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I have a business contact in India, whom I do not know personally. Let's assume my name is Tobias Smith and my contact is Raj Singh.

I initially addressed him by first name, as I was told this is usual (Dear Raj / Hello Raj), and signed with: Regards, Tobias Smith.

He now keeps adressing me "Mr. Tobias".

Not being a native english speaker I now wonder if I unwittingly insulted him or if he just does not know which is my given name.

My questions:

  1. Are there any differences in how I should approach emails to those in India (ways to introduce myself, etc)?
  2. Assuming it is an error, how to politely make him aware of my given name so he does not refer to me as "Mr. Tobias"

We're both techies, at about the same level in our companies, if that makes any difference.

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    Mr (First Name) is common in some countries, so that aspect, at least, may simply be cultural. – Lawrence Mar 16 '16 at 10:02
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    Voting to close as too broad / opinion based to reject migration. Question is ill-defined and could simply be the result of different cultural norms as pointed out by Lawrence's comment. Question is not of high enough quality to justify migration. OP should create a new question here if he wants to ask about salutations in Indian business emails. – Lilienthal Mar 16 '16 at 10:33
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    "Assuming it is an error, how to politely make him aware of my given name" - You can say something like "Just call me Tobias." – Brandin Mar 16 '16 at 11:15
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    I reorganized and rewrote this a fair bit to make it more on topic and focus on the cultural/email aspect, which is a better fit for The Workplace. – enderland Mar 16 '16 at 12:31
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    Don't know about India, but at least here in Brazil it is common to call people Mr. First Name. – undefined Mar 16 '16 at 13:15
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1) How to politely address him and 2) Assuming it is an error, how to politely make him aware of my given name.

1) You are already politely addressing him, unless he expresses a preference for another form of address then no need to worry about it. As far as I know Indians do not have a problem with being addressed by the first name (I'm not Indian but none have ever said anything).

2) Just ask him to address you by your first name if you want him to. There's nothing wrong with that. "Please call me Tobias."

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This is fairly common in a lot of Asian countries - this is due to the fact that some places, your Firstname might actually be your 'last name' so to say..

I wouldn't really put anything into it if I were you. Mr. "Firstname" is quite common and I doubt there's an ulterior motive behind it. On the contrary, I'd say it would be inappropriate, you and him being at the same level, correcting him and asking him to call you Mr. "Lastname"..

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    Thank you for clarifying the "Mr. Firstname". I was not intending to ask him to address my by my last name (though that is common here in Germany), I'd rather want to be addressed first name only. – TobiM Mar 16 '16 at 13:33
  • In that case, you should - in my mind - accept that a lot of asian countries are very formal. I'm Danish and can relate - calling anyone "Mr." here is quite uncommon, and I can imagine - the same in Germany. However, it's very different in Asia - amongst that, India, where they'd rather show too much respect than too little, and they have a more conservative/formal communication culture - if that makes sense. – cbll Mar 16 '16 at 13:44
  • And here in the USA, we think Europe is formal. I'm of German descent with family still there. But yes, in many countries in Asia, the misuse of a pronoun, or failing to use the proper amount of deference can be very offensive. Add to the mix that in India specifically, it is a big thing in the culture to not offend a person, so they will often use more deference than necessary, just to be safe, until invited to do otherwise. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 16 '16 at 18:26
  • We have the same sort of formality here, with the addition that some people are chiefs and need to be addressed a certain way depending on the senders status, but that's amongst ourselves. When dealing with outsiders we don't get offended if the outsider uses a different convention. I assume that Indians are the same because I've never had one complain. And I don't get offended if an outsider doesn't use my full title. – Kilisi Mar 17 '16 at 5:00
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I'm an Indian so I can shed some light on this for you.

It is very common here to address superiors as "Sir" or "Ma'am" as it is seen as a sign of respect. I've even seen emails where a superior has been addressed as "Mr. XYZ Sir"! Some older people (yes, older, not necessarily a superior) take offense if they're addressed by just their name or even as "Mr. XYZ".

Of course this is reducing and most communication is informal, especially with the younger generation (<35 years). Start ups tend to frown upon such formality, so it also depends on the company culture.

Another fact to consider is that your contact may not be familiar with the norms and customs of your country and may be playing it safe. I've been in similar situations where I'm confused about the correct way to address a person. American TV and movie characters have a line "Please, call me First Name". It gives me the impression that I have to call a person "Mr. Last Name" till they feel comfortable enough around me. So this may be a factor if your contact hasn't spent a considerable amount of time in your country.

Like @kilisi said, you may want to tell your contact that it's okay to address you by just your first name or ignore it altogether.

  • In English usage (uk, comonwealth and usa) you only ever say Mr Last Name ie their surname or family name, using Mr First Name would seen be as odd. – Pepone Oct 3 '16 at 23:02
  • @Pepone: except for teachers of younger children... – jmoreno Oct 4 '16 at 2:48

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