Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
(taken from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/india-country-profile.html )
Welcome to our guide to India.
This is useful for anyone researching Indian culture, customs, values and
wanting to understand the people better. You may be going to India on business,
for a visit or even hosting Indian colleagues or clients in your own country.
Remember this is only a very basic level introduction and is not meant to
stereotype all Indian people you may meet!
Facts and Statistics
Southern Asia, bordering Bangladesh 4,053 km, Bhutan 605 km, Burma 1,463 km, China 3,380 km, Nepal 1,690 km, Pakistan 2,912 km
varies from tropical monsoon in south to temperate in north
1,065,070,607 (July 2004 est.)
- Ethnic Make-up:
Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3% (2000)
- Religions: Hindu
81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh
1.9%, other groups including Buddhist,
Languages in India
The different states of
India have different official languages, some of them not recognized by the
central government. Some states have more then one official language. Bihar in
east India has three official languages - Hindi,
Urdu and Bengali
- which are all recognized by the central government. But Sikkim, also in east
India, has four official languages of which only Nepali is recognized by the
central government. Besides the languages officially recognized by central or
state governments, there are other languages which don't have this recognition
and their speakers are running political struggles to get this recognition.
Central government decided that Hindi was to be the official language of India
and therefore it also has the status of official language in the states.
Travelling to India? Why not learn some useful Hindi
Indian Society & Culture
- The influences of Hinduism
and the tradition of the caste system have created a culture that
emphasizes established hierarchical relationships.
- Indians are always
conscious of social order and their status relative to other people, be
they family, friends, or strangers.
- All relationships involve
hierarchies. In schools, teachers are called gurus and are viewed as the
source of all knowledge. The patriarch, usually the father, is considered
the leader of the family. The boss is seen as the source of ultimate
responsibility in business. Every relationship has a clear- cut hierarchy
that must be observed for the social order to be maintained.
The Role of the Family
- People typically define
themselves by the groups to which they belong rather than by their status
as individuals. Someone is deemed to be affiliated to a specific state,
region, city, family, career path, religion, etc.
- This group orientation
stems from the close personal ties Indians maintain with their family, including
the extended family.
- The extended family creates
a myriad of interrelationships, rules, and structures. Along with these
mutual obligations comes a deep-rooted trust among relatives.
Just Can't Say No
- Indians do not like to
express 'no,' be it verbally or non- verbally.
- Rather than disappoint
you, for example, by saying something isn't available, Indians will offer
you the response that they think you want to hear.
- This behaviour should not
be considered dishonest. An Indian would be considered terribly rude if he
did not attempt to give a person what had been asked.
- Since they do not like to
give negative answers, Indians may give an affirmative answer but be
deliberately vague about any specific details. This will require you
to look for non-verbal cues, such as a reluctance to commit to an actual
time for a meeting or an enthusiastic response.
Etiquette and Customs in India
- Religion, education and
social class all influence greetings in India.
- This is a hierarchical
culture, so greet the eldest or most senior person first.
- When leaving a group, each
person must be bid farewell individually.
- Shaking hands is common,
especially in the large cities among the more educated who are accustomed
to dealing with westerners.
- Men may shake hands with
other men and women may shake hands with other women; however there are
seldom handshakes between men and women because of religious beliefs. If
you are uncertain, wait for them to extend their hand.
Indian names vary based upon religion, social class, and region of the country.
The following are some basic guidelines to understanding the naming
conventions, although you will always find exceptions to rules:
- In the north, many people
have both a given name and a surname.
- In the south, surnames are
less common and a person generally uses the initial of their father's name
in front of their own name.
- The man's formal name is
their name "s/o" (son of) and the father's name. Women use
"d/o" to refer to themselves as the daughter of their father.
- At marriage, women drop
their father's name and use their first name with their husband's first
name as a sort of surname.
- Many Muslims do not have
surnames. Instead, men add the father's name to their own name with the
connector 'bin'. So, Abdullah bin Ahmed is Abdullah the son of
- Women use the connector
- The title Hajji (m) or
Hajjah (f) before the name indicates the person has made their pilgrimage
- Sikhs all use the name
Singh. It is either adopted as a surname or as a connector name to the
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Indians believe that
giving gifts eases the transition into the next life.
- Gifts of cash are given to
friends and members of the extended family to celebrate life events such
as birth, death and marriage.
- It is not the value of the
gift, but the sincerity with which it is given, that is important to the
- If invited to an Indian's
home for a meal, it is not necessary to bring a gift, although one will
not be turned down.
- Do not give frangipani or
white flowers as they are used at funerals.
- Yellow, green and red are
lucky colours, so try to use them to wrap gifts.
- A gift from a man should
be said to come from both he and his wife/mother/sister or some other
- Hindus should not be given
gifts made of leather.
- Muslims should not be
given gifts made of pigskin or alcoholic products.
- Gifts are not opened when
- Indians entertain in their
homes, restaurants, private clubs, or other public venues, depending upon
the occasion and circumstances.
- Although Indians are not
always punctual themselves, they expect foreigners to arrive close to the
- Take off your shoes before
entering the house.
- Dress modestly and
- Politely turn down the
first offer of tea, coffee, or snacks. You will be asked again and again.
Saying no to the first invitation is part of the protocol.
There are diverse dietary restrictions in India, and these may affect the foods
that are served:
- Hindus do not eat beef
and many are vegetarians.
- Muslims do not eat pork
or drink alcohol.
- Sikhs do not eat beef.
- Lamb, chicken, and fish
are the most commonly served main courses for non-vegetarian meals as they
avoid the meat restrictions of the religious groups.
Table manners are somewhat formal, but this formality is
tempered by the religious beliefs of the various groups.
- Much Indian food is eaten
with the fingers.
- Wait to be told where to
- If utensils are used, they
are generally a tablespoon and a fork.
- Guests are often served in
a particular order: the guest of honour is served first, followed by the
men, and the children are served last. Women typically serve the men and
- You may be asked to wash
your hands before and after sitting down to a meal.
- Always use your right hand
to eat, whether you are using utensils or your fingers.
- In some situations food
may be put on your plate for you, while in other situations you may be
allowed to serve yourself from a communal bowl.
- Leaving a small amount of
food on your plate indicates that you are satisfied. Finishing all your
food means that you are still hungry.
Business Etiquette and Protocol in India
Relationships & Communication
- Indians prefer to do
business with those they know.
- Relationships are built
upon mutual trust and respect.
- In general, Indians
prefer to have long-standing personal relationships prior to doing
- It may be a good idea to
go through a third party introduction. This gives you immediate
Business Meeting Etiquette
- If you will be travelling
to India from abroad, it is advisable to make appointments by letter, at
least one month and preferably two months in advance.
- It is a good idea to
confirm your appointment as they do get cancelled at short notice.
- The best time for a
meeting is late morning or early afternoon. Reconfirm your meeting the
week before and call again that morning, since it is common for meetings
to be cancelled at the last minute.
- Keep your schedule
flexible so that it can be adjusted for last minute rescheduling of
- You should arrive at
meetings on time since Indians are impressed with punctuality.
- Meetings will start with a
great deal of getting-to- know-you talk. In fact, it is quite possible
that no business will be discussed at the first meeting.
- Always send a detailed
agenda in advance. Send back-up materials and charts and other data as
well. This allows everyone to review and become comfortable with the
material prior to the meeting.
- Follow up a meeting with
an overview of what was discussed and the next steps.
- Indians are
non-confrontational. It is rare for them to overtly disagree, although
this is beginning to change in the managerial ranks.
- Decisions are reached by
the person with the most authority.
- Decision making is a slow
- If you lose your temper
you lose face and prove you are unworthy of respect and trust.
- Delays are to be
expected, especially when dealing with the government.
- Most Indians expect
concessions in both price and terms. It is acceptable to expect
concessions in return for those you grant.
- Never appear overly
legalistic during negotiations. In general, Indians do not trust the legal
system and someone's word is sufficient to reach an agreement.
- Do not disagree publicly
with members of your negotiating team.
- Successful negotiations
are often celebrated by a meal.
- Business attire is
- Men should wear dark
coloured conservative business suits.
- Women should dress
conservatively in suits or dresses.
- The weather often
determines clothing. In the hotter parts of the country, dress is less
formal, although dressing as suggested above for the first meeting will
- Indians revere titles such
as Professor, Doctor and Engineer.
- Status is determined by
age, university degree, caste and profession.
- If someone does not have a
professional title, use the honorific title "Sir" or
- Titles are used with the
person's name or the surname, depending upon the person's name. (See
Social Etiquette for more information on Indian naming conventions.)
- Wait to be invited before
using someone's first name without the title.
- Business cards are
exchanged after the initial handshake and greeting.
- If you have a university
degree or any honour, put it on your business card.
- Use the right hand to give
and receive business cards.
- Business cards need not be
translated into Hindi.
- Always present your
business card so the recipient may read the card as it is handed to them.
India related Links and Resources
* Translation Services - do you need a Hindi translation
* Intercultural Know-how - use the Intercultural
Business Communication tool for tips on doing business in India.
* Dialling Code - the international dialling code
for India is +91.
* Time - India is +5.5 hours GMT.
* Management - for information about being a manager in India visit
the free Management
in India guide.