You don’t go to the zoo to see animals like the cow, dog, cat and even bears and elephants, while in India you will see them on the road. That’s because Indians are closer to nature.
You don’t usually take a bottle of wine while visiting an Indian family. It is not considered right by some communities. Take flowers instead.
This is taught to expatriates on their new postings in India. A slew of information detailing the dos and don’ts and the ‘Indian-ness’ they need to imbibe and respect during their stay are being taught to corporate executives and their families so they don’t make any faux pas.
“Expatriates do read up on the web about India. But when they land, reality hits them between the eye and you would be surprised how little they know about India. They get zonked in the first week. That’s where cross-cultural training helps,” said Rajeshwar Balasundaram, chief operating officer, Global Adjustments.
According to the National Association of Software and Services Companies, now there are up to 50,000 expatriates. And around 3,000 will be added to that this year. Last year, Global Adjustments ‘sensitised’ 24 batches of 3-8 people.
In just the first three months of 2008, the company has trained 10 such batches. Agencies charge between Rs 2,500-20,000 per person.
With new and prospering sectors like retail, pharmaceutical, aviation and infrastructure, companies are bringing in expats to lead teams or head projects — a reason why cross-cultural training has assumed more importance than before.
So while batches are being trained by firms on how to conduct business in India, relocation firms are briefing expat families at their homes.
“We explain the big picture and clear out misconceptions. We train them basically to treat Indians as culturally different and not inferior,” said Balasundaram.
Joost Visser, 30, was briefed on everything from why family bonds are cherished in India to various customs at a dinner party. “Understanding body language is essential for me since it is totally different from what we are accustomed to in Holland. Some customs that are offensive in Europe may not be so in India. Hence, training ensured that I got comfortable in India, which is not an easy task,” said Visser, work process leader, Dow Chemical International Private Limited.
What bewildered Visser when he landed in Mumbai in February 2007 was how colleagues nodded. “I didn’t know if that nod meant a yes or no,” said the Khar resident. “When two large companies come together, business culture is very important.”
Cross-cultural training is becoming paramount. “It is critical because expats come with preconceived notions and paradigms based on what they have read or from what others have told them. Since India is a country of paradoxes, it is necessary to correct what is in their mind,” said Rohit Kumar, joint MD, Santafe India, Asia-Pacific wide relocation company.
“The business is expanding,” said Shaila Gidwani, regional manager, intercultural and support services of Hongkong-based Crown Relocations. “More expats are coming... They want to learn about India. Some companies have even made this training compulsory.”
While there would be one training batch once every three months in 2007, this year there has been a programme every month. Till last year, Crown Relocations had two trainers — one each in Mumbai and Bangalore. This year, they have added three — in Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore.
Elaine Woods has learnt the importance of patience. “I realised that I cannot expect to have something done instantly. There are at least seven steps involved rather than one.”
With no household help in Australia, Woods — the trailing spouse — was trained on how to employ her housemaid and that they need to be told what has to be done. Husband Michael is the chief actuary with the IDBI-Fortis Life Insurance Company.
“When you are living in a new country, you want to get on with daily life as quickly as possible. The training made me realise that while one cannot find solutions in Bombay, you just need someone to guide you,” said Woods who has been here for 15 months.
From fielding questions like “why do Indians have so many gods” to why hierarchy is so sacrosanct, cultural trainers have to answer it all.