Conversation is considered an “art form” here; people will put a lot of time and effort into a discussion. This does not mean, however, that it should be overdone.
Indians tend to be enthusiastic about discussing politics and religion. They enjoy opinionated conversations and don’t necessarily want to hear only bland pleasantries from a foreign guest. Nevertheless, refrain from tackling these controversial subjects unless you are well-informed.
As long as you know what you’re talking about, you can air dissenting opinions freely. Otherwise, it will be in your best interests to remain silent, especially if the subject is India.
Indians of all ethnic groups disapprove of public displays of affection between people of the opposite sex. Refrain from greeting people with hugs or kisses. This includes most non westernized Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.
The traditional Indian greeting is the “namaste.” To perform the “namaste”, hold the palms of your hands together (as if praying) below the chin, nod or bow slightly, and say “namaste” (nah-mas-tay). This greeting is useful for foreigners in any circumstance in which a handshake might not be appropriate.
To beckon someone, you hold your hand out, palm downward, and make a scooping motion with the fingers. Beckoning someone with the palm up and wagging one finger, as in the United States, will often be perceived as an insult.
Pointing with your finger is considered rude, Indians prefer to point with their chin.
Feet are considered unclean, so never point your feet at another person. You will be expected to apologize whenever your shoes or feet touch another person.
Indians appreciate punctuality even though they may not always practice it themselves. Keep your schedule flexible enough for last-minute rescheduling of meetings.
The hierarchical nature of Indian society demands that the boss is recognized as the highest individual in authority.
When establishing business contacts, aim for those in the highest position of authority since decisions are made only at this level.
Although they usually do not make decisions, middle managers do have some influence. A middle manager on your side can forward your proposal. Often, they are more accessible and are usually willing to meet at any time of the day.
In Indian business culture, perceptions of the truth tend to be guided by feelings; a strong faith in religious ideologies is also common.
The caste system remains one of the most important influences in Indian society. Although technically there is equality under the law, inequality between the castes is an accepted reality of Indian life.
Since the word “no” has harsh implications in India, evasive answers are considered more polite. For example, if you have to decline an invitation, it’s more acceptable to give a vague and noncommittal answer such as “I’ll try” or “We’ll see” rather than “No, I can’t.”
Business in India is highly personal. It is also conducted at a much more leisurely pace than in the United States.
Hospitality is an intrinsic part of doing business in India; most business discussions will not begin until tea is served and there has been some preliminary “small talk.”
Talking about your friends and family is an important part of establishing a relationship with those involved in the negotiating process.
Expect Indian negotiators to be highly skilled and often looking for a ‘bargain’.
It will be in your best interests to mask any hostile feelings with a smile.
Welcome Topics of Conversation
- Indian traditions, culture, architecture as well as that of other countries
- Families, friends and other interesting people
- Food is very important and they enjoy discussing their traditional fare
- Cricket and other sports
- Religion and general politics (if you know what you are talking about)
Conversation to Avoid
- Personal matters or anything that might be considered overly intrusive
- India’s military spending and specific politics
- Poverty or foreign aid in India
- Negative comments about their culture in general
- Anything about India that you may have some hostile feelings towards
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