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Rude or polite, it’s a matter of perspective

January 19, 2009

World standards of polite behavior are so different and in fact cultural differences are so varied, that when people come face to face with another culture for the first time they might find that they act in ways which make them unpopular, making it difficult not just to get along, but also get things done.

A recent Business Etiquette survey by Servicorp [December 2008] which evaluated responses from 700 international business people in 13 countries on their thoughts on workplace expectations and standards, tells us that there are wide differences even in English speaking countries. For example, Aussie manners are not always appreciated, not by Americans and Britons at least. The results are given in the table below (table from Servicorp).

India wasn’t on the list/table and so I created my own column at the extreme right. The figures I have given for India are just a guesstimate, and based on the corporate India I have come across. You are welcome to add your insights.

The table shows the percentage of people offended by a particular (workplace) behavior.

What’s surprising is that so many people in the US and the UK feel offended by the use of bad words! I had the impression that using the word starting with “f” is a kind of norm in those countries but I guess I was wrong. In India using bad words at the workplace is not liked at all, and only a boss can get away with it. But he could well lose the respect of his colleagues.

When it comes to offering beverages to guests, it kind of happens automatically if one visits any office in India, even a government office. The host doesn’t usually have to get up and get it, he has to just call for it. Offering a beverage to a guest involves no effort on the part of the host, and therefore  if a beverage is not offered, the guest could feel a little put out.

As for having personal conversations at the workplace, all of us do that, don’t we! Considering how late we work, I guess that’s forgiven! Or are we just too laid back?! However do make sure you don’t have any such conversation if a Japanese co-worker or guest or business associate is around, because he/she will think you are quite useless! The Japanese do not appreciate this type of behavior (68%) and their scores are the highest of all the countries.

I was surprised to know that in China and Japan bosses do not get mostly offended if addressed by their first names as I believed that to some extent theirs was a hierarchical society, just like ours. But I guess I was wrong. The Chinese and the Japanese are nowhere as hierarchical as Indians. Unless the survey results are wrong.

According to the Servicorp survey, it is the Chinese who seem to be most offended by personal questions, and their percentage is higher than even the Americans and the British! I tend to think they are right about the Chinese. I remember during our trip to China I was trying my best to make friends with our guides and while they were friendly they kept a distance. In fact once I asked a guide a personal question and I could see that she was offended by it.

Talking on the cell phone during meetings is common enough in India, particularly by senior people, and one of the reasons for this is that we Indians tend to do several things the same time. A kind of juggling act is always on, and it could be because  things take time to get done and continuous follow-up is required. Also as relationships with colleagues and business partners are very important, we spend time talking to them. If someone calls, it is impolite to not take the call or not speak a few words. And the chatterboxes that we are, a few words never suffice do they! A westerner might think this is a waste of time (developing relationships at the workplace) but it’s critical in India. Having a cool professional and distant attitude does not work.

Considering that we Indians set so much store by work relationships, and in fact relationships on the whole, it’s surprising that we are not too concerned about greeting colleagues at work. The Australians were most offended by this behavior, but Indians would never be. I have a feeling that this is because we Indians tend to have our work relationships going, and might think of  greeting someone who is not part of that group as unnecessary. Not a nice thing because newcomers to the office could feel pretty much at sea.

What’s clear, is that although other countries are a little different from each other, we Indians seem to be at the other end of the spectrum in most things. In fact the only similarity we have with the others is the dislike of bad words at the office.

I thought I would make a list of what Indians find mildly offensive at the workplace. I made this list partly from reading on the web and partly from my own experience:

Indians could get mildly insulted by:

  • Guests who refuse beverages like tea or coffee or snacks
  • People who are start talking business without bothering to make small talk
  • People who do not use the correct titles
  • People who address them by their first names without knowing them well
  • Those open gifts in their presence
  • Offering food to another which has already been touched by the saliva of another person, called “Jootha” or “Ushte”
  • And despite what people say about Indians not valuing privacy, Indians do not like to stand physically close while talking to people

Related Reading: Cultural Differences between the East and the West (Hofstede’s study)
How to Tip in India (Tipping Etiquette)
Indian Tourists are not the world’s worst!
Want to leave that job you hate? Think again!
Job discrimination at the workplace
Getting your due without sucking up
What foreigners like about working in India

41 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2009 9:16 am

    Clearly, the number of people interviewed in the US is too low. Just look at the percentages (50, 62.5, etc.). I would guess that only 8 people were interviewed there (perhaps, from the same office!). So, drawing conclusions like

    “What’s surprising is that so many people in the US and the UK feel offended by the use of bad words! ”

    is pointless.

    Yeah, that’s what I think too. The results could be wrong. I also gave my own views, saying that I thought that certain words were freely used there in offices. What do you think? If you have any experience of America and Europe, you could share your views here.
    However I do not understand your conclusion that only 8 people were interviewed in the United States. On what basis have you arrived at this? From my calculations at least 50 people would have been interviewed in each country and these surveys usually do not interview people from the same organisation! Servicorp is a professional organisation in Australia which in a consultancy for businessmen.
    – Nita.

  2. January 19, 2009 9:52 am

    Calling Sir!!
    Its a very uncommon practice to call your boss by his/her first name…seeing 95% people getting offended by it in India says it all… We like to promote the stupid hierarchy system or “babugiri” commonly known as!! Even I used to follow the same, but here, in my new firm, I feel much comfortable calling my boss by her first name!!

    And the most irritating thing I have seen in most offices, no one bothers to wish the peon/helper, assistant “Good Morning” or “Good Night”.. Why?? Aren’t they humans, aren’t they drawing a salary just like you?? Bloody hypocrisy!!

    True, we don’t consider them humans! And certainly not people who can ever be a part of our social circle. Sad, and tragic in a way! – Nita.

  3. ruSh.Me permalink
    January 19, 2009 10:09 am

    &, most humorous : Borrowing stationary without permission: Not sure what it means!!..LOL

    I meant, does any stationary belong to us personally at the office? 🙂 – Nita

  4. January 19, 2009 10:50 am

    Speaking loudly across the room would be most common in India. In USA p*****d off is commonly used everywhere even in some board rooms. In Japan they expect people to address superiors/elders as Saan.

    The survey doesn’t seem too correct. Similar to the ‘Mumbai is the rudest city in the world’ survey by Reader’s digest.

    Mumbai would be the rudest if we take it by western standards! So would Delhi I guess. As to the authenticity of the survey I don’t know as I am not very familiar with the work culture of the said countries. I can personally only speak for India – Nita.

  5. January 19, 2009 11:02 am

    Hmmmmm these type of survey’s are quite pointless however they can sometime show what type of society is formed by a group of people. Btw. Japanese have a great sense of formal and informal. They are also given to talking very little usually. In Japan one must be able to ‘read the air’. Sense what is proper and what is not proper.

    Indians in offices can be an interesting sight. I have often noticed that they spend long hours doing nothing. So they are in the office quite longer because of rather poor time management skills. They will often chat, send text messages or take phone calls, drink chai, discuss politics, make small talk about their families and then scuttle to finish the days work at the very end.

    I say this of course from my limited experience in the IT industry. Of course every where people work differently. Japanese also spend long hours in office doing nothing 🙂 They simply can not leave till the boss leaves. The boss might not leave because he does not want to go home. So if the boss decides to go drinking after work, all the workers must follow him in to a bar and get piss drunk. A lot of Japanese salarymen these days do not go home for weeks because they are too drunk or tired to make it home. The drinking parties are important because this is their time to be informal with each other.

    Indians on the other hand are never informal with their bosses. So this and that. This is all too subjective anyway.

    Thanks Odzer for taking the time to tell us about Japan. Much appreciated. Also I think you are being a trifle harsh on us Indians. 🙂 – Nita.

  6. January 19, 2009 11:25 am

    having personal phone conversation at works……..i wonder how could we the indians be missed out of that 😛
    nita, are the stats for this opinion correct?

    oh forget about calling the bosse’s by their first name . being in school i have noticed students calling teachers by their first name…….( i wouldnt lie here …..i too call some which are my least favorite )

    Arpit, the India stats are my own guesstimate! And well, I think the survey overall is a good pointer to many things as it shows people’s opinions. These may not stand scientific scrutiny but give us an idea of how things are. And if the stats seem to contradict are own held opinion,this could also mean that our opinion may not be correct! For example we may hold a general opinion that the Japanese are say formal, but if you break it down to actual questions, we may not know the answer! Not unless we know Japanese society really well, like Odzer does. – Nita.

  7. January 19, 2009 11:37 am

    I agree with Odzer about formal and informal behavior of Japanese. On one hand they expect you to address everyone as a ‘Saan’ and then they might just taste your Beer or food without permission 😀

    Nita, that’s why I said that the survey doesn’t seem too authentic as most work culture is so informal in US. May be they should have been asked about the swear words too 🙂

    Well, I am not sure that the survey necessarily contradicts what Odzer has said. For example the survey says that the Japanese think that talking loudly is impolite and so is swearing, not greeting colleagues, taking personal calls at work and so on. Please note that the India stats are my own. – Nita.

  8. January 19, 2009 11:58 am

    “Borrowing stationery items without permission”…!! Hehehe! My pens and pencils are in constant danger of being kidnapped! 😀
    This is quite an analysis – being in the corporate world for the past 3 years, I never knew that there were people like Servicorp who actually did these kinds of research… 😀

    Oh, so that’s whats meant by “stationery items” ! 🙂 Well, I always thought that in office no one borrowed pens and pencils…they just stole them! 🙂 If I ever lost a pen at the office I never got it back! – Nita

  9. Tara permalink
    January 19, 2009 12:18 pm

    I think this survey gives us some interesting information on the work cultures in other countries. I don’t think it’s all that far off from reality. May not be perfect though!

    Thanks and yeah, not perfect! – Nita.

  10. January 19, 2009 12:42 pm

    Politeness…hmm… different things to different people. My thoughts on some of ’em here…
    1. Speakerphone talk – it is common in my organisation after we got taken over by US MNC. It disturbs everyone around and the guy at the other end can hardly hear you. Works only if there is a team at both ends. You say it is unusual. Maybe, unusual things keep happening to me!

    2. Speaking loudly – “across the room” is limiting the scope, I get offended by people speaking across the universe on their cellphones without a care!

    3. Personal calls at work – you say 0%! becoz 0% are at work? Or becoz nobody ever finds it impolite? Becoz that’s OK – you’re right!

    4. Asking about personal life seems to be considered more polite here than impolite – thats a sure way to connect even to absolute strangers.

    5. Using swearwords – Mumbai abounds in this. (I am often requested to write about swear words instead of words), my friends feel new swear words are needed to get the desired result of 80%.

    Nice post, Nita! Happy Sankranti – Tilgul ghya god god bola!

    Gopinath, god bola to you too but to you I should say “funny bola!” And in this comment you certainly have! I guess that’s because unusual things keep happening to you! 🙂 – Nita.

  11. Naveen permalink
    January 19, 2009 12:47 pm

    I believe items in the above list have a lot to do with cultural upbringing and are not enough to decide on ‘rudeness’ per se.

    Rudeness has to do more with ‘hurting others feelings’ than ‘ignoring others sensitivities’. I’d prefer calling microaggressions like getting into the line from middle, pushing trash into neighbor’s house, kicking the front seat in theatres, commenting/eve-teasing etc. as rudeness and we will certainly not score well in that.

    The behavior you describe is politely dubbed as “impolite” or “rude” behavior, but to my mind its more than that! It’s plain aggression, selfishness and meanness! – Nita.

  12. January 19, 2009 1:37 pm

    well I agree about the talking dad is always on the phone 🙂 even though he is a professional..but guess that means they need to be on the phone for longer

    depends on the job! 🙂 But if you listen closely you will know whether its business talk or small talk! – Nita.

  13. ahumanbean permalink
    January 19, 2009 4:09 pm

    Good points…the real (acid) test is

    “How did that make you *feel*?

    I’ve traveled to a few countries and lived outside India. Rudeness is often imperceptible, especially at the more genteel levels of society…! Some nationalities, generally speaking, are so subtly rude in their verbal put-downs that the other Indians I am with miss the sarcasm ( for e.g. A Briton saying “Well you do look posh, don’t you?” to someone who didn’t intend to look posh, just well dressed…if you get my drift!)

    I’ve met a few ex-pats who transit through India on their 1-year tenures who are unspeakably snobbish to other Indians who try to help them. But the Indians don’t realise they’re being snubbed…

    So I say: rudeness is as rudeness feels.

    Oh – sorry but just have to correct this – it’s “stationery” not stationary w r t paper, clips et al!

    • January 19, 2009 4:32 pm

      well, I must confess that I too have been at the receiving end but was too dumb to notice at first! This happened when I was working in an expat school in Tanzania with mostly British teachers. Their snide remarks and expressions were so subtle that it took me months to figure them out! Finally it was another Britisher (African British) who helped me figure things out. I guess not being used to such patronising and snobbish behavior we don’t realise what it is all about. So here because I didn’t realise it at first, does it make the person who was rude a better person? No, I don’t think so. In fact my African British friend told me it was a subtle form of racism.

  14. ahumanbean permalink
    January 19, 2009 5:32 pm

    This brings to mind an (imho) idiotic buffoon I saw on our Indian TV channel two days ago. Some motor-mouth, good looking and over-articulate was spewing out 10,000 words a minute and the normally interrupting Indian TV ‘journalist’ just kept gaping at him in awe and wonder. I wondered why she didn’t shut this fool up – and fast.

    Then – I discovered this ludicrous buffoon is the British Foreign Sec’y, one Milliband chap with more accent than common sense or good manners. Witness his remarks about 26/11 (here

    Even before I discovered who he is, I was struck by his absolute rudeness – but you’d never guess it from the fawning audience in the TV studio.

    And yes the Brits hold the prize when it comes to subtle/obvious racist/superior comments.

    Milband huh. An idiot if there was one. Cannot believe he is the foreign secy or some such thing! To think he was sent here to defuse tensions! The buffoons there wear suits! 😀 – Nita.

  15. ahumanbean permalink
    January 19, 2009 5:39 pm

    Oh – and I say foooey and hogwash to these “rudeness” surveys. They don’t say much, esp. when it is the (very American) Reader’s Digest doing the surveying: RD really have too much money and very little world view at times. And what’s polite in India gets sidelined in favour of what’s rude in the West.

    I’ll tell you what’s rude in India:

    0.1. talking to a (rural) Indian when he/she is eating.

    1. Saying “Ill call you back” and not doing so in a professional situation ( considered extremely rude in the US)

    2. Staring at the Indian at the table who’s eating with her/his hands

    3. Asking what caste we’re from….!

    4. My friend -a girl – was asked within minutes of meeting an American how her wedding night was …he asked this because he knew she had the “arranged marriage”

    5. A Westerner telling an Indian host “I don’t care which hand I eat from because I don’t wash my bottom with my hands” .

    Yeah, buddy, you just like to cut a few million trees instead…!


    Nice list. 🙂 And yeah, I agree, no Readers Digest Rudeness survey has much meaning for us! In fact what I think worse than “rude” behavior is subtle racism. – Nita.

  16. January 19, 2009 6:29 pm

    I seldom care about rudeness or politeness. I do care about rationality of the behavior or whatever I or other person talks.
    The thing is, how valid are such statistical reports.
    I mean a society is not like a bowl of rice, we all are not alike nor equal, nor we can be, all possess different tastes.
    Many suffers from Touretts syndrom too.
    Now Touretts syndrom is not a joke, its an illness.
    So yes I agree with the heading, Rude or polite, its matter of perspective. I read some similar article somehwere else also which was discussing how something considered polite and well beahavior in UK cannot be followed in France cos it will be rudeness and bad manners there (as for example,if someone invites you at dinner, and you take a bottle of champagne or wine at his home as a gift, in UK it will be considered good manner and gesture of friendship, if it is France, it will be sign of animosity, as it shows that the host is not able enough to provide good wine).
    Yet, at job and work places, more than rudeness or politeness, what affects, disturbs and distorts the environment is flattery and manipulations. I just cannot handle them.

    I am frankly fascinated by stats and reports, even if I tend to add my own observations and at times tear them apart. Sets one thinking. – Nita.

  17. January 19, 2009 7:09 pm

    absolutely correct
    hey you could ask for our opinion through the poll daddy what say ?
    and i think that could be more precise 😛

    A poll would have been a good idea! I had almost forgotten we have that facility on wp! – Nita

  18. wishtobeanon permalink
    January 19, 2009 7:38 pm

    Interesting post, Nita. I haven’t heard swear words in public for all my life here in the USA – surprising, isn’t it considering you hear so much of it in most Hollywood dramas!

    Seriously! And I thought that all that Americans said was F*** ! I think you are right. We get this impression from Hollywood and also from TV serials. – Nita.

  19. January 19, 2009 7:40 pm

    @ Solilio : It is “San” not “Saan”.

  20. January 19, 2009 7:44 pm

    @ Nita : One just say’s what one experiences and observes. I am not harsh at all. Just observant. He he he. I quite like it here or I would move out.

    I love the warmth and the humanness out here. I LOVE India!! 🙂 – Nita.

  21. January 19, 2009 8:45 pm

    Thats a interesting and a comprehensive list Nita….U have a really unique way of not only finding data but also compiling them in a simple form.

    I think, I can give a more insight into UK work culture than Indian from what I observed since an year…..i have never worked under a indian boss so cant comment really!![isnt that ironical?]

    1. Taking calls on speaker fone – hmm quite common sight…esp if its sort of helpdesk kind of call….but they make sure first that colleagues who share the office are ok with it!
    2. Speaking loudly across the room – unless it’s a greeting [hi r u alright?] it’s a big no no to do….again if it’s a well knitted team people do tease each other aloud!
    3. Having personal fone at work – most people avoid this….if they have to attend they would go out or to a quieter place! Also, I observed that they tend to have 2 fones and prefer not to be disturbed during out of work hours!! They do not think of work during weekends unless they committed to finish off a task! [Guess I am getting used to not thinking work at home now 8)
    4. personal life – Hmm…varied opinions…..but more generally….no no….may b howz ur family doing and that’s it! Def not a big discussion! They might not get offended on first instance but constant probing , well u will get a strong reaction I would think
    5. Swear words – this is one thing – well, I heard so many new stuff after coming here…but they would say excuse me first [don’t know why] but its taken as anti inclusiveness and is highly avoided especially if women/girls are present! If in a all guys team….u wud expect a constant usage of those words! 👿
    6. not offering guests beverage – definitely offended! English are fans of tea esp Darjeeling they say!
    7. inviting friends to office – very uncommon…so u wud attract attention if u do so….but if its over lunch or tea and within ur team its perfectly fine !
    8. not saying GM – Well, I have never seen anyone not saying gm till now! It’s a basic greeting and comes by default I feel….like they ask a question like “ How r u?” or “ r u alright?” and actually don’t realise it…so if u answer back to that with anything other than “fine thank you”….u wud be talking to a wall – haha they don’t wait to hear you out in detail! [no offence meant]
    9. making a drink etc – hmm in general, people wont be offended as much but that’s something odd definitely! People generally offer you and there are few people who feel bad if you don’t accept the offer 😛
    10. Borrowing stationery items – Yup and YUP! They might even feel u r thief!!! Isn’t that too strong? But that’s the way they are.
    11. informal – well, incidentally I discussed this with my boss and team here , coz I am in complete usage of smileys and sometimes use them in mails as well. It actually depends on whether u know the other side or not! If u don’t know, better don’t use! If u know, u can judge!
    Another point I would like to add is,
    In US and UK, if u mail someone u don’t know asking for help, unless its ccd to imp people/it’s a urgent work….people don’t bother opening the mail even! I may be wrong in totally generalising…..but def there are a % of people who do like this! They reckon its changing though!

    Thanks Sahaja, that was very useful! I am quite surprised by your last point, I guess one feels that in the US or UK thye are very efficient on the mail, unlike India! But I think you are right, because if one writes to somebody abroad, one often gets an automated message and that’s the end of it! And about your observation on swear words, well, it’s good to hear that people don’t swear freely but as you said we are girls, and we don’t know about men! – Nita.

  22. January 19, 2009 9:48 pm

    Nita, thanks for this interesting overview and your insight into the Indian communication no-goes. Always good to know 🙂

    You are welcome! 🙂 – Nita.

  23. January 19, 2009 10:29 pm

    Though communication (both verbal and non verbal) might be important, I feel that at the end of the day, it is the intention that matters more. If someone says Good Morning without meaning it and immediately does something to spoil the morning, its better that they not wish at all!

    Secondly, people from Delhi seem most vociferous as far as shouting on the phones etc. is concerned. People in Mumbai, are quite professional and South Indians are courteous until things go wrong. This is too much of a generalization, but it is the difference in their communication, that’s all, and in the end the results and their intentions are pretty much the same!!

    Destination Infinity

    DI, exactly! A person in Chennai or Mumbai might think a Delhite is being rude but he thinks he is being just normal! 🙂 And vice versa I guess. A cultural clash. As you said intention is what matters and we should try and see the intention – Nita.

  24. January 19, 2009 10:58 pm

    Having personal phone conversations at work – 0%????????
    While checking answer sheets at university I had a lecturer sitting beside me who was cajoling his wife to eat lunch as he will be late and I was appalled at this conversation. Take your call outside man!

    The level of “tolerance” is so great in India that people actually stare at me when I say excuse me after sneezing! Etiquette is non existent in majority of Indians. There is no concept of please or thank you. Thats why “borrowing” is actually a criteria abroad! Here people just pick up your stuff, open your cupboard or bag without hesitation!

    Looks like I should have written 5%! but did the “personal” call irritate you or was it just the disturbance? And as for those little niceties you mentioned, I think what DI said is right. We should not get offended if there is no offence meant. In any case an Indian can also say that westerners have no etiquette if they walk into our kitchens with their shoes on! Or are curt and businesslike! In fact I think they are worse than us, because at least we don’t look down on their manners, but they do look down on ours. So I think if you say we lack etiquette, so do they! – Nita.

  25. January 20, 2009 1:09 am

    A fascinating and valuable post, Nita! I have always been interested in the differences in etiquette found not only between cultures but within cultures.

    For instance, on the matter of whether it is considered offensive to use strong swear words at work: In America this seems to vary quite a bit. I have worked in offices where the “F” word was completely absent and would have offended everyone. On the other extreme, when I worked as a fire fighter, the “F” word was used so often it lost all shock value. I don’t really know, but I think the rule might be, the more physical the job, the more the language of stress is acceptable.

    Again, one thing that has never rung true to me are the Hollywood depictions of business executives using vulgar language. Maybe the executives in Hollywood swear like that, but it’s as least as rare as a once-in-a-year-event for a Midwestern executive to use such words.

    Next, I once read a study that found there were two general speech rhythms in the US. In the first rhythm, the conversational partners wait for each other to finish speaking before themselves speaking. In the second rhythm, the partners frequently do not wait but begin talking before the other person has finished speaking.

    The odd thing is, Nita, that according to the study, almost everyone is at least a little bit put off or offended when speaking with someone who uses the rhythm they themselves do not use. The folks who take discrete turns speaking think the folks who overlap each other speaking are rude and ill-mannered. The folks who overlap each other speaking think the folks who take discrete turns are cold, formal, and distant.

    Last, some long time ago, when I was married to my second wife, Tomoko, I had several Japanese clients, so I read a book called, “How to do Business with the Japanese.” Offhand, I don’t remember how much it helped with my clients, but it improved the communication between Tomoko and I. And among other things, I suddenly became aware of how much little points of etiquette can matter — even when dealing with someone who is quite familiar with your own culture, who is close to you, and who you have known for some time.

    Thank you for this post! It has not only gotten me thinking today, but I am sure it will be valuable for those of your readers who have international dealings.

    Thanks Paul. It was interesting to hear that corporate culture in America is sans swear words! Looks like the survey has some merit then! That rhythm thing is very very interesting. I guess we Indians use the overlap rhythm and often (in my family) one has to because if one doesn’t someone else will get a word in! 🙂 And someone who waits for the other to finish might be thought a timid person, or an introvert or perhaps distant! And I didn’t know you were married to a Japanese lady, you never mentioned it on your blog or if you did I missed it. And I agree understanding what the other thinks is rude or polite can be important in a relationship. – Nita.

  26. Atlantean permalink
    January 20, 2009 3:05 am

    The difference between a civilized man and a “less civilized” man, an analogy: A civilized man opens a chips packet with his hands while a “less civilized” man tears it open with his teeth.

    However, the end result is the same. Both succeed in opening the pack. Is it necessary to make an issue out of it?

    PS: I usually use my hands. Always used to have silly arguments with friends over this.

    And what about the man who neatly cuts open a chips packet with a scissor so as not to leave a jagged edge? 🙂 More “civilized!” 🙂 – Nita.

  27. January 20, 2009 5:02 am

    Very interesting read. I had done a paper on something similar a few years ago; work culture was one of the topics it touched.

    Though I now believe more and more work places encourage work culture like in the West – right from casual dressing style to first names and what have you. I was surprised to read the far Asian countries (China/Japan) are less hierarchical than in India. That’s interesting, I always thought it was otherwise!

    Nice one.


    Hmm, I too thought otherwise and I think I know why. The reasons are two, one is that we had a strong caste system in place and two, later we were ruled by the British. – Nita.

  28. Dev permalink
    January 20, 2009 10:24 am

    One of my favorite topics. Cross cultural communication is a very important subject nowadays. Only last week, I gave a brief presentation on cross cultural miscommunication to some business people here, who are soon going to visit India for the first time. Hofstede’s detailed study on all cultures, which he did in the eighties across thousands of executives in IBM across all countries and which was updated some years back, is still the best guide for anybody trying to understand broad differences among most countries. There is lot of cross cultural management and etiquette related literature available for Japan vis a vis USA and now China Vs US…but not as much as it should be about India.
    Though Iam not a big fan of such short surveys as the one above, the results by them seem pretty close to reality, as far as my experiences are concerned. But, one thing which I have universally seen among Indians at workplace, both in India and outside India, is their intrusion of personal space; this is something we never seem to get right..even people from those cultures which come from even more collectivist societies than ours, such as China or Africa, are better than us in respecting personal space.
    Second, I also believe that many a times some people (and this is true for people of all countries) also tend to take advantage of supposed differences in culture by getting concessions for acts or behaviors which they think they could get away with easily, under the garb of coming from different cultural backgrounds. I mean there are some universal bad manners which are repulsive to any civilized person and should be dealt firmly irrespective of person’s cultural background.

    Dev, thanks for reminding me of Hofstede. I had written a detailed post on it, and now have linked it to the main post. As you mentioned, Hofstede’s study on cultural differences is very good. Also I agree that there is less stuff about India and I also find that people tend to think of Indians as without manners. Take speaking loudly for instance. This has developed over the years as there is a lot of noise in this country…and one needs to talk loudly to be heard! Also (Paul’s point) our way of communication is to talk without waiting for the other to completely finish, as we are a social people and tend to want to express ourselves and get our word in (without meaning to be offensive) and for this one has to talk louder than the other! 🙂 I agree with your last paragraph completely, there are some behaviors which are repugnant and they should not be tolerated and Naveen has mentioned some of them! Kicking the seat in front of you in the cinema for example. – Nita.

  29. January 20, 2009 11:37 am

    This is an extremely interesting post..Sorry i have nothing to add..The comments are excellent and share lot of perspectives,from different parts fo the world…
    Good day Nita

    Good day to you too! 🙂 Thanks for dropping in! – Nita.

  30. Naveen permalink
    January 20, 2009 12:26 pm

    I think, sometimes in India, being polite could be rude too. Once I tried saying(for fun) thanks to my Mom for cooking my dinner -the American way. At first she gave a surprised look and then made sure -I was OK! If I do the same thing to my Aunts, I am sure, they would be offended (for alienating them). So as you say, its a matter of perspective.

    Yep! You said it! I know people who get very offended if you say thank you!! – Nita.

  31. January 20, 2009 12:45 pm

    Here is some surpizeee for you Nita 🙂

  32. nehru mantri permalink
    January 20, 2009 12:58 pm


    Paul pretty much has explained the situation. Having lived in the South for quite a long time I know it is even unthinkable to see these people here with whom I interact behaving the way they are portrayed to be by some of those abroad especially the moslem nations. It is of course the movies and novels I guess and TV from where people get such impressions. Even there the swearing is confined in hushed friendly venting. A lot of these misconceptions are part cultural and part ego driven misunderstanding. When people overdress like for eg. as Indians just to get to everyday work of course people say “You look posh don’t you ” since they feel it makes everyone else look stupid who just jump out of their beds hurry through with bare grooming ruffled hair and get into clothes they dig out of any corner they can find and hurry to work. All the sartorial niceties are reserved for evenings after work and so is the bathing and scrubbing rituals. I had some of these habits and we did have a good laugh when they happened to notice some of these oddities.

    Thanks for that perspective. – Nita.

  33. Dev permalink
    January 20, 2009 9:52 pm

    “I also find that people tend to think of Indians as without manners”
    Nita, actually apart from the personal space thing and Indians generally seen as bit intrusive, most non-Indians at work places find Indians less rude and easy to get along with compared to people from many other nationalities. So, I dont really think that people tend to think Indians as withour manners. Ofcourse, Iam only talking about Indians who were born in India and not the ones who are born here. They could be very different, both in positive and negative sense.

    You must be right, I don’t have any direct experience of this. However I was told by a cousin of mine that newly arrived Indians are generally thought rude but they soon learn the ways of speaking. In any case it’s just a question of adopting some western manners, a superficial thing. – Nita.

  34. January 21, 2009 6:37 pm

    Calling your boss by their first names are slowing IN. With the IT companies all around, the US work culture is followed in almost all of them.

    Worked in 2 companies, never called anyone a ‘sir’,
    down here if you call anyone ‘sir’ you are being sarcastic 😀

    I guess “sir” is dying out, I think so too. But I have seen the term “boss” being used often. Or the title of Mr. so and so or Doctor so and so or Professor etc. – Nita.

  35. January 23, 2009 9:29 am

    Hi Nita,
    It was good to read this as someone who has indulged purposefully into the culture here. I do not agree with the numbers obviously, but then its just a survey. For example, and someone said this somewhere above, working in a public company and private company (within similar sectors) in Toronto was still a huge difference.

    Priyank, as you said it must be very different working for a private co. and a public co. but I am not sure how you mean as I do not have any experience of Canada. – Nita.

  36. January 23, 2009 11:27 pm

    I would like to differ in two points.
    1) In the corporate offices, it is very common to call your boss by his first name. In my office, for example, I call people 20 years senior to me by their first names.
    2) Swear words are considered very offending in USA and UK. I think its because of the movies that we have this mindset that using swear words is very common there but many of my friends in U.S. have told me that its a complete no no in public.

    Thanks Amit. But you are probably in the IT sector? I guess the corporate culture there tends to be different than the average. I think these companies (like some multinationals like HLL) have a more westernized culture. But in an Indian company say like Raymond, there is no chance of that! – Nita.

  37. January 30, 2009 1:09 pm

    I think no one likes to talk about dirty linens at their business or pleasure and the need for political correctness is higher than ever before.

  38. February 26, 2009 10:02 pm

    I think speaking loudly- pretty much goes atleast 80% for India.

    Staionery is something where u can take things such as letter pad/pens/pencils so on from the office for office use.
    U don’t need permission unless you swipe the whole office.

  39. Chris permalink
    July 24, 2010 9:58 pm

    You’ve totally turned me off india ….just kidding.

    I want to go for a holiday but not to live, I find the culture very interesting….bride burning? another gender that’s not male or female?

  40. November 1, 2014 11:04 am

    I don’t think I can take seriously, any survey that considers the UK and US to be the same culture. We are very different.

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