Why don't many Europeans like India?

India: Those who want to be polite take their time

Anyone who wants to be successful in business in India needs tough nerves. Indians have different ideas about life and business relationships.

Austrian business partners will already encounter a cultural difference when making contact. If you write an email to Indians, 99 percent of all cases will not receive an answer. Dirk Matter, head of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce in Düsseldorf, can tell you a thing or two about it. "Many Europeans fail at the first step," says the India expert. The reason is that the majority of Indians are extremely relational.

Introduce yourself personally

And anyone who thinks he can buy up address lists and establish business contacts in writing is wrong. "It usually doesn't matter whether you want to sell something to an Indian or even buy something from him," says Matter. Anyone who wants to be polite and successful in India must first invest in building relationships. This is not so hard. You shouldn't just do it in writing. It is better to ask yourself the following questions: Do I know an Indian who could help me? Is there a trade fair coming up soon where I can introduce my company and myself as a person? Should I take part in a trade delegation?

All of these are ways in which one can get in touch with Indians. However, anyone who meets an Indian in this way must never get straight to business. Getting to know each other in India doesn't just mean having seen each other once. Establishing contacts now includes phone calls and meetings. In the phone calls you should always reveal something about yourself and at the same time be interested in your Indian business partner. As if Adolph Freiherr von Knigge had written his etiquette primer entirely for the India business, he remarked right away: "You are interested in others if you want others to be interested in you." Only at the second meeting or visit should you get to the core of the business in India. It is important to maintain existing contacts. A business friendship then usually lasts for several years.

Communication: Indirect language

Differences in the clarity of communication between Indians and Austrians repeatedly lead to misunderstandings and serious problems. "In India it is not appropriate to express criticism clearly," says Mohammed Rehan, who runs a German-Indian business get-together in Munich. Specifically, this means: Anyone who is dissatisfied should never say this directly - but ask whether something could not be done differently. The consequence of this indirect communication is also that a "yes" does not automatically mean a "yes" and that a "no" is never expressed with a "no" - instead, according to Austrian standards, it is just about the bush. As in other countries, it can happen in India that Indian business partners initially reject offers. One should always keep this in mind and still not let an Indian business partner die of thirst, even if he refused the request for a drink the first time.

Business culture: collision of different worlds

Yesterday, today, tomorrow: the Indian doesn't care. The word "kal" not only stands for yesterday, but also for tomorrow. Kal means the day before yesterday - and the day after tomorrow. Not only the difference between rich and poor or between old and new triggers a culture shock for many travelers to India. Western business people are also put to the test when it comes to punctuality. Many business people with fixed appointments have already got used to the fact that the clocks go slower in Spain or southern Italy. In India, however, there is no longer any question of Mediterranean serenity when it comes to time perception.

Our meaning of time is completely alien to Indians. Unlike in Austria, time doesn't run out. It repeats itself. This view can be traced back to Hinduism. Hindus believe that life and death repeat themselves in a cycle. After life comes rebirth. The effects on life and business are barely comprehensible for Austrians. Deadlines are almost never kept. Anyone who has to negotiate with the authorities can expect waiting times of several hours. "Since Indians assume that they have several lives, they do not have the feeling that they have to experience and force everything in one life," says Dirk Matter. Before traveling on business, try to understand and respect this attitude towards time. There is no point in getting excited.

Table culture and dress code

"If your nose is running, it should never be blown at the table. And certainly not loudly," says Rehan, describing a misstep that Indians do not like. If your nose is runny, you can gently dab it. Eating with the left (unclean) hand is also evidence of poor table manners. If the hands are used at the table, then only the right one. Even naan bread can be broken with just one hand (the right). People eat with their mouth closed. Even if some older Indians like to smack their lips and burp, no business partner has to express their satisfaction with the food by loudly letting others participate in the eating process. Care should be taken when choosing and preparing the food. If you receive Indian guests, you should definitely think about religion when choosing your food. 80.5 percent of all Indians are Hindus, 13.4 percent are Muslim. It is very likely that the guests will not eat meat.

The dress code in India is simple: In the summer months, trousers, shirts and ties are allowed, otherwise suits, shirts and ties dominate. Women should wear light fabrics and show little skin.

(Kai Oppel, 2007 / Image: Claus Mikosch, Fotolia.com)

Additional information:

Book tip:

Kai Oppel: "International Business Knigge", Haufe Verlag 2006, 192 pages, paperback, 19.80 euros. In the work, the author illuminates rules of conduct for eleven countries and addresses typical misunderstandings.