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India – Meeting Etiquette

India is a vast, populous, democratic, secular and diverse nation encompassing many different entities, languages, cultures and religions. Hence it is very difficult to make generalizations about Indian culture. A good understanding of the underlying values, beliefs and assumptions of Indian culture and how they manifest themselves in the market and workplace is essential for the success of a business.

Introduction & Greetings in India

A flexible approach is important and it is often best to be guided by the person with whom you are meeting. Etiquette requires a handshake, although some Indians may use the ‘Namaste’, a common greeting involving pressing your palms together with fingers pointing upwards, and accompanied by a slight bow. When entering a business meeting, always greet the most senior person first. When exchanging business cards, make sure to receive the card with your right hand and put it away respectfully.

In general Indians place importance on and prefer using formal titles. So if you are meeting a doctor or a professor they may expect or appreciate being addressed by their given title. The exception is of course if they indicate otherwise. Using a Mr. or Mrs. when addressing a colleague or someone senior is prefered. Women in the workplace are often addressed as Maam and men as Sir. The suffix Ji is commonly used especially when addressing someone senior both in age and in rank.

Business dress code mostly consists of smart, comfortable clothing. A lightweight suit is appropriate and ties are not compulsory, except in traditional sectors such as banking or law. Women are advised to wear a trouser suit rather than a skirt. Keep in mind that India has a diverse and seasonal climate, so it is not always hot. Delhi and other parts of north India can be extremely cold in winter. Hotels and offices can also have very cold air conditioning, so it is well worth packing a sweater, or of course a pashmina shawl.

Tips & Suggestions:

  • There are many India’s within India. India is a multilingual, multi-ethnic and pluralistic society, and vast cultural differences can be seen between North, East, West and South India.
  • Be aware of the cultural diversity and be cautious about generalisations. The great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson once observed: “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.”
  • Be prepared for meetings to start and finish late and for interruptions to occur on a regular basis.
  • There is a more formal and hierarchical relationship between managers and staff in India.
  • Indians place great value on relationships: take the time to develop contacts and relationships.
  • Indians appreciate punctuality but may not reciprocate it.
  • Greeting Indian’s in their native language is usually a hit and makes best practice.