In addition to your business dealings with Indians, there will also be a number of situations on your business trip in which you act on your own private behalf. In India, a country in which personal relationships play an important role, you’re also likely to get private invitations to your host’s home or to restaurants. In our blog posts over the next few weeks, you’ll learn what to keep in mind when you’re being hosted by your business partner in India. In the first part of our three-part series, we’d like to give you some general tips on how to be a good guest.
Before you enter your Indian host’s house, you’ll be expected to take your shoes off at the door. You can then enter the living quarters either barefoot or in socks. Shoes should also be taken off when visiting a temple or someone else’s office.
When you visit a Hindu for the first time, a Hindu welcoming ceremony may be held in your honor. At the beginning of this religious ritual, your host will hang a flower garland around your neck. The lady of the house will then greet you with a tray containing a burner, flowers, grains of rice and a powder container. She’ll swing this tray around before you in a circle several times. She’ll then use the powder to dab a tilaka [a sign of blessing] on your brow. This is meant as a way to fend off evil spirits and to warmly welcome you in the host’s Indian home.
Delays are normal
If you’re invited to an Indian’s home, the typical time you’ll be asked to show up is 7:00 p.m. But Indian guests are often late by one to one and a half hours. Food is typically served at around 10:30 p.m. This allows plenty of time for the guests and hosts to have lengthy discussions beforehand. Join in these conversations, because it’s not so common to sit together and talk after eating in India.
After the meal is over, the evening ends rather abruptly and without much fanfare; the table is cleared and the guests go home. Don’t be shocked by this! In the end, you will already have been able to chat with the other guests extensively before the main meal. So take your leave relatively quickly after eating, but not without thanking your host – thank him for the invitation, thank him for the wonderful evening, and thank his wife for the food.
And in restaurants?
If your Indian business partner invites you to eat at a restaurant, he’s unlikely to come with his wife, even if the family is open-minded regarding Western culture. And you should only bring your family if it has been expressly stated that they should join. If you’re the one doing the inviting and you want your guest to bring his wife and children, say so explicitly. Also be ready to accept the fact that he may not want to bring his family.
In our next blog post, we’ll discuss the topic of hospitality gifts in India. You can also find further important information about doing business – such as negotiations and meeting management – in our cross-cultural training on India.