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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. – Kate Gregory May 8 '18 at 15:30
  • The travel related aspect of this: Do these sweets count as imported food, which is heavily regulated in most countries? – Hagen von Eitzen May 8 '18 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. – fr13d May 9 '18 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. – fr13d May 9 '18 at 14:27
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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.

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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. – fr13d May 9 '18 at 14:28

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