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Making a Good First Impression in India

First impressions are important wherever you go, and business etiquette can change quickly as you move from country to country. The good news is that Indians welcome the opportunity to work with foreigners, making your adjustment much easier. Remember a few crucial points, and you can easily roll with the cultural punches and conduct your business smoothly.

Greeting colleagues

A gracious greeting shows your new Indian acquaintances that you're committed to being respectful and courteous. The traditional Indian form of greeting is the namaste, which literally means, "I bow to the divine in you." The namaste is used for greeting, for taking leave, and also to seek forgiveness.

To greet someone with a namaste, bring your hands together with palms touching in front of your chest in a graceful fashion. Different languages may have different names for the namaste, but the gesture remains the same throughout India.

Greeting your Indian business colleagues with a namaste is considered a compliment. It sets the right tone for the rest of your meeting and shows that you've taken time to understand Indian exchanges. But offering a handshake isn't looked down upon. In fact, many Indian businesspeople offer a handshake to show that they're familiar and comfortable with greeting foreigners. However, if you're greeted with a namaste and don't reciprocate, Indian colleagues take that as the equivalent of a "cold fish" handshake!

If you offer a firm handshake, don't always expect to receive the same grip in return. Not all Indians give firm handshakes because a limp handshake is a sign of respect, not of weakness.

Swapping business cards

Contacts and networking are very important in India, so Indians like to give out and receive business cards. If you don't hand one over of your own accord when you meet someone, you may be asked for it.

Your business card should list your

  • Name
  • Company name
  • Title
  • E-mail address
  • Other information such as your company mailing address and Web site as well as a reference to any higher degrees that you hold

Think twice about including your cell phone number on your business card. If you give an Indian your cell number, the lucky recipient will use it freely! Indians handle this by writing out their mobile numbers on the cards they give to a select few.

And don't worry, English cards are fine, whichever corner of India you're in.

When it comes to their own business cards, Indians believe the more titles, the merrier; the business title on the card is of great significance to Indians. And don't be surprised to see educational qualifications on many Indian business cards. The longer the string of acronyms behind an already lengthy Indian name, the better!

Most young professional or older, well-traveled Indians don't fill up their cards with acronyms, and you can follow their lead. But Indians place a great deal of emphasis on academia, so if you hold a doctorate or similar degree, note it on your card.

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