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Business etiquette, language and culture

Language

As one of India’s official languages, English is widely spoken throughout the business community.

There can, however, be slight differences in meaning. In particular, Indians may find it hard to say ‘no’ as it can be considered offensive. You should pay close attention to ensure you are aware of the meaning behind statements such as ‘we will see’ as these can often be a less direct form of saying ‘no’. 

When setting up an appointment, you should always ask if your contact speaks English or if they would feel more comfortable with an interpreter.


Interpreters

Although many Indians speak English, it may be in your best interest to hire a professional interpreter to accompany you to your meetings. Make sure you choose your interpreter carefully, as they will become one of your key assets. 

Make sure you always use a professional interpreter for negotiations, in order to remove any possibility of misunderstanding. Avoid using electronic translation as mistakes can be made. 

Lists of potential interpreters and translators in India can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/india-list-of-translators-and-interpreters. Alternatively, you can check with the DIT team in India at: https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/department-for-international-trade-india#contact-us.

[Source – DIT]

 

Religion

India is a secular country, so has no official religion. However, the majority of the country’s population identify as Hindu, at around 80%. Other major religions in the country include Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, and it is the birthplace of Jainism.

[Source – DIT] 

 

Hierarchy

Typically, India is a hierarchical country, including in business. Decisions and ideas come from the top, down, so do not expect decisions to be made during meetings from which senior members are absent. Respecting senior individuals — whether that be determined by age, job, position within the business, or level of education — is vital in India, but these cultural differences can cause some confusion. Ensure effective communication to prevent misunderstanding as junior staff in India may not be used to working with the same level of freedom as in the UK.

[Source – DIT]

 

Meetings and greetings

You should allow yourself to be guided by the person whom you are greeting when being introduced to your Indian counterparts. It is typical to greet people with a handshake in India, although sometimes ‘Namaste’ is used. Namaste is a common, traditional greeting during which you place your palms together with your finger pointing upwards and bow slightly. 

Make sure you greet the most senior person in the room first as hierarchy is important in India. 

Ensure you always have a business card to present and receive any presented to you with your right hand only. 

Small talk about topics such as family commonly occurs at the beginning of Indian business meetings and can be an effective way to build trust with your partners.

[Source – DIT]

 

Titles

Due to the country’s hierarchical nature, it is important to address your Indian counterparts by their appropriate title unless you are told otherwise. You should refer to business and official contacts as Mr/Mrs/Ms or Sri/Smt (Srimati) followed by their surname, whereas business superiors or those senior in age should be referred to as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’. You are advised not to use first names when referring to Indian business contacts unless you are expressly invited to do so.

[Source – DIT]

 

Attire

You should wear smart but comfortable clothing during a business meeting in India. For men, a lightweight suit is appropriate, but a tie is only necessary in traditional sectors such as banking and law. Women should wear a trouser suit as opposed to a skirt. 

Consider India’s diverse climate, as well as the fact that many offices and hotels have air conditioning, so it will not always be hot. Pack a jumper or pashmina.

[Source – DIT]


 

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