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Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

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Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

Doris, you asked:

"More on the appropriate clothing please... I'm going to Mumbai for one week at the beginning of February on business and I'm trying to work out what to take with me to wear ? i.e are exposed shoulders okay ?... how dressy for dinner ?... I'm assuming we'll be entertaining in one of the hotels or businessy type restaurants... what will the temperature be like ?

Also, what should I know about manners ? I don't wish to accidentally offend someone through my own ignorance.



So anyway - here's the response:

Western women who work in Mumbai wear jackets and trousers, with shirts/blouses. Alternatively, skirts and blouses/jackets. It's no different from other places, but I'd generally advice modesty.

My list of no-no's includes deep cleavage, eye-popping tight shirts/straining buttons, halter necks, spaghetti straps etc. These will earn you a lot of stares, and make you feel uncomfortable, unless you're someone who doesn't mind being the centre of attraction.

If you are working with Indian companies in sectors such as manufacturing, engineering, then in general they are more conservative about clothes. Industries like financial services, advertising, BPO etc are more "Westernised".

In the evenings, I don't think there are strict rules, given the 5-star business hotels that you will probably wine and dine in. Little black dresses are ok, I guess. A smart idea is to have a stole or a shawl that can help you cover up if you feel like it.

In defence of Indian men, I have to say that some of them *have* learnt not to stare :)

One of the most amazing things for me about Indian women is how, unlike the rest of Asia, we haven't stopped wearing our traditional clothes to work. Be prepared for a lot of colourful sarees and salwar kameezes and fancy jewellery at work!

To tell the truth, it's one of the pleasures of my life, the ability to dress up for work and not worry about overdoing anything! When it comes to Western clothes, I wear simple shirts and trousers, which are suitable for this weather. Teamed with scarves and stoles, they are enough for me. I do wear a lot of linen shirts and jackets, because a) they're so stylish! and b) it's great for this weather. But you can pick whether you want a more formal look. Offices and hotels are air-conditioned, so you'll be fine. As a matter of fact, air-conditioning in Indian hotels is usually so cold that you'll never feel warm.

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1. Re: Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

And as for manners - I don't think anyone will hold anything against you. Indians expect Westerners to be unaware of local customs, and will more than make adjustments. You'll find people helping you with things whether you like it or not.

There are lots of little things that you might be interested in knowing if you are going to be in India on work -

1. At business dinners, some Indian vegetarians are very sensitive to meat/fish smells for religious reasons, so don't wave your food under their noses :)

2. You'll have a lot of trouble with people's names. Just smile and apologise!

3. Don't expect people to turn up in time, and don't be annoyed at delays, its just the way it is. In lots of traditional businesses, the working day starts late. So its better to ask what time is good for a meeting. Nobody wants 8:30 a.m. meetings, especially in Bombay where the commuting is easily a couple of hours for many people.

4. Some people at work with ask you personal questions. Indians don't understand the idea of privacy very well. You can handle this tactfully with brief replies and by changing the topic.

5. Questions related to cultural differences - caste system, arranged marriages, status of women, child labour, religion, secularism - the issues are complex and tend to lead to debates. Indians like debates. We often argue strongly and hotly. That's just a cultural trait, its not a sign of anger or dislike.

6. If you want to say hello and shake hands, make the first move! Some Indian men don't offer to shake hands, but if you do, they'll reciprocate. When I meet men I don't want to shake hands with, I stick my hands behind my back, or hold a folder, smile at them and say hello. You do NOT need to struggle with saying Namastes in a work environment. Most people you meet will say hello, good morning etc.

7. You'll get offered tea and coffee. It's ok to refuse, with a smile. Smiling fixes everything.

8. The sideways headshake thing is real, not a myth. It goes from side to side. If you see it and don't understand it, ask the person something like, "So, basically, you're saying we can go tomorrow?" That way, they can confirm things with a Yes or a No.

9. It's likely your host company will gift you a souvenir when you leave. This is especially true if you are in India to meet vendors. Accept gracefully. It will not be wildly expensive, and it is not a bribe.

11. We're not as hierarchical as the Japanese, but there is definitely a pecking order and people won't contradict their bosses in public.

12. We don't bow, or hand out cards with both hands like other Asian countries. I've seen that written in some guides on business etiquette in India, but never seen it happen in real life. Deference is a matter of body posture in India, its a little shrinking of the shoulders and torso and sort of bending a little...hard to explain!

And lastly - no walking into temples with shoes on. If your foot - with or without shoes - touches someone accidentally, please apologise. it is considered an insult. In fact, as a child I was taught not to kick school books or accidentally stamp them. If I did, I was taught to make a little apologetic gesture to the goddess of Learning - I was taught to touch the book and then touch my hand to my eyes/ forehead as a sign of respect.

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2. Re: Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

Hi Deepa,

If this does not help nothing will!!! Fantastic guidelines for a single female traveller on work or pleasure!!!



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3. Re: Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

That's a great response.

More on the personal questions - it is less likely to occur in a business context, but it could happen in a more relaxed situation. For example, once we had to take a train from Delhi to Bombay and the families around us asked us about living in Oz and how much we were earning. Since it was genuine curiosity, we didn't mind telling them the facts. OTOH if I were asked the same question in a Bombay bus, I'd be a lot more careful with my reply.

These days most urban Indians are much more aware of the West thanks to the Internet and many of them have had a chance to travel.

On manners, your normal British manners will not offend anyone and I doubt you'd be accidentally barging into a temple or funeral procession - even so, people make allowances for foreigners. It is all in the demeanor. If you get to know one of your contacts well and are invited home, you may be told not to stand on formalities - i.e. too many manners can be a bad thing among friends. My wife is a Kiwi and when I took her to my relatives (I am originally a Bombayite), she would say "Thank you" to the servants and my family would tell her off (in a nice way). You may also notice an absence of "Please" in some conversations, say over a meal.

So, if you get to know someone well and they don't say "thank you" or "please" when you expect it, it is a good sign.

4. Re: Doing business in Mumbai - a post for Doris on what to wear!

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