How to do business in India
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India’s professional landscape has changed drastically in the
last two decades due in part to the technology boom, the film industry,
and tourism. Though the decision-making process for many businesses has
sped up, traditional in-person meetings, networking events, and taking
the time to develop relationships continue to boast higher levels of success.
Doing business in India now, or planning to in the near future? Consider
India has the second largest population, with the second largest labor
Educated Indians have strong opinions regarding politics and socioeconomic
climates in India. They enjoy debating multiple topics regarding their
country. When entering into such a discussion, be sure to have an open
mind and steer clear of criticisms regarding faith, politics, poverty,
and the caste system.
India has one of the fastest growing IT markets in the world; the second
largest mobile phone users in the world, and the third largest Internet
users in the world. Other major industries include agriculture, textiles,
telecommunications, chemicals, food processing, steel, transport equipment,
cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, and software.
Hindi is the most widely spoken language and English is used for business
and political communications. However, India has 14 official languages.
India is famous for its religious diversity; Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam,
Christianity, and Jainism are the nation's major religions. Hinduism,
Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are native to India.
India is a hierarchical society. Even though the official caste system
was repealed, castes still influence the politics and business.
Leave your leather behind! Don’t forget that many in India are Hindu
and consider cows to be sacred. Wearing leather belts or shoes is considered
offensive to them.
India has a long history with an intermingling of various dynamic cultures.
Nowadays, India’s economic growth has produced the fastest and most significant
socioeconomic changes to their traditions. However, they still retain
their conservative values, and these are different from standards in the
United States. You must prepare for these cultural and social differences
before pursuing business relationships in India.
- Managers usually give direct and specific instructions to their subordinates
or assistants. Subordinates are expected to follow the instructions
- A handshake is acceptable in a business setting, but not common between
opposite genders. The traditional greeting “Namaste” is used for various
meetings. To perform the Namaste, put your palms together in front of
your chest and bow slightly.
- Titles are important. Always call people by professional titles.
Do not call them by their first names.
- Never touch the head of an Indian person; it is believed that the
head stores the soul.
- Pointing or wagging one finger is rude. If you want to point at something,
use your chin.
- Do not wrap presents in black or white and do not give money in even
numbers. All of these things are considered bad luck.
- Major decisions are made at executive levels. Try to contact a higher
level directly. Middle managers may not be decision makers, but they
are an excellent route to have your proposal heard or to reach the executive
level decision makers. Having a middle manager on your side will increase
the likelihood of getting a meeting.
- Be prompt, but be patient if your Indian counterpart is late. Also,
you should be flexible if your Indian business partner reschedules a
meeting at the last minute.
- Indians will meet at any time of the day and will even request to
meet at night.
- Indians respect and value the use of technology in presentations.
They are also likely to contact a counterpart using multiple communication
tools, wireless devices, or telecom tools.
- Local time is ten and a half hours ahead of U.S. EST; the best time
for a business meeting is between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Indians do
not conduct business during religious holidays, and the dates vary.
The best months for visiting are from October to March.
- Refreshments will be provided at a scheduled meeting. It is polite
to refuse the first offer and then accept when asked again. It can be
considered rude if you do not partake in the refreshments after the
second or third time they have been offered to you.
- Prepare your business card for all of the business meetings.
- The decision process for Indian professionals can be slower than
that of North Americans; bargaining is a way of life in India, so multiple
iterations of a contract should be expected.
- Indians do not make business decisions only based on statistics or
official documents. They are more focused on intuition, truths, and
feelings. So keep your emotions in check.
- Indians are family oriented, so sometimes business meetings start
with small talk such as asking about family. Do not push the subject
to business topics right away.
- Providing current technology and technical support can be key to
a successful relationship.
- Indians avoid saying no directly. “We will try” is the most common
way to refuse a request.
- Business lunches are more common than dinners.
- Even though businesswomen may host a meal at a restaurant, businessmen
may offer to pay at the end of meal. If a businesswoman would like to
pay, she should make arrangements with a server before the meal starts.
- If you are invited for dinner at an Indian’s home, you should come
fifteen or thirty minutes late.
- It is polite to eat using only your right hand. Indians use the left
hand for hygienic purposes. Using your hand without any eating utensils
- Do not give food from your dish to another person. Indians think
if food is placed on a person’s dish, the food is “used.”
- Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol.
Many vegetarian or other meat dishes are available.
- Do not say thank you to your host after your meal. Indians think
such an expression is a form of payment and feel insulted. Inviting
your host for a reciprocal dinner is a good way to show your appreciation.
One final consideration when traveling on business in India is the vast
poverty within the country. It is important that you do not make eye contact
with or give money to beggars, as you could quickly become inundated with
them. When traveling through busy areas or near temples, make sure to
keep your hands in your pocket; it is commonplace for someone to grab
an individual’s free hand and place a bracelet on the arm, expecting payment
in return. If you are making a purchase at a market, often your money
will be taken and change placed in your hand, without your knowing the
actual price or how the vendor came to decide how much change you would
receive; if leave your hand outstretched long enough, the vendor will
give you more change. And lastly, make sure that you have change on you
at all time; often merchants and taxi drivers will claim to not have any.
For your business document translation needs for India, contact
McElroy Translation. Visit our
website to learn more about how we can help you and your company become
successful in your international business ventures.
Published - July 2012
India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It is a sophisticated,
modern, industrial leader that is home to many primitive tribes and millions
of poor people. Religion and language separate people. The caste system
limits social mobility (600,000 people belong to the lowest caste). Because
of disparities in distribution of wealth, a wide gap separates the few
wealthy from the many poor.
Meeting and Greeting
Westerners may shake hands, however, greeting with ‘namaste’
(na-mas-TAY) (placing both hands together with a slight bow) is appreciated
and shows respect for Indian customs.
Men shake hands with men when meeting or leaving. Men do not touch
women when meeting or greeting. Western women may offer their hand
to a westernized Indian man, but not normally to others. Traditional
Indian women may shake hands with foreign women but not usually with
Public displays of affection are not proper.
Indians generally allow an arm’s length space between themselves
and others. Don’t stand close to Indians. Indians value personal
Indian men may engage in friendly back patting merely as a sign of
When an Indian smiles and jerks his/her head backward -- a gesture
that looks somewhat like a Western "no" -- or moves his head in a
figure 8, this means "yes."
The Western side-to-side hand wave for "hello" is frequently interpreted
by Indians as "no" or "go away."
Use your right hand only to touch someone, pass money or pick up
merchandise. The left hand is considered unclean.
Do not touch anyone’s head. The head is considered sensitive.
Feet are considered unclean. Feet are sacred for holy men and women.
Pointing footwear at people is considered an insult.
Indians are very sensitive to being beckoned rudely. Hand and arm
waved up and down (Western "good-bye") means "come here." To beckon,
extend your arm, palm down and make a scratching motion with fingers
Never point with a single finger or two fingers (used only with inferiors).
Point with your chin, whole hand or thumb. The chin is not used to
point at superiors.
Business cards are exchanged and Indians are very conscious of the
protocol. Always present business cards when introduced. English is
appropriate for business cards.
Decisions are strongly influenced from the top. Usually one person
makes all major decisions. Attempt to deal with the highest-level
It is considered rude to plunge into business discussions immediately.
Ask about your counterpart’s family, interests, hobbies, etc.
before beginning business discussions.
Business is slow and difficult in India. Be polite, but persistent.
Do not get angry if you are told something "can’t be done."
Instead, restate your request firmly but with a smile. Plan on several
visits before you reach an agreement.
You may be offered a sugary, milky tea, coffee or a soft drink. Don’t
refuse. Note that your glass or cup may be refilled as soon as it
Indian counterparts may not show up for scheduled meetings. Be prepared
Dining and Entertainment
Initial business entertainment is done in restaurants in prestigious
hotels. Business can be discussed during meals.
Allow your host to initiate business conversation.
Never flatly refuse an invitation to a home or dinner of a business
counterpart; if you can’t make it, offer a plausible excuse.
Spouses are often included in social/business functions.
Strict orthodox Muslims don’t drink any alcohol. Most Hindus,
especially women, do not consume alcohol.
Arrive 15-30 minutes later than the stated time for a dinner party.
At a social gathering a garland of flowers is often placed around
a guest’s neck. Remove it after a few minutes and carry it in
your hand to show humility.
Allow hosts to serve you. Never refuse food, but don’t feel
obligated to empty your plate. Hindu hosts are never supposed to let
their guests’ plates be empty.
If hosts eat with hands, assure them you enjoy doing the same. If
utensils are not used, use your right hand and your first three fingers
and thumb only.
Take food from communal dish with a spoon; never your fingers. Use
chappati or poori (bread) torn into small chunks to scoop up food.
The host pays for guests in a restaurant.
Guests give gifts to the host and the host’s children as a
You should reciprocate invitations with a meal of comparable value.
Never invite someone to a far more lavish dinner -- it might embarrass
For business, men should wear suits and ties. During summer months,
you may omit the jacket.
Women should wear conservative pantsuits or dresses.
Give gifts with both hands. Gifts are not normally opened in the
presence of the giver.
Gifts from your country are appreciated (perfume, chocolates, small
china or crystal objects).
Gifts are not normally expected at the first meeting. Gifts may be
given once a relationship develops.
When an Indian answers, "I will try," he or she generally means "no."
This is considered a polite "no."
Many Indians do not wear shoes inside a home. Follow your host. Make
sure your socks are clean and do not have holes.
Apologize immediately if your feet or shoes touch another person.
Ask permission before smoking. It is considered rude to smoke in
the presence of elders.
Do not show anger.
Especially for Women
India is a difficult place to do business, but particularly tough
for women. India is a male-dominated society. Western women may be
accepted, but must establish their position and title immediately
to warrant acceptance.
Women might not be included in social events or conversation.
Western women may invite an Indian man to a business lunch and pay
the tab without embarrassment.
-- Excerpted from the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series
by Mary Murray Bosrock. These publications are available for the U.S.,
Asia, Mexico/Canada, Russia, Europe and South America.
International Education Systems
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St. Paul, MN 55116
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