Visiting India

India is an extremely populated country, particularly in the cities, with climates ranging from icy mountains to deserts and forests. From October to March, the winter season, is considered the best time to travel to the region. Although wintry weather exists in the mountain areas during this time the average temperature elsewhere is comfortable.

India is a mixture of assorted cultures and religions. Religion plays a large role in the lives of most and affects the decisions they make about personal lives, business, even food. Traveling just a few miles in India can take you to a place where everything is different than the town you left. A guide may help make transitions easier if you’ll be traveling the country extensively.

Make business appointments well in advance and confirm the appointment before boarding a plane. Keep all appointments on time but don’t be surprised if you’re kept waiting a few minutes – or longer. Family and other matters can sometimes interrupt business routines. Plan to leave for your meeting early since cities can have bumper-to-bumper traffic for long periods of time. Since addresses in India can be extremely confusing make sure you have a detailed map on how to find your destination.

When scheduling appointments keep in mind that the dinner hour is usually for family and socializing. Schedule business lunches, instead, anytime between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m. India has quite a long list of holidays and depending upon what part of the country you’re visiting, there are additional festivals and other celebrations. It’s helpful if you have a contact source to check with on matters of scheduling, holidays, business hours and such.

Business dress is usually slacks and long sleeve shirts with tie. Jackets are not necessary if it’s extremely hot and the company with which you’re meeting is not exceptionally formal. Some places are even more casual dressing in short sleeve shirts in the summer. For women the necklines should be high and hemlines below the knee.

In some countries speaking to someone you don’t know is mostly taboo. Not so in India. It’s not unusual for someone to begin talking to you even though you are a stranger. Curiosity might tempt them to ask you where you are from, how long you’re staying or what your business is. Don’t be offended if the questions get a little personal since discussing personal lives is perfectly acceptable conversation in most areas of India. Men should not speak to a woman who is walking alone, though. To do so is usually an implication of a romantic interest.

Hand out lots of business cards – in business or personal settings. English is the preferred language for your business cards and paperwork. In business meetings it’s unusual to hear the word “no” or “can’t”. Strong negatives are often seen as argumentative and rude. Follow suit and use “possibly”, “we’ll try”, or “could be” to keep from seeming confrontational.

It’s important to build your personal relationships before expecting that business will transpire. If they don’t like you or your attitudes personally you won’t go far. Great importance is put on family, elders and those with handicaps so show respect and you’ll be known as a respectable person in return.

Address people with “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms” unless you know professional titles. Names are generally written in the western manner with the last name being the name you would use with someone you’ve just met. If names are hyphenated it’s usually acceptable to drop the hyphen along with the names previous to it. The latter part of the name along with an appropriate title is the proper way to address. The people are normally very friendly and would not be offended if you ask for proper pronunciation of the name.

To greet someone the proper way place hands together as if praying and bow slightly while saying “Namaste” or “Namaskar”. Although some shaking of hands is done if a westerner is present it’s a good idea to avoid holding out your hand to shake with a woman. If she offers hers, accept it, otherwise greet with the prayer stance and bow. It’s considered rude to make continuous eye contact with anyone. Looking away completely, while speaking or being spoken to, is not acceptable either. Look the person in the eye, averting eyes occasionally.

Giving a gift is accepted but never on a first meeting. Also, avoid giving expensive gifts that the recipient will feel like he must reciprocate. Use blue, green or yellow wrappings but never white and black. When giving money choose a number that ends in “1”, like $51 or $101. Hindus would not appreciate certain gifts such as a leather wallet. Jewelry is too personal, no matter what religion the recipient. Gifts are not usually opened in front of the giver.

When invited to a home bring a gift for the kids and one for the home or hostess. A box of chocolates or flowers for the woman of the house and new books or small toys for the children are thoughtful. Red roses are usually a safe choice for flowers but check with a florist before ordering other floral selections. Certain colors and types of flowers are acceptable only for funerals.

In India guests are spoiled and treated almost like royalty. The people of India will go out of their way to make a guest feel very comfortable and at ease. If you fall short in Indian etiquette it will be noticed but no one will make you uncomfortable by telling you. Know ahead of time some of the things that are considered in appropriate so you don’t embarrass yourself.

Certain religions forbid consumption of some foods so if you notice others at the table are not ordering beef, for instance, resist the urge to do so and order something else. Wash your hands before and after each meal; it’s considered proper hygiene to do both. Indian foods are eaten with the hand – the right hand – only. Passing dishes with the left hand is okay. In some cultures it’s acceptable to offer someone a portion of your food in India it’s not.

When invited to a home for dinner the women will most likely stay in the kitchen. Speaking aloud of how good the food is and inquiring as to “what’s in it” or “what makes it so spicy” are compliments to the cook. A simple “thank you” when the meal is over is lame in this country. A better “thank you” is to offer to reciprocate and treat the family to dinner sometime in the future.

If you host a dinner for Indian friends don’t be surprised if they bring more friends with them. Such action is seen as something done amongst friends. Prepare for extra eaters and be ready for all to show up a little late.

Many food dishes in India are extremely spicy so it’s a good idea to study up on the names of certain foods and how spicy each one is. A ten-percent tip is average and it’s acceptable to leave it on the table. Summoning someone is done by holding palm downward and curling fingers inward. Never point or curl one finger towards yourself.

It’s usually expected of you to remove your shoes when entering a home. Place shoes where soles touch each other so they will not point at anyone. As in many surrounding countries, it’s improper to point the bottoms of feet or shoes at anyone. Apologize if your foot accidentally touches someone. Keep feet on the ground while sitting to avoid offending someone. Don’t stand with hands on hips or converse with hands in pockets. Refrain from winking or whistling – these gestures convey sexual connotations.

India has so many unique sights, smells and things to do that you’re bound to have a great time but be careful while touring crowded marketplaces. The proximity of the people to one another makes it easier to be a victim of theft.

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