10 things you will face when you work in India (as a foreigner)

by fransie

When you start to work in an Indian company as a foreigner, you will face the following ten things.

1. Hierarchy

There is a strong presence of hierarchy, especially in the Southern (more conservative) companies. Hierarchy means a level system where each level (except for the ones on top and on the bottom) have some level above it. In this sense, there are many teams and all teams have a manager. Above that team manager, is a middle manager. Between the middle manager, a junior manager reports to a senior manager, who then reports to another manager. It is almost as if you are Leonardio DiCaprio in Managerception. With such a strong presence of hierarchy, it is important to remember in which role one functions and where exactly that role fits in the hierarchical latter.

Kanyakumari, the most Southern point of India
Kanyakumari, the most Southern point ...


India is a huge, magnificent country with 1.3 billion people). With such a huge country, comes great bureaucracy. At a certain point, it may drive one into a bureaucrazy state. It all starts while applying for a business or employment visa. Many documents are required and it is rather important to prove why the foreign national wants to work in India. The foreigner is stealing a job of an Indian, so the Indian immigration officer will require a lot of proof why the foreigner is so damn special. Then, if the lucky foreigner receives his or her visa, the next step will bring the foreigner into a warm, crowded immigration office. It is necessary to register after arriving in India within 14 days, so planning a visit in the first two weeks of being in India, while still adjusting to the climate and probably still a bit jetlagged, is necessary. Bring a good book and some music, as it may (probably will) take a while. 

3.      Religion and customs

Then, after all the paperwork is done, it is time to work in an Indian company. It may be the case that there is a welcoming ceremony, which requires a “smile and wave” approach. Especially in the beginning, it is important not to question and simply receive the intercultural experience with open arms. After a while, it will not be a problem to ask questions, for example why the cows are being left out in the street, making them eat garbage and eventually end up in an animal hospital (see point 7). Indian culture is a multicultural on its own, as the 1.3 billion people represent multiple religions and backgrounds. However, the most prominent religion, Hinduism, comes with a number of customs and a lifestyle on its own. While working in a conservative company, this will be prominent and it will not be unusual for Indian colleagues to have some kind of small “puja” (meaning that one shows their respect to a god, spirit or another being through prayers and rituals) ritual before they start or end the day. It will be an interesting ritual to observe, but try not to stare.

4.       Language barrier

Indian English is different than the standard English one may be used to, and it comes with a rather special vocabulary. For example, a colleague may have a doubt, which will not be followed by an hour-long person discussion for which psychological knowledge is necessary. A doubt simply means a question. It takes time getting used to the Indian way of speaking English and it requires patience at first. There may be a lot of miscommunication and one requires to listen rather carefully to understand the colleagues. After approximately four weeks, it will no longer be an issue to understand the colleagues. After two months, you may feel your level of English has reached the Indian level of expertise, where doubts are kindly provided on every day itself (In this sentence, there were four typical Indian vocabulary words). 

5.       Climate

CNN reported that this year, the roads in Rajasthan were melting because of the heat  7). During this period, it was extremely hot in most parts of India. Although the warm climate is common, India still is a massive continent on its own, with many different climates coming together. However, the South is known to be extremely warm and humid. It is therefore not shameful to arrive at work soaking in sweat, although a deodorant would be appreciated (I am also talking to the Indian colleagues!).

6.       Poverty

India has a beautiful history, culture and sightseeing opportunities. But if you are really going to work in an Indian company, it will be a daily ritual of walking past a lot of poor people. There is a lot of poverty in India, as 50 percent of the Indian population does not have a proper shelter. Beggars may approach both cars and pedestrians. But, as written by Sharell Cook, it is not recommended to give money, as the beggars may work in gangs. One has to be strong in avoiding all the beggars and poverty, even though it is hard to ignore it.

 7.       Animal injustice

 Linked to the previous point, there is a great deal of animal injustice in India. The amount of street dogs is uncountable, and some states of India are aggressively fighting the issue (for example, in Kerala, street dogs are aggresively killed). Streets will be filled with dogs, cows and sometimes even monkeys. Now, a big no-no for a foreigner in India is to approach dog packs. These are groups of dogs with a hierarchy of its own, with a clear senior manager (oh no, here we go again). Try to avoid these groups and do not give food, as they can be aggressive or with unpredictable behavior. It is, however, no issue to give an individual dog some cookies. Not all the dogs will be scary or aggressive, but it is always important to have a common sense. India still has a rabies epidemic, as 36 percent of the global deaths due to rabies occur in India, so it is advisable not to be bitten or get licked by a street dog or cat. 

8.       Indian food

A conversation between two colleagues:

Frank: So, Radjesh, what are you eating today?”

Radjesh: Just some chicken biryani with extra pickles, and you?”

Frank: I was hoping to grab a sandwich...”

Radjesh: What? You eat bread for lunch? I have a few doubts about that.”

In India, it is a custom to eat three hot meals per day. For lunch, be prepared to be surrounded by the different smells of Indian food. What usually are work desks may become mini kitchens at 12 pm. Everyone will bring their home-made food, prepared by themselves or their mother/wife in convenient Tupperware (believe me, Tupperware is everywhere). Some colleagues may choose to go to a canteen. Now, of course, the offering will be different from office-to-office, but it is expected that there will be a lot of Indian food for lunch. A fair warning though, expect spicy food that may lead to the following point.

 9.       Illness

Indian food comes in many flavors and colors. These colors represent all the types of spices that are added to the Indian food which makes it extra delicious. However, there is an enemy on the horizon, namely the stomach of a person coming from the west. Indian food, though delicious it may be, could have the potential to send the consumer straight to the toilet (or worse, to the hospital). Therefore, it is advised to get all the necessary shots (no, no vodka) and to bring some over-the-counter medicine for stomach or vowel problems.

 10.       Traffic

Last, but not least, prepare for an enormous amount of traffic. With 1.3 billion people that all have to travel from A to B, traffic jams are not unknown in India. There are millions of cars, scooters, busses and rickshaws that all drive the same road. Accidents do happen, as there are annually 130,000 casualties due to traffic-related accidents in India. Even though some parts of India are developing the infrastructure rapidly and are trying to reach goals of becoming mega cities, expect to find roads that will make one appreciate working flashlights and neatly designed crossings. 

Updated: 09/19/2016, fransie
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katiem2 on 10/14/2016

Well detailed account of what one can expect to face if working in India, I alone could not contend with the cruelty of animals, whilst I adore human beings (for the most part) I cannot stand to watch an animal suffer.

pateluday on 09/19/2016

Perfectly summed up. Indian English is evolving on its own now. It is a British Legacy which anyhow unites India as far as communication is concerned.

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