Inexpensive Business Cards
Doing business in India isn’t much different from that of any of the Western countries. They are less formal than the Far East, but still have a few considerations that should be borne in mind for anyone wanting to do business there.
India is a mix of religions, and is comprised of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Christians. They all (mostly) live side by side in peace. On top of this diversity are the remnants of the caste system which prevailed in the nineteenth century. It isn’t so much as issue now, but it may explain puzzling deference’s or slight bows when corporate ranking doesn’t seem to require it. Then to add a little more spice to the mix there is the remnants of the British formality from the days of the Raj. This adds a comforting air of politeness and predictability in dealings that is most welcome in this fascinating and diverse culture.
Like businesses in most countries, Indians are formal at the first meeting, but relax as they get to know you. The Indian culture is a hierarchical structure where elders are deferred to in many business situations. Caste may play a part here and cause confusion, but this influence is waning as time goes on so may not be an issue.
When greeting an Indian contact it is proper to use their honorific then surname, especially if they have an academic one. So a greeting would be “Mr Khan, or Professor Khan”. This formality will be dropped once a relationship is struck with the contact, but it is polite to use this manner until requested to do otherwise. When attending a meeting, handshakes with men are expected. Indians aren’t as physical and many western cultures, and prefer a light handshake to a strong one. Don’t try to shake the hand of a woman unless she offers it, and only then with the right hand.
Business cards should be exchanged at the beginning of the meeting. Any cards received should be read and placed with respect in a card wallet or holder. This process isn’t as formal as in many other countries and is partly because of India’s increased exposure to Western culture. Because of this influence it is economical to use inexpensive business cards in this situation as no great stock are put into them. Ensure an adequate supply is taken though, as they are still exchanged at every first-time meeting.
India is a hot country so dress is a little more relaxed. Although senior executives still wear suits, they are often without a tie. A light jacket and trousers with a long sleeved shirt is regarded as normal. Female visitors to India should dress conservatively.
Indians like small talk and it will be a feature of any business meeting or dinner. It is regarded as polite to ask and talk about family so don’t be offended if they ask some personal questions. It is perfectly normal. If the meetings involve dinner with a host, avoid eating with the left hand, as Muslims see it as unclean and don’t thank the host afterwards, as it would be natural to do. It is regarded as rude to turn up on time for an Indian dinner, but also rude to turn up over half an hour late.
Apart from those few points, doing business in India is much like anywhere else in the world. Be professional and polite and things will be fine.