Learning any culture takes a lifetime, not in any limited number of steps. Learning Indian culture in 5 lessons is actually a random list of things as seen by a foreigner, and some of the ways on dealing with them.
At the moment, India is the favorite destination among western companies. So far, the western businessmen who came over are slowly learning that to succeed in business in India means to understand the people first.
Outsiders must know how to see, hear, and feel like the Indians, rather than thinking along the lines of good earnings, favorable contracts, customer satisfaction, low-cost labor and expertise, better business values and all that.
Here are some tips on how to “walk, talk, think and feel” like an Indian, in random order.
For an Indian, religion comes first. It dominates his thinking, his eating, his attitudes, and his habits. It is a little complicated because in India, there are so many religions, although the major ones are Hindu, Christianity, and Islam with some Buddhists, Jews and others roaming around.
Of these, there are other religious denominations too many to list down. So, if your Indian partner does not eat vegetables (not eating meat is the fashion today) like the other Indians, you can be sure he belongs to another religious group. You could be wrong, of course.
Festivals and other rites
It is said that India has a cultural history that is more than ten thousand years, or older. The number of religions and their resultant festivals and rites would probably run close to that number, too. In every state and village and sometimes even in households, people have their own set of deities to be honored and revered, to give offerings to, etc.
Foreigners who want to do business in India would do well to acquaint themselves with religious festivals and other activities connected with deities, anniversaries, rites, etc.
Families and Elders
Most Indians or most Asians, for that matter usually have extended families in one household. From grandparents to parents, aunts, uncles, nephews and cousins they usually all stay in the same household.
One advantage is the absence of need for babysitters. Everybody babies everybody, including the adults. (Westerners call it being nosy.) Visitors are asked, too, with probing questions about family, work, and even personal habits.
A family member who might be a company president outside his home is expected to follow the wishes of his uneducated father. His mother may also have a blanket authority for slapping him in front of other family members should he be disrespectful.
For foreigners, the first order of the first day in India is learning to say and understand “namaste”. It’s the Indian way of greeting others with folded hands. Shaking hands is accepted in offices and with business associates, but not with the ladies you just met.
Time for an Indian (or again for that matter, any Asian) is fluid. Fluid here means never resting on one place, moving either forward or backward without provocation. If a meeting is set at 9:00am, do not expect everybody to be there sharp.
Everything happens in the outside world that will cause your business partner to be late: traffic, queues, parking, road repairs, civil disturbances, rains, processions, etc. Your business partner should not be blamed for being late.
Actually, to learn Indian culture in 5 short lessons is just a short teaser. There are more valuable guidelines on how to do business and have good relations in India. It is comprehensive, up to date, and has many situational examples. The problem is, the compilation would fill a whole book and is too much for an article.