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How to Make a Good Impression on a Business Trip to India

When you take a business trip to such a complex, diverse country as India, consider certain important factors in Indian culture when you’re doing business — among them regionalism, religion, language, and caste. You may need to modify your behavior and approach, depending on whom you are doing business with:

  • Language: Hindi is an official language of India. Many states have their own official languages, so Hindi might be less prevalent, especially in Southern India. English is the language of international commerce, but be aware of the differences. Indian English is more akin to British than to American English, which can create confusion.

  • Appropriate dress: Men should wear dark-colored, conservative, lightweight business suits for formal events and first meetings. Women should dress conservatively and modestly, wearing lightweight suits, skirts and jackets, or dresses; hems should be below the knee, and necklines should be conservative.

    Because the cow is considered a sacred animal in India, leather belts or handbags shouldn’t be used in general, though this prohibition isn’t as strict in the business sector.

  • Greeting rituals: In general, Indians are formal on first meeting. Elders are respected and deferred to in many situations, business ones included. Caste rankings still play a role in a wide variety of social and business interactions, although they’re not as pervasive as they previously were.

  • Handling meetings: Meetings should be scheduled at least two to three weeks in advance. Family responsibilities take precedence over business, so last-minute cancellations are possible in business.

  • Dining and entertaining: Most food is vegetarian. Hindus don’t eat beef, and Muslims don’t eat pork, so these aren’t Indian specialty dishes. Don’t ask for them if they’re not on the menu. Even if beef and pork are on the menu, it’s best not to request them if your business colleagues are vegetarians.

  • Giving and receiving gifts: Many Indians believe that giving gifts helps one’s path into the next life. For this reason, gifts don’t have to be costly or large. Present your gift with both hands. Normally, you don’t open gifts in front of the giver.

  • Social taboos: The head is considered the seat of the soul. Never touch someone else’s head, not even to pat a child’s hair. Never point your feet at a person. Feet are considered unclean. If your shoes or feet touch another person, apologize.

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