Celebrating the Festival Of Lights

Yesterday, Hindus celebrated the first day of Diwali: “Dhanteras” (Day of fortune). Observed over five days, Diwali, the Festival Of Lights, is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar, celebrated by over 1 billion Hindus in and outside of India. The festival, meaning 'row of lights' in Sanskrit, brings together friends and families as Hindus celebrate the removal of negative forces from their homes and lives. Throughout Diwali, houses, shops and public places are decorated with lights, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. The small lamps, called diyas, are used to expel darkness and welcome prosperity, health and happiness.

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The high point of the festival is the third day, Diwali (Day of Light). The day of Diwali varies as it is calculated primarily based on the moon, and falls between the 17th October and 15th November. This year, Diwali is celebrated on Thursday, 19th October. It is marked by fireworks and is also the last day of the Hindu year in many regions. It is said that on this day, Lord Rama vanquished the demon Ravana in an epic battle. Upon his return, his people lit lamps throughout the country to guide him home in the dark and mark a new era of peace.

If you would like to learn more about Indian culture and business etiquette, please get in touch or keep an eye on our events section for the next open webinar.


Nine Australians in Malaysia - when ignorance is NOT bliss!

A week ago, on Sunday 2nd October, the Australian Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo won the Grand Prix in Malaysia. One week, four nights in prison, a court hearing and a job resignation later, nine Australian men are back in their home country, doubtlessly wishing they had done their research and celebrated more in line with their host country’s cultural values.

Apparently they stood handcuffed in front of a judge, apologising for their foolish behaviour (of publicly wearing swimmers emblazoned with the Malaysian flag) that could have resulted in a two year prison sentence.

Why am I mentioning this? Because all this happened, while we were holding a “Business Etiquette & Culture in Malaysia” workshop here at Farnham Castle. The ten people attending it will certainly not make this, or any of the many other, less obvious mistakes, while working with their Malaysian clients and business partners. 

Lack of cultural awareness doesn’t seem to be a big thing – until it is. Not often are the consequences arrest and detention but, as one Malaysian national commented, it can often result in humiliation and a negative impression, not only of that particular group of people, but a whole country or a company. A high price to pay!

Doing Business in the Middle East – Expelling the Myth

Lead Consultant for the Middle East, Donna Marsh talks to us about conducting business in the Middle East and breaks some cultural stereotypes.

We live in an age of fast moving business and virtual transactions, where the explosion of the internet and social media has permanently changed how businesses operate; however for those organisations that have expanded into the Middle East, the corporate world is a very different place according to cultural expert Donna Marsh.

“Business is personal and having the best product or service is simply not enough,” says Donna, who provides cross cultural training for companies and their staff operating in the Middle East.  “In the Middle East, people prefer to do business with people and organisations they know and trust”.

Increasing opportunities for British businesses in the Middle East has sparked the need for cultural training, as more Westerners relocate to take advantage of higher salaries, better jobs or – as an added bonus – the opportunity to live in warmer climates.  But it is important to keep in mind that attitudes in the Middle East are different to the UK and these need to be understood and respected.

Donna, who has travelled and worked throughout the Gulf countries and the wider Middle East for decades, is a member of the team at Farnham Castle Intercultural Training, which boasts a strong track record in delivering intercultural business training, leadership development & global mobility programmes to FTSE100 organisations.  She advises people relocating to the Middle East how to behave and communicate with their colleagues and neighbours.

Donna suggests that companies expanding into this market should take the time to build relationship with their Middle East counterparts, ideally face to face.  Business and social matters are conducted differently and it is important to understand these differences so that no unintentional offense is caused.  “The Middle East has very different attitudes to diversity than most of the West” says Donna.  “And a lack of understanding about their attitudes to marriage, alcohol or public displays of affection with the opposite sex has landed many an ex-pat in trouble.”

However, one common misconception that Donna is keen to clarify is the perception that women are viewed as inferior to men in the Middle East.  “As a business woman who had a long and successful corporate career before going into cross cultural consultancy, I can assure you that women can and do succeed in working in the Middle East.  It is all about keeping it in perspective because we often only hear the horror stories about this part of the world, whereas in reality they are far from the norm.  Although women are required to carefully consider how they dress and behave, this does not mean they are treated any less seriously within the business environment.  In fact, they are highly respected and will often find themselves working alongside key male players.”

The Middle East has much to offer those who are adventurous enough to make the move, but it is important that you first seek expert advice on conducting or moving your business abroad, or you may just find that it is a cultural case of ‘lost in translation’.

 To learn more about Farnham Castle’s solutions for business success in the Middle East contact us.

A British/American dual national, Ms. Marsh lives near London.  She is the author of The Middle East Unveiled, aimed at all Western travellers to the Middle East as well as addressing issues of particular interest to Western business women, and Doing Business in the New IraqShe is also a contributing author to Lonely Planet’s 2010 edition of Oman, UAE and Arabian Peninsula guide with the article A Businesswoman in Saudi.  Her latest book, Living and Working in Saudi Arabia is available now.