Business relationships and gift giving—India
In India, interpersonal relationships are basic building blocks of a successful business. To create a long-lasting connection, you should try to partake in dinners, festivals, and other social functions. There are countless festivals and celebrations that provide an opportunity to give and receive a small token of appreciation. These include the festivals of Holi (the celebration of colors), Diwali (the festival of lights), Rakhi (the summer holiday, when brothers give gifts to sisters), Ganesh Chaturthi, and Dussera as well as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day.
Gift giving is customary in India as a display of friendship or affection, a way to start or cement a relationship, and in some cases even a way to transition into the next life! If you have a chance to present your colleague with a gift, it is vital to choose appropriately. Although your host may never appear displeased or offended in front of you, it is advisable you avoid certain types of items that may diminish your relationship.
To begin, you should recognize that the Indian people are conservative and do not appreciate expensive gifts. With the exception of very close friends and family members or special occasions such as weddings, avoid giving expensive items. Symbolism and spiritualism are commonplace and a sense of karma is almost always present. This translates into a value for reciprocity. By giving a very expensive or delicate gift, you are expecting the recipient to return the favor. This may cause embarrassment for your colleagues.
Any type of jewelry is considered a very intimate gift. It is acceptable for women to exchange jewelry, but in general gifts of jewelry are reserved for family members. What is appreciated is a gift that is representative of your culture. Another customary gift is a box of chocolates or sweets. Flowers make great gifts; however, different flowers have different meanings across the country. It is advisable to check with the florist about the meaning, but to be safe, you can purchase roses.
Avoid giving leather or alcohol. The cow is considered a holy animal in Hinduism, and giving a leather item could be highly insulting. Most Indians are vegetarian and do not consume alcohol. However, if you know that your host drinks, a high-quality bottle of scotch or other whiskey can make a great gift.
When wrapping, try to use bright colors such as reds, yellows, greens or blues. White and black are considered dull and unfavorable. In general, gifts are not opened in front of the giver to avoid possible embarrassment. If your host presents you with an item and insists that you open it in their presence, you should display appreciation.
Often, gift giving will occur at dinner. If you are invited to an Indian home for dinner, be sure to bring a gift. Flowers, chocolates, or a box of sweets are among favorite Indian gifts. It is advisable to find out if your host has children. If they do, a small, inexpensive toy or book will be appreciated.