Similarities in French and Indian Cultural Values

This is something I wrote 5 years ago so some of the examples used might be a bit dated but the substance remains true

When looking at cultural values and social norms of India and France, one cannot but realise that these two countries have a lot more in common than other more important historic or economic partners of India. Despite the common history between The United Kingdom and India and the new outsourcing wave coming from America, working with French people remains easier for a lot of Indian professionals. Hierarchy, relationship orientation and indirectness in communication are just a few cultural dimensions on which both cultural groups share more similarities than with expected countries.

Family is a pillar of both Indian and French cultures. Ask anyone in both countries what they think is the most important thing in their life and most of them will reply that their family is what they cherish the most. The Indian definition of family is much broader than it is in France where we include the nuclear family and, sometimes, the first circle of relatives. In India, the family can include much vaster circles. When most Indians talk about their family they will also include first degree and second degree cousins, aunts and uncles. A lot of people still live in extended families as tradition dictates that a bride should move into the house of her husband’s family. It is common to find 3 generations cohabitating under the same roof with the most senior men leading the household. In most these households, the income from the working members is shared among all the people living there. It is not uncommon to see one family member working and sharing the majority of his income with the rest of the family. Most Indians do not leave their parents home until they are married so a typical household could hold up to 7 or 8 people. The concept of nuclear family is gaining grounds in Indian cities where younger generations have become more independent from tradition and where real estate prices does not permit to rent large apartment or houses for the whole family. Unlike the French who will try to get someone else to help, most Indians will stop anything they are doing to take care of a family member. People will skip work in order to take an aunty to the hospital or will take a few days off for a distant relative’s wedding. Employers are expected to show flexibility on family issues and most companies have created “unscheduled leave” to allow for improvised family emergencies.

Another important value that both countries have in common is social status and the inherent need for visible hierarchy. Even though both countries were founded on an ideal of equality among its people both French and Indian societies are naturally elitist. Although the caste system was officially abolished by the Indian constitution of 1950, casteism is still very present in India: most high responsibility positions in both private and public offices are traditionally held by members from high castes. In order to reduce these obvious unequal social and professional opportunities, the Indian government has been voting reservation laws and positive discrimination policies to favour access to jobs for the lower rungs of Indian society. These quotas have passed the 50% mark in many states and are used for political purposes by different caste-based political groups. The private sector has been fighting to prevent quotas being introduced in the corporate world that positions itself as meritocratic. Nevertheless, Indian companies have found other ways to live their elitism with the same concept of “Grandes Ecoles”. After independence, Nehru wanted to foster excellence in technical education and founded the famous Indian institute of Technology (IIT). On top of the seven IITs, the Indian government also created 7 Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) which churn out the top business leaders of the country. Very similarly to the French scene, people coming out of these schools have very solid networks of contacts that assure them with high responsibility and high income positions wherever they want to and sometimes regardless of actual competence. The leaders of the majority of Indian companies come out of these institutes like the majority of French ones come out of Polytechnique, l’ENA or l’ENS.

The third value that Indian and French people share is argumentation. Both peoples are traditionally highly argumentative and are seen as undisciplined by other more complying cultures. The argumentative tradition in both countries can be traced back to a long philosophical history that has left a mark on present society. This practically means that it is very important to get collaborators’ buy-in into decisions and task division if one wants decisions to be implemented. Otherwise employees will not give their best effort to realise the tasks assigned to them. The problem arises that because of hierarchical concerns, senior managers very often do not share the ins and outs of their decision with their employees and this sometimes lead to severe quality issues in task execution and to time wastage due to employees taking more time to accept decisions made without their involvement.

While both the French and the Indian people are patriotic, they have very different ways of showing it. Economical nationalism as a sign of patriotism is common in both countries. As often as possible, the French will buy French products even though they can be more expensive and Indians will buy Indian goods even though they might not always have the same quality standards. Nevertheless, outspoken patriotism is often seen suspiciously in France, whereas it is very much expected in India. The best example of this is the consideration given to the national anthem and the flag. Having people boo the national anthem like it happens regularly in French football stadiums would be unacceptable behaviour in India and would create quite a scandal if it happened. On the other hand, if French cinemas were to play the national anthem before screening a film, like they often do in India, people would complain that the government is intruding in people’s personal space.

Both countries’ flags are called the tricolour but the sentiments attached to them are very different. In France flag waving is limited to major sporting successes of the national squads and is considered inappropriate, if not downright tinted, in any other cases. In India, the flag is one of the most sacred emblems of the nation. Government officials are the only one allowed to hoist it on national holidays like Independence Day or Republic day. It is otherwise considered disrespectful to wave the flag on any other occasion. Nevertheless when the Indian cricket team fares particularly well, the Indian tricolour remains an emblem used by appreciative fans. On the other hand, the outrage caused by the Indian women’s tennis ace, Sania Mirza, because she rested her feet too close to the flag would seem irrelevant in the French environment.

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4 Responses to Similarities in French and Indian Cultural Values

  1. odj-É2P says:

    interesting..

  2. Ankur Sharma says:

    Nice post, new things learnt!

  3. Dear Dr. Gevrey,
    I read with interest your above blog on similarities between French and Indian Cultural values.
    It so happens that currently Dr. Amita, my daughter, and I are involved in a project work cum research study on Synergy between Indian and Western values in Management: Towards Functionally Humane Organisation, forming part of our forthcoming book with the same title.
    Persons with a minimum work experience of five years each in abroad and India are being invited to be the respondents in the study.
    Hope, it would possible for you to respond favourably.Please forward your e mail ID so that the response sheet can be sent to you.
    Also, we may explore the possibility of suitable professional networking in the areas of mutual interest.

    Regards,
    G..P.Rao,
    Hyderabad.
    (Mobile:09350247866) .

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