Celebrating Diwali in the U.S.

Growing up Indian in the U.S. meant that we celebrated both Diwali (The Festival of Lights) and Christmas. As an adult, I have continued the tradition and we celebrate both holidays. This year Diwali is on October 28th and many of the 2.7 million Indian Americans all over the U.S. will be cleaning their homes, buying sweets, buying toys and gifts for the children in the family, and most importantly, doing prayers.

Yesterday, we celebrated Diwali with a Cross-Cultural Business Group I belong to and I did a presentation explaining Diwali and talking about the Indian American population in the U.S. We discussed the historical and cultural roots as well as the generational differences within this population. We ended by discussing business and dining etiquette and how to send Diwali wishes to clients, colleagues and friends.

A small number of Indian Americans have been in the U.S. for 100 years. A much larger group came when U.S. immigration laws changed in 1965 and Indian professionals were allowed to immigrate. Since then, the Indian population in the U. S. has grown substantially. Indians have a rich culture that goes back thousands of years and it is an integral part of their identity, even in the U.S.

With first generation Indian Americans, it is important to interact with them in a more formal manner, at least in the beginning. For example, use titles (Dr., Mr., and Mrs.) until you are asked to use their first name. With their adult children (the second generation), you can be more informal.

Indian Americans come from a cultural heritage that emphasizes family and harmony. They work hard at getting along and creating an environment of cooperation. Because they do not like to say “no” directly, it is important to learn to read between the lines. Again this applies mainly to the first generation.

The Indian culture is a relationship-oriented culture and you need to get to know someone before you can develop a business relationship.

If you have Indian clients, you can send them an e-card from www.123greeting.com/events/diwali. If you would like to do a little more, a box of chocolates would be an appropriate gesture. The proper greeting for this celebration is “Happy Diwali”.

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