Do’s and don’ts on business travel to India

Handshake when meeting people? Should I discuss religion and politics? How should I dress? What to do if I am invited home to someone? Should I offer bribes to speed things up?

The “Don’t do” list (unsorted and uncompleted)

-Avoid hypothetical’s. Asking questions about something imaginary, often seems to be taken as an instruction for immidiate action -rather than just an answer.

-Don’t misunderstand a yes for a yes. Around 50% of the time a yes is a no.

-You are a foreigner on business, so don’t expect your Indian partner to be direct with you. Don’t rely on being corrected you if you step wrong culturally.

-Don’t compromize with your quality expectations. Even when relieved a second try from someone offering a service – after all was much better than the first.

-Don’t expect to much from people in “no qualifications required jobs” (the guy in the elevator is pushing the button, not giving advice)

-Don’t be late for meetings and dinners (even if someone gives the impression it’s not that important and tell that everyone is late)

-Don’t plan too much. Travelling and waiting takes a lot of time, so don’t over schedule.

-Don’t go straight to business. Talk about yourself and your family members. Show interess for theirs too.

-Be careful of directly criticizing someone. Especially in front of others. Most people seem sensitive to even constructive inputs, if it comes dressed as personal criticism.

-Don’t eat, touch anyone, give or take something -with your left hand.

-Don’t eat pork or beef in business dinners, unless you are dining with someone you know won’t mind.

-Don’t be the one at the table drinking most alcohol. Follow the average level of the group. If they don’t drink at all – limit it to one beer yourself (or nothing at all).

– Don’t believe anything you hear about India -in general. There are no general truths.

-Don’t be shocked or offended if someone asks you something you consider very personal, like about your salary, personal relationship etc. Prepare and have an answer ready.

-Don’t get crazy if people in the streets stare at you more than you would. They are just curious.

-Don’t shake hands with ladies unless they offer it first. (at least in the rural areas). In business in the big cities you can just go ahead.

-Don’t say anything disrespectful of any religion.

-Avoid talking about skin color, caste, strange religious practises (according to you), garbage in the streets and general cleaniness.

-Don’t give up if you are not able to stay calm at all times. It’s going to be impossible not to explode one or two times during your stay.

-No, you should not enter into the “paying to have things done faster game”


The “to do” list (unsorted and uncompleted)

-If you already know what you want – then be firm and instructive. Be in the driver’s seat. Involving to many others will just confuse, and can easily be mistaken as lack of directions.

-Be aware that your Indian partner most likely has a strict roadmap for his life -based on religion, caste and astrology. Getting at least a basic understanding of this -is highly recommended.

-Talk to strangers. Most of them are actually nice.

-Try (hard) to accept that everything will NOT be done be according to your logic. Things might look chaotic, so give it a chance and try to understand before concluding things are wrong.

-Prepare for the cultural differences. Read a book or follow a blog. You will get so much more out of it. You will still be on thin ice, so you can still expect your share of the cultural crashes.

-Be very open to the fact that the cultural differences has a much higher effect than it appears to you initially.

-Prepare more than normal for your business meetings. You might be surprised how prepared they are and how formal the meeting will be.

-Understand that relations is king in India. How something effect personal relations is above everything else, also the law.

-Make things simple. Too many details will complicate. Whenever you have an option, go the simple route.

-Enjoy the high service level in India to the full. You will soon get back to reality.

-Give a small tip when someone is assisting you. (keep small bills handy at all times, since absolutely noone has change)

-Obviously you will just drink bottled water, but check that it actually IS sealed. (Have it changed if you are in any doubt)

-Bring a lot of business cards

-Take control of your own schedule and be picky about who and how many you should meet. (Too many would like to schedule a meeting with you)

-Take off your shoes before entering temples, someone’s home and quite some offices. If you are the only one in the crowd with the shoes on – then you know who is wrong.

-A small gift with some relevance to your homeplace or company will be considered a plus. (No need to distribute pens or glass perls)

-Make a general habit of being very firm (polite is still fine) when someone take you out of your comfort zone.

-Dress slightly more formal then you might think. Businesslike is fine if you are in doubt. No shorts or sports weare ever, in any business setting (unless you are on a beach or doing sports)

-Try to accept all the small practical challenges you will most certainly experience