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The Role of Culture in Business Relationships with Indians – A Case Study

Posted by arisayoga on February 22, 2009

Mumbai’s famous Marine drive glittered as thousands of cars and motorcycles sped homeward. A loudspeaker blared Bollywood film music as though competing with the chaotic din of traffic. Across the road, people strolled along a promenade separating Marine drive from the Arabian Sea, apparently unconcerned by the loud noises. A light, salty breeze caressed the walkers as they relaxed after a long day’s work.

Mike absently watched the people on the promenade from the balcony of his hotel room. He had gone out for a walk on each of his last six nights in Mumbai. But today he could not get himself to leave the room. His hopes for starting a new joint venture in India, which had soared high only a week ago, had now come crashing down. His future in this strange, exotic land suddenly seemed bleak. He did not understand what had happened. He was utterly frustrated.

The Indian economy was booming, and held great promise for the future. Several multi-national firms had already set up offices across the country, encouraged by the opening up of India’s foreign policies. Mike and his American associates had been excited at the prospect of starting a joint venture with a particular reputed Indian firm. Initial negotiations had been positive, but slowly misunderstandings and other problems crept up. Mike had attended several meetings in the past week, expecting to have a finalized deal by that morning. But his Indian counterparts did not appear to feel it was important to close the deal as soon as possible. They had had long, rambling discussions about the project’s objectives and feasibility without making any solid decisions. Even the few decisions that had been reached were not concrete as approval had to be sought from senior colleagues.

An exasperated Mike tried to hasten the process as many other issues remained to be addressed, but the Indians felt that he was only interested in completing the deal, and not in examining the finer aspects of the venture. As a result, they began to question his sincerity and ability. His aggressive manner made him appear rude and tactless. His way of addressing them informally also made them feel disrespected and uncomfortable. The bottom line was that they did not trust him.

In turn, trust also became an issue at Mike’s end as he began to doubt the Indians’ capability of seeing a project through to completion within the deadline. Consequently, he was uncertain if they would make good business partners.

Examining this story in greater detail, it is obvious that cultural differences were the root cause of problems between Mike and the Indians. If Mike had realized that Indians viewed time differently from Americans, he would have tried to be more relaxed in his interaction. If he had known that Indians usually tend to be formal and hierarchical in a professional setting, he would have been more careful while addressing them. On the other hand, if the Indians had been aware of the Americans’ practical approach to problem solving and project implementation, they would not have viewed Mike as a pushy person intent only on signing the deal.

Our cultures color our view of the world and also the way we interact and develop relationships with others. In order to successfully do business in another country, understanding its culture and business practices, appreciating the differences between the two cultures, and adapting oneself is absolutely necessary.

expat and NRI ebooksIndia is a complex country and foreign businessmen will realize quickly that the path to success here is not smooth. The following tips are intended to give those interacting with Indians professionally an idea about business practices in India.

* In America, efficiency and adhering to tight deadlines are considered normal and is expected of most workers. Indian culture is a little more laidback. Indians tend to take longer to do a job, for a variety of reasons including their inherent attentiveness to detail. As a result, what is considered a reasonable time and a feasible plan in America may not be right in India.
* Aggressiveness is often considered a sign of disrespect. This could lead to a drop in motivation or communication on the part of Indians. It is important to get to know them on a personal level to develop professional trust. Indians are very hospitable. You will be invited to their homes and they will also often talk about personal matters. This is a part of business. While visiting a home, taking a gift of sweets, fruits or a bouquet of flowers is considered a nice gesture. Indians place a great deal of importance on the family and respect those who value their family. When necessary, they will give higher priority to family over work.
* Indians are used to a hierarchical and formal system in the workplace. Senior colleagues are respected and generally addressed as “Sir” and not by the first name. Supervisors usually shoulder the responsibility for a deadline and are expected to monitor a lower level worker’s progress. However, in more recent times, with greater western influence, educated Indians have adapted to the practice of monitoring their own work and sticking to schedules. And a more informal work culture is common in the new technology firms.
* Indians often hesitate to say “No”. They will sometimes take on too much work or a project that is beyond their scope just because they do not want to disappoint you or put themselves in your bad books by refusing. Hence it is important to create a comfortable work environment where it is okay to say no and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences.
* In a meeting or group discussion, only the most senior person might speak. Often others will remain silent out of respect for him or you. This does not necessarily indicate agreement with your views. But westernized Indians can be assertive and frank, and it is okay to reciprocate the same attitude with them. Politeness and honesty are important to demonstrate that your intentions are sincere and genuine.
* Women are respected in the workplace. It is probably easy for a foreign woman to adapt to an Indian work environment. But it is important to plan a wardrobe with India’s conservative dress codes in mind.
* Many traditional Indians are vegetarians and teetotalers, and their way of life needs to be respected. However, westernized Indians do socialize and drink, sometimes excessively so.

These cultural tips are based on a generalization and may not apply to all situations. When on a business visit to India, you should remember that this is a land of diversity and contrasts. Every person you meet will exhibit a unique blend of Indian and western values. People hailing from different regions, economic strata, educational backgrounds, and religion will often behave very differently.

The pressure of living and working in a different country can be overwhelming for any expatriate. But there are many advantages to living in India – the long-lasting friendships forged with Indians, the values that can be absorbed from Indian culture, the many breathtaking and unique places to visit, the wide assortment of cuisines available to regale your taste buds with, and of course the innumerable exotic knick-knacks that can be bought. An expatriate who is ready to recognize the cultural differences and make the necessary adjustments will certainly taste success in all his Indian business endeavors.

Editor: Nisha Giri

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India’s Work Culture: Some Tips for Returning Indians and Foreigners

Posted by arisayoga on February 22, 2009

Tips for Work culture in Indiachillibreeze writer — Karen Pinto

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. Well, is it? That depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re hoping to find a home away from home in a workplace in India, you could end up disillusioned. On the other hand, if you’re practical you may just stumble on something within your own comfort zone.

Expat and NRI guidesOver the last decade, the average Indian jobseeker has got a lot to be grateful for in terms of superior job opportunities, work environment, empathetic bosses and substantial pay packages. The explosion of jobs, technology and the advent of multinationals has revolutionized the work culture in India.

As a foreigner or an Indian returning from abroad, the work culture in India can strike you like a bolt from the blue if you’re not prepared. You’re better off sticking to the major metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, and Chennai to work in. Smaller towns and rural areas may prove to be tiresome due to power failures, substandard transportation and communication snags.

Formerly, the Public Sector jobs (government jobs) were much coveted owing to the job security and the high wage structures associated with these jobs. However, if you are a foreigner or an Indian returning from abroad, you can safely assume that these jobs are way out of your league. Believe it or not, these jobs are handed down the generations like family heirlooms. So, unless you have a grand old godfather or someone with similar clout working in these departments, your odds of getting in are not too bright. Anyway, the work culture in these organizations leaves much to be desired.

If you’re wondering why the tobacco sales in India are on an upward slant, you can thank the hapless workers in these departments, who not only insist on chewing tobacco while attending to customers, but also revel in spewing tobacco on the walls resulting in painting the surrounding areas with incredible shades of saffron. They follow an “as you like it” approach towards work, have no regard for punctuality and execute every task as though doing a personal favor to the nation.

Never mind the comfortable salary and perks not to mention the numerous holidays associated with these jobs, nine out of ten times, you’ll discover these tortured souls complaining about being overworked and underpaid and instigating strikes that bring the country to a grinding halt. So, unless you have a tobacco fixation, leave these jobs to the locals.

There is no dearth of suitable job opportunities in the private sector. Professional or not, looking for a job in India is like looking for love. There is something for everyone. You have tiny firms, small firms, medium-sized firms, large firms and multinationals.

As far as possible, you might want to excuse yourself from the family businesses and small firms. These firms work on old world philosophies that believe in all work and no play, the kind where the boss is the master and the employee a minion. While getting away with paying a pittance, these firms afford no overtime pay while encouraging daily overtime. You may be asked to show up on Sundays and other public holidays without adequate compensation.

Employee bonding, constructive criticism, training programs, refreshers and motivational meetings are unheard of. The approach is strictly authoritative and inter-personal interaction between colleagues may even be frowned at. Training is a luxury that these firms don’t provide. Generally, you are unceremoniously put on the job like a babe in the woods and left to fend for yourself. If you’re looking for experience, if money is not your deciding nature or in general, you’re one of those who can give as good as you get then this is the place for you. If not, you’re better off elsewhere.

All’s not lost though. Let’s not forget the cream jobs. The ones where you get to have your cake, eat it and wash it down with a milkshake.

Thanks to the burgeoning BPO, Software and Information Technology industries, cities like Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Gurgaon are flooded with a variety of jobs. The people applying for these jobs are smart, savvy and sophisticated. Hence, there was a need to create a work culture that appealed to this racy set. A place that they would enjoy working at, a place to just be. No more Manic Mondays. No more Terrible Tuesdays. So what makes these places different?

For one, it is finally recognized that a happy employee is a productive employee. Don’t push your employee too hard or you may push him into the open arms of your competitor. The work culture in these industries is all about pleasing the employee.

Training programs, attractive recreational centres, constructive criticism, refresher courses, memberships to clubs and subsidized cafeterias are some of the facilities provided to these deserving staff members. Interaction between colleagues is encouraged and certain companies have referral schemes wherein employees can refer their friends and get rewarded monetarily.

The dress code is semi-formal, the language “hip” and employers are addressed by their first names. Dating and hanging out with team members is frequent. And the cherry on the icing is the fat pay packages that come promptly at the end of the month. Some have been known to use these workplaces to escape from home. So, if you are among those who are known to spend more than 12 waking hours at work then you may be interested in what these ultra-cool, ultra-modern organizations have to offer. What’s more, you may even meet your potential best friend, your confidante or your spouse at one of these places!

Broadly, the work culture in India can be discerned from the following areas:

Time Management
Indian Stretchable Time has been known to drive some up the wall. Indians in general, are not sticklers for punctuality. This permeates the work culture as well.

Late-coming while not encouraged is not punished either. After all, the traffic provides a ready excuse to anyone who’s looking for one. This frequently leads to overtime hours even when the job could be completed within normal work hours.

A Business Meeting beginning half an hour after the scheduled time is not uncommon.

Dress Code
Office-goers in India generally dress in semi-formals. Shirts and trousers for men and Western or Indian attire for the women. Casuals are permitted on weekends.

Our climate does not permit the use of heavy suits and blazers. Linen and cotton are the preferred materials.

Wear a business suit in summer and you could end up melting in the heat.

Meals at the Workplace
In smaller organizations, the “lunch-hour” is a source of camaraderie and amusement. You’ll come across people clustered in groups gossiping and sharing their lunch-boxes. Everything from the price of vegetables to the grouchy boss is discussed in low whispers.

The “Tiffin system” wherein stay-at-home moms prepare food, package it and send it to the workplace is gaining popularity. This system allows you to savor a home-cooked meal at a relatively low price.

Multinationals have cafeterias which offer vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare at subsidized rates.

Inter-personal Relations and Communication
In traditional firms employees address their bosses as “Sir” or “Madam”. However, being on a first name basis with your boss is catching up. This trend began with the arrival of the BPO & IT industries in India.

Indians communicate with a combination of English and Hindi or some other regional language.

The typical Indian is born inquisitive. Most will not shy away from inquiring about your marital status, family, health, dogs, cats or anything else that may fuel their curiosity. Some will even offer unsolicited advice on your personal life.

The secret to enjoying a good working experience in India is:

Infuse a few words of Hindi or some other local language into your speech. It exudes a semblance of brotherhood and gains you acceptance by your colleagues especially in a place like Mumbai.

Try to be tolerant of distorted time-schedules. Indians don’t believe in speed. So, take your time and smell the roses.

Since most people here are family-oriented; so, inquire about your colleagues families. This will help you score brownie points with them.

Don’t be too offended if your peer tries to get too personal. He is probably trying to make conversation and break the ice. Be polite but firm. After all, it’s not absolutely necessary to divulge your biography.

Lunchtime is a great way to get to know your colleagues better. Use it to your advantage.

Do your homework and always look up the company you plan to work with. Avoid signing any hasty contracts or you’ll have plenty of time to repent in leisure.

Does the work culture in India work for you? It’s up to you to decide. After all, it’s different strokes for different folks.

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Indian Family Values: What you must know before you visit India

Posted by arisayoga on February 22, 2009

Culture and Expat guidesIn India, unlike in America, the family plays a central role in shaping an individual’s future. In America, it is almost unimaginable for a person being offered a job to first seek his parents’ approval. But in India, that is almost always the case. It is amazing to see how often well-educated, independent professionals have to consult their parents before accepting a job offer or traveling abroad. At the core of Indian culture lies an innate respect for parents and other elders in the family, and usually no major decision is taken without consulting them. Parents often live with their married children, typically with a son. There is really no concept of a grown-up son or daughter ‘moving out of the house’ unless it is the result of circumstances like a job in a different city.

The arranged marriage is another practice that illustrates the importance Indians place on the family. A majority of marriages in India are arranged by families and several people are involved in the decision-making process. As popular belief goes, a marriage tied with many knots will not come undone. This is in complete contrast to the American culture where only two people tie the knot and experience has indeed shown us that it can be undone more easily. The divorce rate in America is much higher than in India.

American culture can sometimes appear to be too rebellious and independent, with children growing apart from their parents as they grow older. At other times Indian culture can seem too dependent on other people’s opinions and subject to unnecessary involvement from relatives, near and far. There are positives and negatives in both cultures. However it is important for foreign businessmen visiting India, especially those who are new, to remember that in general, important decisions are not made individually but as a family. This may not be apparent on a daily basis but will surface in critical situations.

Editor: Nisha Giri

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Exotic India: Landscape, Celebrations, Temples, and Art Forms

Posted by arisayoga on February 22, 2009

To the average westerner, India is an exotic land of Maharajahs and elephants, multiple gods and eccentric yogis, saris and sequined skirts, strange long names and software engineers. In truth, India is all of this and more. The ancient land continues to retain its past grandeur and traditions even in the midst of modern civilization. A foreigner visiting India for the first time will be overwhelmed by the richness and diversity of her culture.

Landscape and regional diversity
India’s varied landscapes form a stunning backdrop to the collage of her culture. The majestic Himalayas, which border the country to the north, have since time immemorial been home to sages, hermits and other spiritual seekers. The snow clad peaks that tower over the world could very well be a stairway to heaven. In lower altitudes, thousands of wild flowers bloom every summer as if to adorn the gods who haunt the mountains. Many of India’s great rivers originate in the Himalayas, the largest of them being the sacred Ganges. The Indian Himalayas embrace five states in the north and north-east – Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

expat guides to indiaIn the north-east the state of Meghalaya is a land of rain, waterfalls, gorges, and caves. The state has hundreds of caves, many of which are yet to be discovered. Meghalaya is among the top 10 caving destinations in the world.

In the north-western part of India lies the Thar Desert in the state of Rajasthan. The Rajput warrior-kings who ruled here built fortified cities of predominantly yellow and pink sandstone. These forts and palaces are still intact today and some of them have been converted into hotels. Rajasthan is one of India’s popular tourist destinations, and is known for the colorful costumes of its natives, and for its folk music and dance.

Between Kashmir and Rajasthan lies Punjab, which is one of the most affluent states in the country. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy here, and the Punjabi men are known for their physical strength. The Sikhs – followers of Sikhism whose men grow their hair and wear colorful turbans – are native to Punjab.

In the east lies Bengal, home of several Hindu spiritual giants as well as literati including Rabindranath Tagore and several modern English writers. West Bengal, as the state is officially called, also houses part of the Sunderbans, the largest tidal mangrove forest in the world and home to the famous Bengal tiger.

The southern part of India is completely different from the north – in landscape, climate, food, people, language, and even art forms. The peninsular south, which has a predominantly tropical climate, has thick forests and rolling hills in the center, and lush plains and sandy beaches closer to the coasts.

On the southernmost end of the west coast, is Kerala, touted as ‘God’s own country’, with boats that serenely ply its innumerable waterways against a backdrop of coconut groves. Goa is situated immediately to the north of Kerala and is known for its beaches. This region was once occupied by the Portuguese and its Indo-European architecture is evident in its Spanish-type villas and Renaissance-style churches. A substantial portion of the population of Goa and Kerala is Christian. Goa is also home to the Vindaloo, a dish that is a staple in Indian restaurants abroad but is little known inside India, except of course in Goa.

Tamil Nadu lies on the southern part of the east coast. The state is known for its thousands of large temples with characteristic towers built through the ages by several dynasties of kings. Here, and in many other parts of India, you can find temples – big and small – in every street.

Religion and spirituality are an integral part of Indian culture and cannot be separated from it. India is home to the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism, and many other religions also originated in India including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Apart from followers of these religions, there are also Indians who are Muslim, Christian, Parsi, and Jewish. Religious festivals and celebrations abound in every region – most of them noisy, colorful, and a feast for all the senses. It is common for the average Indian to undertake several pilgrimages in his lifetime, many of them during certain religious festivals.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is the most popular Hindu festival, the equivalent of Christmas in the west. It occurs in October or November every year. Houses are lit up beautifully with lamps and bursts of fireworks are seen in every nook and corner of the country.

Dussehra, which is a ten-day festival that occurs about a month before Diwali, is celebrated differently in different parts of India. In parts of southern India, rows of dolls are displayed in houses and guests are invited every evening to sing and partake of the offerings to God. In Bengal and its largest city, Kolkata, the festival is a propitiation of the Divine Mother Goddess Durga, and has a carnival atmosphere with crowds vying to visit hundreds of idols of the goddess made especially for the occasion. In parts of northern India, the Ramayana, one of India’s two great epics, is enacted and effigies of demons are burnt to symbolize their destruction by Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Being.

Apart from the nationwide festivals, there are other celebrations that are regional or specific to a particular city like the Rath Yatra (Festival of Chariots) in Puri, Orissa; the Pooram festival in Trichur, Kerala; Pongal and Baisakhi (both harvest festivals) in Tamil Nadu and Punjab respectively; the Kumbha Mela which occurs four times in 12 years and is rotated between four north Indian cities. The last Kumbha Mela, held in 2007 at Prayag, Uttar Pradesh attracted over seventy million people, the single largest gathering of people in the world. Even festivals from other religions like Christmas, Easter, and Ramadan are celebrated with enthusiasm and fervor.

Temples and art forms
Although Hindus ultimately believe in only one Supreme Being, they propitiate God in several forms, which is a chief reason for the existence of so many temples. Several of these temples are unique in structure and many are archeological monuments dating back thousands of years. The Sun temple at Konark, Orissa is also a gigantic sun dial. The temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are known for their carvings depicting human physical union. The Meenakshi and Tanjore temples in Tamil Nadu, and the Hoysaleshwara and Chennakesava temples in Karnataka are only a few of several south Indian temples known for their architecture. Among temples of other religions are many ancient Buddhist temples and the more recent Golden Temple of the Sikhs at Amritsar, Punjab. Thanks to India’s history of Muslim rule and European colonization, there are also numerous beautiful churches, mosques, and other specimens of Christian and Muslim architecture including the world-famous Taj Mahal.

In ancient Indian civilization, it was in the temples that art forms like music and dance originated. The temple dancers of Tamil Nadu used to perform the Bharathanatyam as a religious ritual. This is one of the most popular forms of dance in India today. There are also other classical dance styles like Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Mohiniattam and Kathakali from Kerala, Odissi from Orissa, Manipuri from Manipur, and Kathak from North India, which has some Persian and Moghul influence. Some of these dances are performed to south Indian classical music called Carnatic music, one of the two major Indian classical music styles, the other being Hindustani. The songs that are set to Carnatic music are mostly devotional, many of them composed centuries ago. Hindustani songs include devotional, emotional, and poetic expression.

Apart from the forms of music and dance described above there are numerous regional folk and tribal varieties. European influence has also given rise to musical forms with a western slant.

Hope you enjoy your visit to India!

Editor: Nisha Giri

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Cultural tips for visitors to India: Food and Restaurant Etiquette in India

Posted by arisayoga on February 22, 2009

India’s rich and flavorful cuisines are a delight to the taste buds. Contrary to common perception abroad, Indian cuisine is not one but is comprised of several different regional cuisines. They can be broadly categorized into north Indian (Punjabi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Mughlai, Bengali to name a few) and south Indian (Traditional Tamilian, Chettinad, Udupi, Andhra, Kerala are examples). Honestly speaking though, this broad classification does not justify the distinct flavors and cooking techniques of each region, which use unique blends of a wide variety of spices. Rice, wheat, and several kinds of lentils form the staples of Indian food. These are supplemented with an assortment of well-cooked vegetables and meats, usually soaked in aromatic spices.

Expat GuidesThe best way to sample authentic Indian food is at an Indian home. Restaurant fare is sometimes different from home-cooked food, both in taste and quality. And there are certain dishes as well as cooking styles that are not, for some reason, offered at restaurants. Many Indian homes do have dining tables. But some families still eat the traditional Indian way of sitting on the floor with legs folded and crossed in a yogic posture. Food is sometimes served on plantain leaves, especially during religious festivities or at weddings. Although eating with a spoon is quite common these days, eating with fingers is still the preferred mode. If you are new to India and are not comfortable eating with your hands, requesting a spoon is okay. But if you do decide to eat with your fingers, always use your right hand even if you are left-handed. Using the left hand to eat is considered both inauspicious and unhygienic. Other home-dining rules to keep in mind are 1. Wait to be served and do not help yourself and 2. Do not offer anyone food from your plate, even if it is untouched.

Indian restaurants (commonly referred to as hotels) offer food not only from different regions within the country but also from around the world like burgers, fajitas, and noodles. But even the foreign cuisines are usually ‘Indianized’ with local spices. Indo-Chinese is a separate cuisine by itself and the burger, even at McDonald’s, does not taste like the original Big Mac. The Hindus, who are a majority in India, consider the cow sacred and do not eat beef. Hence beef is not widely available. Also, a large number of Indians are vegetarian, so restaurants will always feature an extensive vegetarian menu. Another interesting fact is that fast food chains like McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, and Pizza Hut that are inexpensive, low-end joints in America are trendy hang-outs in India that attract the hip, young, upwardly mobile crowd.

Restaurant dining is different from eating in a home. For starters, you are offered spoons and forks even if many diners have no use for them. In mid to upscale restaurants, dining etiquette is similar to that in western countries. But the tipping culture is somewhat different. Although everyone right from the bellhop to the waiter expects and likes to be tipped, Indians are not very good tippers. Most Indians will tip much less than 10% of the total cost at a restaurant. However, foreigners are expected to tip well, probably out of past experience.

In some low-end restaurants, there are no menu cards and the only way to tell what is available is by listening to the waiter (there are no waitresses in India) who will reel off a long list of dishes. In marketplaces and sometimes near business areas, roadside vendors offer a variety of foodstuffs. It is common to see shoppers and business professionals grabbing a bite on the roadside. Often roadside vendors are touted to have the best-tasting food. But always be very careful especially while eating at cheap restaurants or from roadside vendors. If you cannot completely avoid them, at least stay away from cold or uncooked foods. Water contamination is a huge problem in India. An important tip for foreigners in India is to always drink only branded bottled water or boiled water. Never drink water from an unknown source.

India’s flavors are very enticing to the food lover. But they need to be soaked in gradually or they could burn both your tongue and your stomach.

Editor: Nisha Giri

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