I would be grateful for an explanation of a custom that I have observed among colleagues from India - good Indian etiquette that seems to be extend to co-workers at my new workplace (outside India) where a small number of them work.

I have observed that when said colleagues return back to work after a visit to their home country, they bring "Indian-style" sweets, which are offered around the team/office. Some seem to be home-made and some come in what looks like store-bought packaging - not necessarily cheap either.

Part of the problem is that we have a slight language barrier. The office lingua franca is English, but this is spoken as a home language by very few people in the office (a number of foreign co-workers from different countries, and the local country is multicultural, too). So we (mostly) get along regarding the technical matters around work to be done, but things like cultural practices are more difficult since people are not always able to convey the correct nuanced meaning in English of what they try to explain, sometimes due to a limited English vocabulary. Cultural backgrounds often contain unspoken, ingrained expectations which one isn't always aware one carries, and thus does not take the effort to explain...

In short: I could ask themselves about the sweets, but am afraid to come over as ungrateful, or rudely questioning good manners, when I'm simply curious.

  • So, why are sweets handed around the office? And what are the expectations around this custom?
  • What sort of foodstuffs are generally given in such situations?
  • Should I/other recipients reciprocate in some way? Or is a "thank you" and/or "welcome back" sufficient?
  • Is there a religious significance/connotation?
  • May I decline? May I ask for another one?

This happens at other times than Diwali, so I guess this question about Diwali gifts does not apply.

  • 2
    this question might also be on-topic on Interpersonal Skills. Have you ever asked anything on being offered a sweet? Just trying to establish any baseline knowledge you have about it. May 8, 2018 at 15:30
  • The travel related aspect of this: Do these sweets count as imported food, which is heavily regulated in most countries? May 8, 2018 at 17:01
  • @KateGregory: I thought about asking there, but that would probably be more along the line of "how to discuss cultural differences when there are language problems" and for starters I was interested in this specific custom. I guess the answers below are now my baseline ;-) They will be helpful to frame questions to my colleagues in a way that makes less assumptions and are thus less likely to offend.
    – frIT
    May 9, 2018 at 14:25
  • @HagenvonEitzen: true, and has been asked on various internet forums for a number of countries. But I imagine since they were able to bring them in, the regulations are permissive.
    – frIT
    May 9, 2018 at 14:27

4 Answers 4


To answer your question-

  • Sweet distribution is certainly an integral part of Indian culture to show our happiness for any good occasions. ‘Visiting home/parents’ is a big happy occasion for us- we just try to share those happy feelings with people (colleagues) around us when we return to offices. So, you can say it is more like “Hey I am back from home and I got something from India (home) to share with you all 😊”. Another idea behind is not all of us can make home trip (especially for people outside India) so frequently so let’s share the feeling of your home with these sweets. We Indians always crave for home-made food. This certainly brings us one step closer to our family while we are away from them. In short, this gesture is a sentimental/emotional attachment towards our home.

  • If there is any special occasion, the person would probably mention it.

  • Sweets are definitely the first choice but one can distribute snacks & savoury items too.

  • ‘Thank you’ is sufficient and if you found the foodstuffs delicious you can always tell so / may take more 😊. You always have the option to decline if you don’t want to eat it.

  • No religious connotation behind this gesture.


Sweets (typical Indian recipes cooked at home or brought from market, not the candy you buy in stores) are an integral part of Indian culture. Distribution of sweets can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Festivals.
  • A happy occassion in the family (wedding, birth, engagement).
  • Religious ceremony (Prasadam)
  • Other than this, coming back empty handed from your native place is considered bad form in India. So people bring local sweet delicacies as parting gift with them.

The person handing out the sweets will probably tell you if they are for a special occassion or just a part of parting gift from people back home.

A thank you would be considered appropriate response on your part.

You may decline or ask for other one.

  • Thanks for the answer, which contains valuable information. I chose this one as the answer due to the more personal point of view.
    – frIT
    May 9, 2018 at 14:28

This seems to be integral to every culture, not just India. I wonder where the original poster is from? It is common practice to bring edibles from any vacation spot or trip home, or work conference, back to work colleagues. Standard practice, in fact. Where I work, people do this from Europe, from China, from Japan, from Australia, from middle-eastern countries etc etc etc. You reciprocate by bringing things back for everyone when you go on a vacation. And so the cycle continues.

  • I disagree :-) I've certainly not encountered the same sort of custom while working in various North American, Western European or African countries. I'm sure different people will have different experiences. Anyhow, the curiosity of the question was focused towards Indian custom/culture, not general custom. Obviously food/drink plays a huge part in many culture's hospitality, but in my experience that would be a shared meal or drinks at a BBQ, restaurant, or pub. Closest would be someone distributing Swiss chocolates back after a business trip there - not completely the same either.
    – frIT
    Feb 14, 2020 at 17:45

I've noticed this too, growing up with Indian parents my dad would always come how with boxes and boxes of sweets after each business trip and we woudl keep some for ourselves and distribute most of it to family and colleagues. oh and i remember always bringing sweets whenever it was birthday to share it with my classmates throughout elementary school. when i was younger i thought it was normal and thats what everyone does but as i grew older i realised thats not always true. I don't exactly know why but when it comes to gift-giving Indian sweets are a staple in Indian culture no matter which side you're from. ig thats something both south and north have in common lol but now that i think about it i think its cause sweets are usually something eaten during joyful occasions so ig its to spread your happiness with others ??? doesn't sugar like stimulate dopamine in your brain which makes one feel elate so maybe its got something to do with that idk

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