‘Sensitising’ courses for Britons in India
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
Hundreds of Western business executives arriving to work in an economically resurgent India are undergoing tuition to help them adapt to their new cultural milieu at specialist courses across the country.
They are being instructed how not to offend Indians with their directness, manage domestic help and made aware of the contrasts between extreme wealth and abject poverty which many find difficult, if not impossible, to handle.
It is paradoxical for newcomers that India is the world’s second fastest producer of millionaires, lagging marginally behind Singapore, due primarily to its high economic growth, a robust stock market and rising real estate prices.
“Most expatriates come armed with misconceptions about India which have to be righted if they want to lead a contented and embarrassment-free existence here” said Rajini Manian, who founded Global Passage in southern Chennai to help foreign executives adjust to the intrusive and disconcerting chaos that assails most expatriates.
They need to be instructed that Indians are simply culturally different, not inferior, she added.
The author of “Doing business in India for dummies” Miss Manian said neither books, journals, films or cultural discourses equipped incoming Western executives to deal with India’s 1.2 billion people who effortlessly overpower their genteel notions of smell, space and privacy.
According to official statistics, there are over 50,000 expatriates, mostly Westerners, presently working in India, and more are arriving each year as India’s economy booms and employment opportunities, paying competitive salaries, proliferate.
In the ‘sensitising’ lessons that vary from a few days to a week, Global Passage and scores of similar organisations instruct clients from leading multinationals like Nokia, Ford and Hyundai to make sense of the bewildering body language of most Indians in the boardroom, the market place and at social gatherings.
The courses, costing between £625 and £1,875, advise patience, reiterating that expecting instant solutions to even minor household and work-related problems is being unreasonable, imperious and over demanding.
“We also teach our clients to manage boardroom etiquette with cultural traditions as the old equations where Westerners instructed and we listened were now over,” Miss Manian said.
The days of brusqueness or “White mans” pique were over, but there was still much which needed explaining, she added.
Many expats, for instance, consider the limp handshake by Indians to indicate a lack of character and manliness.
In reality, it is merely a mark of respect, as Indians are culturally not used to shaking hands but folding them in greeting.
Foreigners are also taught the importance of ‘face’ or ‘moustache’ to all Indians.
In many regions across India, upturned moustaches represent a man’s standing in society.
In the northern Punjab state, home to whiskered Sikhs, and nearby Rajasthan, there is a popular saying: “Not having a moustache is akin to having nothing.”
Hence, slighting somebody’s facial hair, however inadvertently, is the equivalent of “lowering their whiskers” or insulting their manhood.
Newly arrived executives are told not to take a bottle of wine to an Indian’s house when invited for a meal as it is considered a slight to his hospitality. Flowers are preferred.
Outsiders are also flummoxed when locals nod their heads, unclear whether it is a yes or no, depending on whether you are in northern or southern India.
Expats are also told that they do not have to visit the zoo to see animals like bears, camels and elephants; they are all freely visible on roads, even in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
Wives of executive are also instructed in ways to deal with household staff. They are advised to deal with them firmly and fairly and not to over-compensate them.
Conversely, hundreds of Indian information technology professionals travelling to work in Western countries are coached in ways to cope with their new environments.
“Indian professionals have the skill and talent, but the finishing touches are missing,” said Udayakanth, who ‘grooms and polishes’ IT professionals in the southern city of Bangalore, India’s equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Bangalore ranks among the world’s five top IT centres and of around 4,600 enterprises in the city, more than a third have some foreign alliance.
“Most of the time when I am with a foreign client I am on the edge of my seat as I fear my colleagues will commit a social blunder. He may bum a cigarette or pick his tooth and burp aloud. I have lost quite a few clients because of this,” Udaykanth said.
At these ‘manner schools’, Indian IT executives are taught how to dress, hold their drinks, communicate and mingle in professional and social settings and at times even instructed in toilet manners.
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