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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in India

Submitted: September 2013

The people of India have a rich culture which is reflected in their behaviour towards each other. The caste system so dominant until fairly recently, appears to not have quite so much importance attached to it as it used to, particularly in the larger cities.

Indians generally have great respect for their elders. It is not unusual for family members of various generations to share their accommodation. Often, elders are the driving force of the family and pass their traditions and wisdom to the younger generations. Perhaps it is because there are often many people sharing the same living space that there is no recognition generally of an individual’s privacy or personal space. This sense of collectivism gives rise to the need for consideration towards others and it is rare to find open conflict or arguments amongst Indians living or working together. Conflicts are usually avoided as much as possible.

Individuals in India place great importance on ‘face’ and an individual’s need to avoid conflict is underpinned by the desire not to lose face themselves or cause someone to lose face. It is therefore very unusual for one person to correct another in front of others. This also spills over into the business environment where open criticism is generally not applied; instead, much more subtle means are used to communicate one’s dissatisfaction.

In business, an expat must have a lot of patience when it comes to meetings and the conclusion of a deal. While a newcomer or expat is expected to arrive for an arranged business meeting on time, this punctuality may be lacking in the hosts who could very well turn up much later. There is usually a long preamble involving much small talk before the real matter of the meeting is discussed. Indian people like to build a rapport with others and get to know them a little before any decisions are made.

In all walks of life, business or pleasure, it is common to greet the most senior member of the party first and address all those present by their title until invited to do otherwise. Indian nationals frown on receiving elaborate gifts from a guest as this is seen as the gift giver bragging about their wealth and status. Small gifts, however, are welcome and should always be presented with both hands. One of the many cultural traditions in India is to have an ‘open house’ for visitors and to provide them with refreshments even if it means the family members have to go without. Guests are considered a great blessing and should therefore always be treated well.

Most Indians are very spiritual and this is evident by their belief in Karma; everything happens for a reason and therefore decisions should not be rushed to allow time for fate to play its part. This strong spiritualism can be found in almost all walks of life across India and it is one of the aspects that makes India and its people fascinating and mysterious at the same time.  

The great culture shock most expats experience during their first weeks in India should be enjoyed to the full and with this, an understanding and acceptance of some of the culture of the country will no doubt develop in the newcomer.



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