The vibrancy of Indian culture and people is a treat for all your senses! India may be well known for the Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa, or even the Ayurveda retreats in Kerala. But did you know you can find a tropical paradise in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? Or sand dunes, camels and forts galore in Rajasthan? Or living root bridges and waterfalls amidst lush greenery in Meghalaya? Most cities have been around for centuries. As a result, skyscrapers, malls and modern facilities often coexist with older buildings or ruins of forts in narrow alleys. It is entirely possible to be at another end of a city and feel like you’ve been transported into another era.
Whether you meet Indian colleagues in India or abroad, here are three ways to improve your cultural fluency:
Relationship Building: Familiarize yourself with trending topics
It is not unusual for people (even someone you are meeting for the first time) to be curious about your family, background, and personal life. Other topics that dominate social life and conversation often include cricket, Bollywood and politics. You can build relationships over a cup of tea or you may even be invited to their homes for a meal! These are all ways of getting to know each other better.
Diversity: Identify the unique aspects of your colleagues and their background
India is an amalgamation of various cultures, religions, traditions, festivals, cuisines, climates, and clothing styles. There are 22 officially recognized languages (plus hundreds of dialects and native languages) and each of the confederation’s 29 states has its own identity.
For example, the state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India (where the capital is transitioning from Hyderabad to Amaravati) speaks Telugu as the official language. The majority religion is Hinduism (~91%) and there is also a notable Muslim population (~7%). Spicy food, especially chilies, is very popular. And traditionally, the state celebrates a different new year, Ugadi, which takes place in March/April on the Hindu calendar.
Power Distance: Understand the roots and impact of inequality on social and business interactions
The strong power distance in India reflects the high levels of inequality of power and wealth within the society. While the caste system has been outlawed, the vestiges still remain, and power distances are widely accepted by the society as a cultural norm. Social hierarchies are very much in place and it is not easy to be friendly with your boss in most organizations. Until recently, calling your boss by first name was pretty rare in Indian organizations. However, things are changing with the more open mindset of today’s youth and the influence of multinational corporate culture.
Make every effort to fully enjoy the experience of India in-person or vicariously through your Indian colleagues. And be open to embracing what you discover along the way rather than being rigid about pre-conceived notions of 1.3 billion people!
“Follow the river and you will get to the sea” – Indian Proverb