To the Rescue of Busy Professionals
Take your visual communication to the next level
Ten Tips to Survive Indian Culture
This article is part of the "India survival Kit", a collection of articles written by an American expat living in India.
India has been the darling of the global information technology industry for over a decade now, and more recently has become the focus of several other industries including BPO, biotechnology, and healthcare. Despite the extensive globalization and influence of western culture, Indian society – with its religious and philosophical undercurrent – is still very different and the culture requires careful handling that combines respect and tact. But this should not deter the westerner from doing business with Indians or even moving to India, for India and its people have much to offer – at the very least, an incredible experience of her exploding variety and diversity.
The following article lists some tips for those visiting India for the first time or foreigners preparing to relocate here. These are based on my initial experiences in India while scouting around getting a feel for the country and its people. I was an American planning to move to India with my family, but whether we could really live and do business there was a burning question. I had read and heard much about the land, and this added to my enthusiasm as well as anxiety. So I embarked on a reconnaissance trip to evaluate the practicality of my move. Tip 1: India’s diversity in terms of people, culture, and economy can only be understood first-hand. Always do a preliminary survey.
I wanted to see the real India, not follow the tourist trail. Doing business in India is about rolling in the dirt, so to speak. The very rich, the very poor, and the wide ranging middleclass co-exist in India. As do the Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and even Jews. India’s diversity is multi-dimensional – in economy, religion, language, traditions, food, even race and skin color. You can find a native who looks practically Caucasian, another who could be mistaken for an African-American, as also one who looks like he belongs to the Far East.
My first stay was in a Chennai hotel that was hygienic by Indian standards – running water was a luxury in a city known for its dire water shortages, and toilet paper was considered wastage. But this was the India I wanted to see – the one where Indians lived. But I did realize that clear communication is of paramount importance (Tip 3). I had to be specific about what I wanted, and it helped to ask the person to repeat what I had requested to ensure that my need had been understood clearly.
Indians are inquisitive but extremely hospitable
But in all fairness, not everyone you meet tries to burn your wallet. Many will offer genuine help and I would do injustice to the Indian if I did not enunciate their famed hospitality. They will do everything in their power to make you comfortable, even take personal discomfort on themselves. They consider this an honor and it could offend or disappoint if the hospitality is refused (Tip 5). But on the flip side, there is an almost complete lack of privacy – not just socially but also physically. In Bangalore I stayed with an Indian friend. Despite my insistence to the contrary, he let me use the only bedroom in his apartment while he slept in the living room. But he would barge into the bedroom without notice and it took me some time to get used to it. I’m sure he would have been absolutely comfortable if I had done the same. It was a sign of friendship and trust that we had nothing to hide from each other.
Indian physical intimacy and the gender etiquette
On the other hand, it is considered quite offensive for a man to touch a woman, known or unknown, even if the intention is friendly. In fact married couples too avoid even the slightest physical contact in public. Tip 7: It is prudent for foreign men and women, even couples, to maintain a respectable distance in public. Tip 8: If you are a man, never touch or sit next to an Indian woman. Although many working women, especially those of the younger generations are okay with shaking hands, it is still safe to greet women the Indian way – with your palms folded together.
Dressing for women
I came out of my first Indian experience a changed man. We Americans have a lot of lessons to learn from Indian culture, respect for parents and other elders not the least of them. The above observations of Indian society are only to help a foreigner understand what to look out for in India. India will welcome you with open arms as she does all her guests. It is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of her hospitality.
Editor: Nisha Giri
The India survival Kit is divided into four sections:
I) Cultural tips for newcomers to India
II) Doing business in India
III) An American's diary
IV) Street English in India: Indian English and the Indian way of communication
Chillibreeze's disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of Chillibreeze as a company. Chillibreeze has a strict anti-plagiarism policy. Please contact us to report any copyright issues related to this article.
>> Read more articles written by Chillibreeze writers:
Urgent 24 Hour Editing