Cultural Misunderstandings: USA and India

Posted On: October 13, 2014

If we were to sit and count possible cultural misunderstandings between the USA and India, we’d understand that there is a vast chasm of diverse mindsets and values between us. In this blog, I’d like to explore a few of the common cultural differences between the US and India. I do have a bit of insight into this because in addition to having had lived in India (as a US expat) twice for 10 years, I have constantly been working and living between the US and India since the late 90s.
There are several types of situations that may cause some misunderstanding between citizens from the USA and India when building business relationships. While some of these situations can’t be foreseen, there are some that may be commonly noticed.


Cultural Misunderstandings: USA and India

Below, we can read some of the ways we can misinterpret each other’s good intentions as, in some cases, we may approach doing business a little differently. 


Americans may feel that Indians…. Indians may feel Americans…
Spend too much time on small talk

Aren’t serious about business because of focus on small talk (not true)
Are too business-like and not approachable because of abbreviated small talk

Don’t care about them on a personal level because they may do business before pleasure, therefore Americans do not make small talk (not true)
Expose personal and intrusive information in small talk (family, relationships) with people they barely know.

Are cold, and unfeeling because they don’t talk about family at work with those they do not know very well.
Are reluctant to talk because they don’t say yes or no directly or in a way they understand. Or, that Indians tend to say ‘ok’ to everything, and Americans do not know what they are saying OK to.

Are impatient and want instant gratification. Some reasons for this is due to the US culture’s approach to timeliness and, in some cases, a lack of warmth due to getting straight to business talk over small talk.
Over involve their family in business interactions and decisions. This can include family members who do not work at the company, as well. Think only about themselves as they rarely involve their family in business decision-making. (Large separation between work life and personal life.)


How to Bridge Cultural Differences: Next Steps & Considerations

This article is only a start to spark this ongoing discussion. When we talk about working between cultures, it’s easy to look only for dos and don’ts, but we have to be careful not to take these as “the gospel.” While it may be easy to evolve some of these generalizations into stereotypes, this is exactly what we want to avoid. Minimizing any culture to a set of dos and don’ts robs of us the richness not only of our colleague’s cultures, but our own. So, while some of the common misunderstandings listed here could be typical, they are not hard and fast guidelines, as they may not be applicable to all colleagues from that culture. We can use some of these tips as a way to open the door to talk about cultural differences to learn more about each other, so we can learn to relate to each other in a way that is more authentic to how we and our colleagues are.


In India, work includes more cultural programs than in the USJennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys (image to the right, lighting an oil lamp for Onam at her bank in India), helps your teams identify and minimize cultural misunderstandings between the US and India when working virtually or onsite. Contact her today for more information.
Related Posts: 
Indian vs. American English on College Campuses    
The Awkward Transition from Small Talk to Business Talk 
9 Tips for Expats Visiting India On Work
Onam Celebrations at Work in Kerala, India

Image – storyset at freepik (I added flags)


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