India: Tips/Business Etiquette

In business, risk is embraced and innovation is encouraged, but, be prepared to take time to build relationships, Indians want to do business with people they know and trust. Patience is key in all business dealings. Being aggressive or visibly frustrated can be seen as a sign of disrespect. Decision making can be slow, but by being flexible you can develop a long term business relationship.

Normal office hours in India are 10am to 6pm, although there is a trend towards a longer working day. (Possibly starting at around 7.30am and ending at 8pm.) Lunch breaks of one hour are normally taken between midday and 2pm. Lunch and breakfast meetings are increasingly common.

Making appointments in advance can take several attempts and can at times be frustrating. It is advisable to confirm all pre-arranged meetings one week before arriving, as changes are not unusual. Indians appreciate punctuality, but don't always practice it themselves! Be prepared to spend time getting to know each other before talking business. Send any agendas and reference material in advance although bear in mind is that meeting agendas may not always be followed, so be prepared to provide for extra time Follow up the meeting with an overview of what was discussed and the next steps.

Business wear is conservative for men and women. Men should wear a suit and tie while women should wear a suit or dress, dressing on the side of caution is recommended; above the-knee skirts or sleeveless shirts are generally unacceptable.

The traditional Indian greeting consists of folding your hands with palms pressed together as you would in prayer, but with fingers pointing upwards rather than forward. In most cities today, however, a handshake is a perfectly acceptable greeting. A western woman should not initiate a handshake with a man in India. Many Indian women will shake hands with a foreign woman, but not with a foreign man. Handshakes are normal between men; wait for women to put out their hand before offering a handshake.

Business cards are exchanged after the initial handshake and greeting.

  • Put your title and all qualifications on your card.
  • Use the right hand to give and receive business cards.
  • Present it formally and with your name towards the recipient

General practice is that only last names are used in front of superiors in a business setting (first names tend to be used only by close friends, family members or someone older or an authority.) Using prefixes such as Mr, Mrs and Miss or the professional title of the person is also advisable.

The most senior person will make the decisions. If he/ she is not at the meeting you are at the early stage of negotiation, decision making can be a slow process.

Indians don't like to say No. Instead they will us phrases like “we'll see, I will try, possibly”- these probably mean ‘no’. An Indian would be considered very rude if he did not attempt to give a person what had been asked. A gesture you will notice is a distinctive rotational move of the head. When done with a smile it can mean “yes” or “I understand”.

Never point with your finger, this is considered extremely rude. When you wish to point, use your chin or your full hand, but never just a single finger, as this gesture is used only with inferiors. The best way to point is with the full hand.


India: General Advice

Before leaving the UK check with your GP if you need any immunisations and make sure you take a supply of any regular medication. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office web site - is useful for the latest information. Use bottled water for drinking and cleaning your teeth. Avoid milk and raw foods like salads and unpeeled fruit as they may have been cleaned in polluted water. Eating vegetarian dishes, boiled rice and eggs are safest.

Mosquitoes can be a problem in some parts of India (anti malaria tablets are generally not required if travel is only to Mumbai and/or Delhi).

India is not a particularly menacing place but it is wise to be sensible. Lock up any valuables and taking a copy of your passport - including the page containing your Indian visa - can be useful if it does get lost or stolen. Be alert in crowded places for pickpockets and thieves and look after your credit cards.

Don't touch stray dogs as rabies is endemic.

Etiquette at meals

Ask about the dress code of the restaurant as it may be formal. Table manners can also be formal and food may be eaten with the fingers, or you may be provided with a spoon and fork. Be prepared to be invited to wash your hands before and after a meal.

Politely turn down the first offer of tea, coffee, or snacks. You will be asked again and again. Saying no to the first invitation is part of the protocol.

Bottled water, soft drinks or beer are normally drunk with food. Indians eat late.

Wait to be told where to sit. The guest of honour may be served first.

Normally the person who gave the invitation will pay for everyone. Offering to pay will be seen favourably, but expect to be turned down. To reciprocate and show appreciation, invite your host out another time.

Dietary restrictions are affected by religion so:

Hindus do not eat beef and many are vegetarians

Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol

Sikhs do not eat beef

Lamb, chicken and fish are the most common main courses for non-vegetarians

Always use your right hand to eat, whether you are using utensils or your fingers. Leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you are satisfied. Finishing all your food means that you are still hungry.

Don't talk about:


Sex or poverty

Criticise India and its customs

Do talk about:

Your family

Food, history, films, hobbies, sport (especially cricket)

British humour doesn't always travel well…so be careful with jokes.

Hindus should not be given gifts made of leather

Muslims should not be given gifts made of pigskin or alcoholic products

Gifts are not opened when received