Learn India in 12 Easy Steps

Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Organizations who want to successfully take advantage of the opportunities of doing business with India must first understand the complex kaleidoscope of this country and the way Indian people think, act, see, hear and believe. Doing business with India is more than just technology, contracts, quarterly earnings, leadership, customer satisfaction, business value and other jargon. To have a long-term business relationship with India and most south Asian countries around India, you need to understand the unsaid and the unspoken that may often seem to have no connection or an impediment to business needs.

  1. Religion, caste and language play a dominating role in the country. In India the major religions are Hindu, Christian and Muslims along with an assorted sprinkling of Buddhists, Jews, Parsis and many atheists who believe in god by night. Within each religion there are several sub sects or commonly known as castes. The sub sects within the major religions are normally based on food habits, family practices and ancestral beliefs. For example you will see some Hindus eat meat, while other Hindus are pure vegetarian. Indians are very proud and sensitive of their religion, language and caste. So if you offend or make fun of these things you cannot do business with him, or earn respect anymore.
  2. Festivals and beliefs: India has a cultural history of more than ten thousand years old or even older. Religion, philosophy, spirituality and belief in higher powers play an integral part of every Indian’s life. In addition to national festivals every state, every village and every family have their own festivals, beliefs and private gods. So if you hear someone say he was on leave because of his grandfather’s tenth death anniversary, his child’s naming ceremony or a religious ritual in his family you should respect that practice and accept its sanctity, instead of saying or thinking, “Wasn’t that business strategy meeting more important?”
  3. Most Indians stay in joint families and have been doing so from centuries. Indians don’t send their parents to an old age home nor nudge their kids to fly out when they reach college. And there is no need to hire a babysitter. So if you happen to visit an Indian friend’s house don’t be surprised to see his father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, nephews, uncles, aunts, etc., in the same house along with lots of photos of gods and saints. And don’t feel offended if they start asking probing questions about your family or religion. Alcohol, cigarettes and meat are still taboo to many. So don’t expect a can of beer when you go to someone’s house. All you may get is a cup of coffee, tea or lemon juice.
  4. Learn to say and understand namaste. This is the way Indian greet each other with folded hands. It is okay to shake hands in the office and to business associates, but don’t go around trying to shake hands with their family members, ladies, etc. It is considered inappropriate and embarrassing to many.
  5. Learn to live with the uncertainties and poor infrastructure, in some places, for some more time. Food, clothing, shelter and basic medicines are still premium products for many Indians. Let us look at it this way. If infrastructure, security, safety and all other groovy items were on par or better than any other western countries, then doing business with India would be as costly and forbidding as any other advanced country. For example you don’t outsource to Japan even though the infrastructure and everything else is fabulous. Do you?
  6. Cuss words, gay rights, body piercing, skimpy dresses and those candid dare all, bare all discussions of Oprah are frowned upon or simply not acceptable. In rural areas you may even be thrashed or worse for daring to be too daring.
  7. Be flexible with timings and deadlines. In India you often cannot adhere to strict timings due to numerous internal, external and uncontrollable factors. So if you have scheduled a meeting at exactly 9:00 am sharp and expect everyone to be on time it may not work. Too many factors like traffic, public transport, queues, parking problems, road repairs, civil disturbances, processions, rains, etc., control day to day life. For example, these days it may take nearly two hours to travel a distance of just ten kilometers in Bangalore these days to traffic nightmares.
  8. Films, film stars, religious leaders, politicians, vegetable prices and cricket have a very powerful hold and influence on many Indians. So it may be sometimes necessary to shut your business out of respect because a popular film star died, a political candidate lost an election, a film flopped, a cricket game lost or something like that.
  9. Indians give more importance to family values, friendship, trust and respect for elders. It is inappropriate for an youngster to advise, chide or talk straight with elders. It does not matter if you are the tough CEO of a fortune 100 company in India. At home you are still expected to respect and obey the wishes of your uneducated grandfather, or even get slapped by your mother in front of the family members for saying something disrespectful. So if a top international business leader begins his speech like, “I had just divorced my third wife when my business associate called about that juicy billion dollar deal ..” he is no longer considered a person of any earthly value or worth emulating.
  10. Just like every other human being on this planet, Indians also take criticism and insults about their work personally. Sugar coated criticism and cooperation is preferred. Indians consider it disrespectful to speak their mind and don’t sue each other for trivial issues. Indians finds it uncomfortable to say things you don’t want to hear or say something that may disappoint you. So the straightforward management styles and candor of Jack Welch or Donald Trump simply does not work.
  11. Visiting someone: In India prior appointment is not needed to visit your mother, father, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors or even a colleague. An acquaintance walking into somebody’s home is often considered a pleasant honor. And you never see an RSVP on a wedding invitation or get stopped in the gate for not showing your invitation card.
  12. Finally, the biggest reason why western businessmen should come to India is not for its low cost software development, economical labor, BPOs, see our snake charmers, watch our Indian rope trick or ride on our elephants. It is actually a secret and if you are still unable to guess what don’t scratch your hair. It is for the price of haircuts here. For less than two dollars you can get a great haircut, whereas those western barbers are charging 40 dollars or more to chop your hair !!!!!

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