Be punctual, prepared for business in India
It had been a long time since I had visited India, so when a trip came up to that part of the world I asked my colleague Connie for help. I figured she'd be a good candidate because she travels there at least five times a year for work.
My biggest concern: what gift to give my Mumbai business contact.
"I was thinking of taking him a business card case," I said. "Something stylish and covered in soft leather."
Connie's reaction resulted in a question. "Well, is he Hindu or Muslin?" she asked.
I didn't know the answer, so my American cohort said to forget that idea.
"If he is Muslin, then he would not appreciate pigskin, and if he is Hindu, then he might be vegetarian and so he would not appreciate leather altogether," Connie explained.
With my original present deemed inappropriate, I asked if it is OK to take a bottle of whiskey.
"Only if your colleague there is not Muslim and only if he definitely drinks alcohol," she said, again thwarting my purchase.
"How about one of the new video iPods?" I asked.
"Too expensive," she said.
"How about a gold tie clasp?"
"Too intimate," she said.
Frustrated with what I could not give, I finally asked what I could take with me to India.
"Oh, that's easy," said Connie. "Take something from home like a box of chocolates from a local company or a photography book showing America's natural wonders. Each is a perfect choice that won't result in any negative repercussions."
I snapped up both suggestions and packed the presents in my carry-on bag, ready for my journey to India. I also packed a bunch of notes Connie had scribbled down on what to do -- and what not to do -- once I arrived in this diverse nation. Here is just a sampling:
• Once you have chosen your gift, be sure to present it in the right way. Don't wrap it in white and/or black because these are considered unlucky colors. Instead, wrap it in red, yellow and/or green because these are considered lucky colors.
• Do not wink or whistle in public.
• No matter how frustrating or mad you get, never, ever show anger to your Indian counterpart.
• Make business appointments prior to your trip to India and then reconfirm when you get there and then once again the day before attending. Don't be put off if that meeting is canceled at the last minute, as this often happens. Instead, simply reschedule.
• Expect your Indian contact to be late to a meeting even though that same person will expect you to be punctual.
• If you are meeting someone at their office and they offer you tea or coffee, politely refuse with the knowledge you will be asked again. The second time it is considered good protocol to accept.
• During your first meeting with an Indian cohort, expect that session to be one where very little business gets done. Instead, this time frame will prove the best chance for you to get to know and trust each other, sharing information on your personal lives and your education backgrounds. This session will also pave the way for talking turkey the next time you meet.
• When you do get together on a formal basis for the second time, come prepared with charts, graphs or any other data that will prove your proposal. Then, after the meeting, offer an overview of what was discussed and how you think it is best to proceed. You can do this by e-mail or fax, but also send the written information by messenger or mail if you have the time to spare.
• If you are in India with other colleagues, never, ever disagree with each other while discussing a business proposition. Doing so might result in your proposal being turned down without any further discussion.
• Think conservative when you dress for business. Suits are suitable for both men and women.