forego jackets and ties during the summer months. While it is also common for Indian males to wear kurta pajama, Western executives would be advised to don light summer suits – a silk and light wool mix is best – and absorbent cotton rather than silk shirts.

The business dress code for women, meanwhile, has changed a lot over recent years. In the past, most would wear traditional clothes such as the salwar kameez (long tunic and loose trousers) or simple saris to the office. But now women often wear trouser-suits or a blouse and skirt instead. Jeans and a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt are also acceptable as casual wear in informal situations.

If invited to a social gathering, it is acceptable to dress in casual Western fashion. But it is appreciated and often seen as a gesture of friendship or keenness to understand Indian culture, if a foreigner opts to wear traditional dress. If invited to an event such as a wedding, formal attire is recommended.

Making conversation

It is not uncommon for Indian people to ask questions that may be seen as overly personal or intrusive. Discussing family and personal life is normal here and enquiring about another person’s family is seen as a sign of friendliness and interest.

There are many topics of conversation that Indians find engaging, ranging from politics and cricket to films and, of late, the country’s economic reforms and growth.

Bollywood, India’s film industry, produces the largest number of films (between 800 and 1,000) per year in the world. The country has more than 13,000 cinemas and many people also watch the latest movies on TV or via live streaming as smartphone usage grows. Like cricket players, film stars are considered national icons and are the subject of a lot of discussion and gossip.

India’s vast diversity means that its people are generally very tolerant and accepting of religious and cultural difference. Given that religious practices and rituals play a major role in local life, a genuine inquiry into a certain religious practice will normally be met with an enthusiastic response.

The country’s relationship with its neighbour, Pakistan, on the other hand, has not historically been an amiable one. Some educated Indians view this as a failure on the part of politicians on both sides, but the majority of people tend to be biased, emotional and one-sided about the topic. In general, it is advisable to avoid it.

Another hard-to-ignore consideration is the country’s large divide between rich and poor. It is common to find wealthy, extravagant homes standing next to sprawling slums. Because many people are proud of India’s economic growth over recent decades, they can be sensitive and defensive about this poverty.

Negotiating a deal

In India, there are as many salespeople as buyers - the average Indian businessperson has a lot of experience in “wheeling and dealing”, which means it is important to be patient during the negotiating process. Decision-making is slow and final decisions are typically reached by whichever individual has the most authority. Delays are frequent and to be expected, especially when dealing with government figures.

 

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.