“Indian punctuality” is a term that pokes fun at Indians' predilection to arrive unfailingly late for an event. But what do you say about their penchant to queue up two or three hours in advance outside the US consulate for a visa interview even though they need only be there 20 minutes ahead?

The audience bursts into laughter when Ranjini Manian, Founder and CEO of relocation and cross-cultural destination services company Global Adjustments, poses this question to Jennifer McIntyre, Consul General, US Consulate, Chennai. The conversation is part of the launch of Upworldly Mobile: Behaviour and Business Skills for the New Indian Manager, Manian's book, launched at Chennai on Thursday. Penguin is the publisher.

Discussing the differences between the Western world and India, Dr Sumantran, Executive Vice-Chairman, Hinduja Automotive, and Chairman, Nissan Ashok Leyland Powertrain, said there is a very strong element of structure in the West, the absence of which would fox them. In India, though, there is great emphasis on adapting. “I wouldn't dismiss adaptability as a failure, it's a virtue in an unpredictable world,” he said.

Among other Indian traits and differences was Indians' inclination to be formal with seniors and authority. Dr Sumantran said he was “against an unnecessary use of power and seniority because it dampens frank communication.”

Living in a multicultural world

McIntyre assumed a more forgiving stance of common Indian foibles such as asking personal questions – her travels across the world had revealed that India was not alone when it came to such traits. For instance, she recalls being asked her age and her marital status by a taxi driver in Azerbaijan. She was put through a similar line of questioning in Turkey as well.

All in all, the consensus was that today's world is far more accepting of multiculturalism and is not looking for one to reform.

The book aims to provide practical tips to enhance communication between Indian managers working with expatriates or in global workplace. Through anecdotes, it tells readers how to deal with real-life situations, running the gamut from dress sense and firm handshakes to meeting deadlines and expectations.

(This article was published on October 25, 2011)
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