Category Archives: Authored by Rukmini Iyer

This category of articles are all authored by Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions.

Scared to interact with foreign clients?

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

In many organisations today, it is not just the top brass that has to deal with foreign clients and associates. Executive level employees too have to interact with them, especially in sectors like BPO and IT.

Many of you are are apprehensive about this. Maybe because you are scared of faltering?

“For instance, we could not understand any of their jokes and vice versa. It took quite some time for us to comprehend their sense of humour and respond appropriately,” says IT professional Sandeep Ganediwalla, who has extensively dealt with American clients.

“It also takes some time to get used to the accent. That applies to them as well. Since Indians are amongst the fastest speakers in the world, we need to make a conscious effort to slow down,” he continues.

The content of discussions with foreign clients is routine, quite like the subjects raised while talking to fellow Indian professionals. Intricacies arise due to differences in cultures.

The most common modes of communication with these clients include:
  • Face to face communication
  • E-mails
  • Telephonic conversations
  • Conference calls over the telephone
  • Video conferencing
  • Chat


Besides regular business etiquette, there are certain points to bear in mind while using these media with international clients/associates.

Cross cultural sensitivity

The most important thing is to be sensitive towards differences in cultures. While we are certainly different from each other, we ought to control the tendency to be subjective and label each other as good or bad. The differences arise out of several reasons ranging from geographic to historic to psychological. Once we accept them unconditionally, communication becomes simpler.

Understand their background

If you have to communicate extensively with a foreign client, take the effort to read up about their country and know common things about their culture. This will avoid gaffes. For example, a Scottish person being referred to as English would certainly not take it well. So if you are dealing with a client in Britain, you would do well to know about all the four countries in the UK. Getting relevant information is not difficult these days, with Internet access being ubiquitous.

Business and social etiquette

Etiquette helps in making a good impression. It does not mean you need to be prim-and-proper all the time. Simple courtesies such as standing up when a lady comes to meet you, shaking hands firmly, holding the door open for ladies/elders in appropriate circumstances, dining etiquette, etc make the client feel comfortable.

Participate in communication

“We somehow tend to shy away from asking questions and seeking clarifications. This leads to confusion later. If client and you are not on the same page, it is important to stop and clarify things before proceeding further. Otherwise, the client assumes that you’ve understood and is irritated when you do not respond appropriately later,” observes Ganediwalla. Understand that communicating with a foreigner is essentially the same as communicating with any other professional. Remove the mental blocks and unwarranted fears related to talking with them, so that you can facilitate a smooth flow of conversations.

Be sensitive

Are you wondering what would a client think if you do not know an answer? Or are not sure of the cultural appropriateness of a response? Well, your client is sailing in the same boat! If understanding accents is a problem for you, it is so for your client as well. So a win-win situation would arise only if you shed inhibitions and open doors to a frank dialogue.

Ethics and values

At the end of the day, we are all human being and good values such as punctuality and ethical business practices are universally appreciated. Pradeep Mishra, SAP technology consultant and currently an executive MBA student says, “While Indian professionals are ambitious and look for fast growth, the flip side is that somewhere the lack of commitment to an organisation shows. We want to deal with foreign clients, but only to garner experience and add it to our résumé. If only we could be more committed and really want to add value to our contributions, our clients would be happier. Individual accountability is something we would do well to learn.”

Face to face communication

Be aware of your body language and dressing sense. If you are hosting your clients for a meal, ensure that you know their food preferences and take them to a relevant place. A lot of them may not like spicy Indian food. Do not assume that just because they are foreigners, they would love non-vegetarian food or want to guzzle alcohol.

Avoid talking about political, religious and personal issues. Good topics to initiate conversations could be about their countries, places to visit in India, weather, sports, etc.


Avoid short forms and jargon unless you are sure the client would understand. Do not SHOUT, ie, do not type an entire mail in capital letters. Follow the appropriate forms of salutation, greeting and closing.

Telephonic conversations

Speak slowly. Do not put on a fake accent. It is a good idea to make an agenda before beginning a call. For clarity, you could summarise the conversation in an e-mail later and confirm the points that you have agreed to work upon.

Conference calls over the telephone

If there are more than three people on a con-call, introduce yourself before speaking in the initial stages of the call, till people are familiar with your voice. Put your phone on mute if you have to talk to someone else during the call. The person leading the call should mail an agenda before the call and the minutes of the call after it.

Video conferencing

Body language, attire and alertness are important here. Avoid eating/drinking in the middle of a conference and sit upright, to show respect your colleagues/clients.


While this is a more informal mode of contact, if the conversation is related to work, avoid using SMS-language. A little formality has to be induced for a professional approach.

Improve your English

Finally, if you are not confident of communicating in English, start working on it right away, since that is the language most of the world knows.

At the same time, do not expect all your clients to speak fluent English: a lot of Asian and European professionals prefer to deal in their native tongue.

Read as much as possible and listen to English television/radio to improve upon your language. Request your colleagues to talk to you in English and to bstop you when you commit errors, so that you can improve.

A little sensitivity and a humane approach is all it takes to build a great rapport with your foreign client.

All you need to know about ties

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Do you know how to wear a tie? This formal wear accessory can be a source of amusement, if not worn properly. Given the hot Indian climate, many of us do not wear ties on a regular basis unless the occasion demands it.

To make sure you carry off your tie well, it is important to choose and wear it with care. Else, it can clearly make a wrong impression.

Buying the right tie

The quality of your tie denotes taste and sense of style. So choose your tie with care. Several materials like silk and wool-blended go well with different suits and shirts.

Fashion designer Dipti Irla offers the following tips:

~ Touch the tie while buying it – it must feel smooth.

~ A good quality tie will have three, not two, pieces sewn together

~ At the back of the tie between the two joined flaps, you will find a loose thread called the slip stitch. In a good quality tie, if you pull this slip stitch, the tie will gather in folds.

~ Another test is to sling the tie over your hands. The narrow end of the tie should lie exactly behind the centre of the wider end. Don’t buy the tie if it twists when you drape it over your hands – it will not lie flat on your chest.

Patterns and colours

Now that you’ve chosen the material, the next part is choosing the colour. Corporate training professional and part-time model Mahesh Nazare says, “There are two universal coloured shirts that can go with any tie: white and black. Otherwise, go in for contrasts. You can even go in for a tie that has matching prints and colours of the shirt or the suit,” she says.

“Personally, I think that if you are wearing a black suit, a bright coloured silk tie such as yellow, green, silver or light blue looks best. With a blue or a grey suit, I prefer the same coloured tie. If you are wearing the tie with a shirt, then a contrast looks good.”

Contrasts are usually the norm. But Irla cautions, “Make sure that the patterns complement your shirt and not compete with it. You would not want to end up looking like a botched up painting. If the shirt has subtle colours and patterns, a bold tie will look good. But if the shirt is bright or has an attractive pattern, the tie has to be sober.”

For business meetings, stick to simple patterned ties with twin colours.

Length and width

While fashion trends keep changing, the average length of a tie is 54 inches and the width 3.25 inches.

For taller men, longer ties, about 60 inches in length, are better. The knot should be tied in such a way that the tie ends at the belt. Ideally, half an inch of the tie hangs over the belt. It should not end above the belt, nor below it.

To choose the width, one must keep in mind the body type.

A slim individual wearing a broader tie will end up looking even slimmer while a bigger person in a slim tie would look bigger.

“These days slim ties are out of fashion. But in general, a rounder person should go in for a wider tie while a thinner man would look better in a slimmer one,” Nazare says.


Irla says smaller knots to work or business meetings are ideal. “They take less time and do not require a very long tie even if you are tall,” she says. Nazare seconds her, “A single knot is fast and simple – it is better for regular wear.

“A bigger man could try the Windsor style knot, which is more traditional. It results in a thick bow that looks good on a larger frame. But it is time-consuming.”

Getting the knot neat is an important part of making an impression with a tie.

Armed with these tie tips, are you all set to look hotter?

Annoying colleagues at your workplace?

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

With most of us spending 10-14 hours at work everyday, our workplaces have become our second homes. As a result, even the slightest of hindrances here tend to blow up into vexing issues, particularly if they are not tackled in time. Very often, these issues relate to our colleagues’ behaviour. It can get a little awkward when it come to addressing some of these directly, as a lot of them concern subtle aspects of behaviour that are difficult to articulate.

Let’s take a look at some of the most annoying aspects of workplace behaviour and what we can do about them.


This is by far the most annoying aspect of a workplace.

“It can absolutely turn you off,” says Revathi M, assistant manager – sales, with an IT security company. “It takes a heavy toll on productivity because, if you don’t belong in a certain group, you tend to feel left out. Then, you don’t enjoy going to work anymore.”

The snide remarks and covert glances that result from groupism are not only thoroughly unprofessional, they can also result in emotional hurt which is often difficult to express. It eventually leads to frustration and may result in people leaving their jobs.

Casual chatter

“The most irritating thing at the workplace is groups of women chatting endlessly about clothes, cosmetics and jewellery. Some of them even trade in these items at work. I think it’s really unprofessional,” says Purnima Gupta, a teacher at a reputed Mumbai school.

While casual conversations are fine when one wants to make small talk, one needs to realise extended chatter at the workplace disturbs other people. It also looks unprofessional.


This is widely touted as being omnipresent and is universally detested.

Sugary sweet behaviour in front of a person and backstabbing comments behind their back are known to prevail in virtually every kind of human interaction. The natural fallout of hypocrisy at the workplace is lack of trust, which greatly affects work relationships and productivity.


“When we are angry with something our boss does, we try hard to control our emotions and behave in a subdued manner. However, if a peon goofs up even slightly, a lot of us don’t think twice before yelling at him. Is this justified?” wonders Revathi.

Dignity of labour and respect for all kinds of work is a prerequisite for a healthy work environment. We must appreciate that people at all levels provide value with whatever work they do. It can be discouraging if they are not treated with dignity, considering they work to the best of their ability, given individual constraints.

Messy cubicle partners

Another trait that can really upset people is messy surroundings. Eating at the workstation and dropping tidbits of food, or having heaps of papers and files that spill over to your neighbours’ desks can be very bothersome.

A lot of people are fussy about cleanliness and are used to a certain standard of hygiene around them. If those standards are not met at the workplace, it can be very demotivating.

Undue inquisitiveness

While it is common for colleagues to turn into good friends over time, a certain level of formality is expected while one is at work. When this formality is breached, not everyone may take it well.

“When colleagues are unduly concerned about where I went the previous evening, with whom, why, etc, I really feel like telling them it is none of their business. If I wish to share personal thoughts with someone at the workplace, I need to be comfortable with that person. It has to be voluntary. The concept of personal space and privacy is rather alien to our culture,” observes Purnima.

Taking credit

It is but natural that we want to be appreciated for the work we do. However, since most of the work we do in an organisation is team effort, it is important credit is accordingly shared.

“When it comes to getting work done, the higher-ups often give pep talks on how team work is important. However, when the results come in, each individual and department wants the credit. Typically, in any organisation, the frontline sales people take away the appreciation. The back-end operations group is conveniently forgotten, even though they contribute significantly to the success. This can be extremely frustrating for the people who have worked behind the scenes,” says Revathi.

Talking loudly

“I wish some people had silencers fitted into their throats!” says Purnima exasperatedly. “At work, one must realise formal, subdued behaviour is called for. Etiquette demands we keep our voice low so others are not disturbed. The most annoying bit is when people excitedly almost yell over their phones for no reason. I’m sure it’s equally annoying for the person at the other end of the line.”

Talking loudly is often associated with rustic behaviour that lacks sophistication. It is advisable we keep our tone and pitch low when we are around colleagues.

Tackling annoying behaviour

It is indeed difficult to keep your cool and focus on productivity when behavioural factors affect performance at work. But it is necessary to be assertive if one has to solve the problem.

Of course, assertiveness is different from being accusatory. Assertiveness is all about talking in a factual manner without being judgmental. It involves conveying facts and their possible repercussions without getting emotional, or rude, in the process. Though it is easier said than done, professionalism demands one remain objective while dealing with such situations.

At the organisational level, the HR department – and managers and supervisors as welll – need to have a keen eye for observing team dynamics. Active intervention and counselling go a long way in smoothing ruffled feathers.

Avoiding annoying behaviour

As individuals, there are a few things that may help us avoid being in the bad books of our colleagues:

Avoid backbiting

At the workplace, never discuss a person in his/ her absence. This simple rule goes a long way in maintaining a healthy environment.

Seek feedback

If you think a colleague has been shying away from you for a while, casually enquire to find out if your behaviour has upset him/ her. If that is the case, patiently listen to your colleague’s feelings without getting defensive. Once the person has opened up, it can be easier to resolve the issue.

Respect everyone

Imagine the situation if the entire housekeeping staff goes on strike. We often take a lot of people for granted simply because they may not demand attention. But that does not mean their work is any less important.

Observe formality

A lot of your colleagues may become good friends over time. However, work ethics dictate you remain sensitive to the feelings of everyone at the workplace. Hence, over-friendly behaviour ought to be avoided.

Test your social etiquette

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

The origin of the word etiquette is the French etiquet or estiquette, which refers to a notice attached to something.

A few hundred years ago, in Western Europe, it was a custom to attach the code of dress and behaviour to every party invitation, especially to those coming from the royal or aristocratic families. This was to ensure that people conducted themselves well and there were no faux pas to embarrass the hosts.

Luckily, we no longer live in that uptight era. However, basic social etiquette is still important. Let’s see how familiar you are with contemporary etiquette norms.

1. Which of the following behaviour, do you think, is appropriate when it comes to doors?

a. Chivalry is long passé – simply hold the door open for yourself to pass through. The others can take care of themselves.
b. In a business context, always open doors for clients, superiors or guests and let them pass through first.
c. While exiting from rooms with self-shutting doors, you need not hold the door open till the person behind you takes over.

2. Which of these options is not correct with respect to a handshake?

a. Keep the thumb up and let the webs of the thumbs touch before wrapping your fingers around the other person’s hand.
b. Maintain eye contact with the person when you are shaking hands.
c. When you are being introduced to a new person, the handshake should go on throughout the introduction. Ideally, this would mean there are about 6-7 pumps before you stop.

3. When someone compliments you on your attire, you should……

a. Talk about the designer of the outfit and how you prefer that particular label for your work clothes.
b. Simply smile and thank the person for the compliment.
c. Furtively glance at the person to find how can you return the compliment.

4. Given a choice among the following, which option would you pick to initiate small talk at a party?

a. How pleasant the weather was at the weekend getaway you had been to recently.
b. How the education system needs improvement and the expenses involved in educating a child.
c. How the politicians are messing up the administration of the country and corruption is gnawing at the exchequer.

5. At a party, you prefer to avoid or abstain from alcohol. Your host offers you a cocktail. How do you react?

a. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
b. “Sorry, but I have just recovered from colitis. My doctor has advised me to avoid alcohol for two weeks. I would love to have that cocktail, but you know……”
c. “Thank you, but could I have a soft drink instead?”


1. b
While chivalry in the old sense of the term may be passe, courtesy is not. It is important to hold self-shutting doors open if there is someone coming behind you  from a standpoint of safety and avoidance of injury. And of course, it always great to be courteous towards seniors and ladies – it may not be expected, but is always apprecciated.

2. c
Eye contact during a handshake reflects on a person’s confidence and trustworthiness. It is important to remember that a handshake should start and stop crisply. Ideally, there should be about two to three pumps. Do not continue to hold hands through the length of the introduction.

3. b
When a person compliments you, it is not necessary to return the compliment. You can simply thank the person and graciously accept the compliment. Etiquette demands that no matter how expensive your clothes and accessories are, you should not brag about designer labels or their cost.

4. a
Boring though it may sound, the safest topics that make for small talk and serve as icebreakers in social get-togethers are the weather, popular sports or the pleasant party setting. Even if you are passionate about issues such as improving the education scenario or uprooting corruption, do not bring them up. For all you know, the person you may be talking to might be an educationist or a local politician himself/ herself! Topics such as religion, politics, family and personal appearance and grooming are an absolute no-no.

5. c
It is perfectly fine to refrain from alcoholic drinks. However, do not make it sound as if drinking alcohol is a crime. Whether you drink or not is a personal choice and you are not bound to give long-winded excuses as a reply. Simply thank the host for offering the drink and state your preference. S/he would be glad to get you the drink of your choice.

Know your pasta

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Is pasta one of your favourite foods?

Here are some intriguing pasta facts:

Pasta, in Italian, literally means paste. While popular belief holds that Marco Polo introduced it to the West from China, scholars have traced its origins to Sicily in the Middle Ages, when it was used as a staple food. It was introduced to France much later, before spreading to the rest of the world.

Let’s get the basics right

Traditionally, pasta is made from durum wheat semolina and eggs (although eggless pastas are now available). Durum is grown in Italy as well as the rest of the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, Russia and the Americas. It is a hard wheat, rich in gluten (a sticky elastic protein substance that gives the dough cohesiveness), that is ground into semolina.

Pastas are available in various forms – solid, dried or fresh. You can pick up dried pasta that just needs to be cooked in boiling, salted water. Easier still, you can find solid, stuffed pasta that just requires heating up.

If you are not among the lazier gastronomes, you could also try making your own fresh pasta. Here’s how:

Knead semolina – which is available in some specialty stores, or else use white flour (maida) – with egg (about 1 egg per 1½ cups semolina/flour and water to get a stiffish dough.

You can then add flavouring purees, if you wish. Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out and cut it into thin strips. You can then boil this in salted water.

For how long? The Italians swear by the ‘al dente’ rule – take a small bite of the pasta to check if it is tender, but slightly firm. If yes, take it off the stove. Do not let it overcook and get mushy.

Types of pasta

There are primarily two types of pasta:

Flat: Made by rolling dough between rollers into thin sheets, which are then cut into various shapes and sizes.

Cylindrical: Made by forcing dough through a pierced plate. The hole through which the dough is forced may be straight, curved or notched, to produce hollow tubes.

Varieties aplenty…

Want to know more about the shapes and sizes of pasta you might encounter? It’s a long list. These are various varieties of pasta within the two types we just read about:

~Spaghetti: Long, thin and noodle-like. You also get coloured spaghetti: yellow (natural colour due to the egg), red (by adding tomatoes) and green (by adding spinach).

~Fettuccine: Long, thin and ribbon-shaped.

~Macaroni: A short, stick-shaped pasta, hollow inside.

~Tagletilli: A flat variety, quarter-inch broad and ribbon-shaped.

~Fedelini: A very fine noodle-like pasta.

~Spiral: As the name suggests, a twisted, thin ribbon.

~Penne: One of the hot-selling varieties these days. It is short and cylindrical with grooves. Hollow on the inside and cut into a slant.

~Ragatoni: Similar to penne, but cut into rounds.

~Bozzoli: A hollow short pasta with grooves and ridges. The upper part has an opening.

~Pipe rigate: Curved pasta, hollow and with a smooth outer surface.

~Diamante: Flat variety cut into a diamond shape.

~Routoni: Flat and round, with wavy edges and a small hole in the centre.

~Cappelletti: The same as routoni, but without a hole in the centre.

~Fusilli: A twisted short pasta, spiral in shape.

~Farfalle: Can be described as being bow or butterfly-shaped.

~Stellini: Flat, star-shaped pasta that can generally be found in soups.

~Lasagne: A sheet of pasta, used with stuffing.

~Scalloped lasagne: With a scale-like structure, it has a smooth surface and wavy edges. Generally used for baking.

~Tortillini, Ravioli, Canelloni: All three are used for stuffing purposes. Popular fillings include spinach with béchamel sauce (a thick, rich white sauce), chicken liver, cheese, mushrooms, sausage meat, etc.

Saucy facts

Sauce is to pasta what sugar syrup is to Roshogollas. The choice of sauce determines the flavour and taste of the dish to a great extent. Here’s a run-down of basic pasta sauces:

~Bolognaise sauce: A minced beef sauce seasoned with onion, garlic, red wine, rosemary, etc.

~Cream sauce: With white sauce as a base, it contains a lot of cream and cheese.

~Cheese sauce: A combination of white sauce and cheese.

~Basil sauce: Again, it has a white sauce base, with basil and cheese.

~Carbonara sauce: Diced bacon combined with egg yolk, onion, garlic, cream and chopped leeks. Finished with the ubiquitous parmesan cheese.

~Seafood sauce: Primarily has a béchamel base to which assorted seafood is added.

~Pesto sauce: Apart from parmesan cheese, it has basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.

~Napoli sauce: A favourite among vegetarians, it has a tomato base, along with basil, garlic, olive oil, onions and paprika powder.

~Puttensca sauce: This takes the Napoli sauce as a base, to which olives, capers (a herb) and anchovy (a salty fish) are added.

~Primavera sauce: Napoli sauce to which juliennes (vegetables cut into thin strips) are added.

~Arabiata sauce: A favourite with those who love spicy food, this takes Napoli as the base, supplemented with chilli flakes and parmesan cheese.

~Moily sauce: An interesting sauce that can suit the Indian palate, it contains curry leaves, onions, green chillies and ginger blended into coconut milk.

Pasta etiquette

~ While the type of pasta you choose does not contribute much to the taste, unless you opt for a flavoured variety, it is the sauce that matters a lot. Expect white-sauce based options to be more bland. Vegetarians can always go for Napoli-based sauces.

~ Generally, you can combine any type of pasta with any sauce.

Exceptions: Lasagne necessarily has sheet pasta, Tortillini, Ravioli, Canelloni are used for stuffing, so choose vegetarian or non-vegetarian sauces accordingly, Stellini is preferred in soup as it is small.

However, not all types of pasta may be available in a restaurant you go to. Usually, you are sure to find spaghetti, penne, macaroni and fettuccine.

~ While handling pasta with your fork, insert the tines within the pasta so it does not slide back to the plate. Pasta tends to be slippery, so avoid heaping it on your fork. The knife can be used to cut longer pasta such as fettuccine into bite-sized pieces.

Remember, the flavours are subtle, so you really need to be tuned into your meal to appreciate the finer nuances of your pasta.

Bon appetite!

Wine etiquette, simplified

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
– Old saying

Some of the greatest pleasures of life lie in simplicity. The humble grapes that are fermented into wine only go on to prove this point.

Whoever invented wine – intentionally or by accident – may have never thought the drink would go on to perennially grace fine-dining tables across the world.

Let us explore what is it that has had many a connoisseur appreciating, adulating and finally commending this drink as nonpareil.

New world, new tastes

At one point in time, wines were synonymous with the vineyards of France. While Bordeaux and Burgundy still remain eternal favourites, Italian, South African and Californian wines have also made inroads into the connoisseurs’ taste buds.

Some of the latest wines in the market are from our own country. Areas near Nashik and Bangalore have come up very well as the new wine districts of the world.

Know your wine

Let’s tease your taste buds now by learning how to know your wine better. A wine is distinguished by:

~ Name of the shipper/producer (For example, Cockburn Smithes, Sula Vineyards, Davenport Vineyards, etc)

~ Area or region where it is produced (Alsace, Bordeaux, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hunter Valley, Canberra region, etc)

~ The year of production

~ The kind of grape from which it is manufactured, determining the texture and smoothness. White grapes include chardonnay, marsanne, riesling, etc while examples of red or black grapes are barbera, cabernet franc, pinotage, etc

~ The aroma or bouquet (a distinctive and characteristic fragrance) of the wine

Certain years – when the crops were exceptionally good, resulting in excellent wines – are called vintage years.

Each wine-producing region has its own list of vintage years. It is well known that the more aged the wine, the steeper the price. This is because as the wine matures, it acquires a flavour and texture that is simply fantastic. Vintage wines are especially very expensive.

In general, wines have between 11 to 14 per cent alcohol. It may not sound very intoxicating, but trust me, you can get very drunk on wine!

Wine bottles are generally stored in cellars or in cool, dark places at a tilted angle such that when the bottle is full, the wine touches the cork. Nowadays one can also find wines in regular sealed bottles.

Red wine

Red wine is made of black grapes. It is usually served at room temperature, ie, 14 to 18 degree centigrade (remember, room temperature is with reference to France, where wine originated.)

In India, you can keep it in the fridge. It is an ideal accompaniment for red meat.

Red wine glasses are smaller than white wine glasses and have a broader rim.

If stored correctly, most red wines last for two to three years after opening. Ideally, they should be stored in a rack where the temperature can be maintained 17 degree centigrade or below.

Bottles should be stored horizontally or titled at an angle. They should not be exposed to sunlight or to extreme changes in temperature.

Some red wines that can be stored for three to 10 years include vintage port (red wine mixed with brandy), red Bordeaux (red wine manufactured in the Bordeaux), some cabernet sauvignon (cabernet is a type of grape variety) or merlot-based wines (merlot is a grape variety), etc.

Apart from the taste, red wine is purportedly good for the heart and makes your skin glow, so long as it is consumed in moderate quantities (not more than two glasses per day).

White wine

White wine may be produced from white grapes or even from black grapes whose skin is peeled off. It is served chilled at about 8 to 10 degree centigrade.

White wine glasses have a narrow rim. The wine goes well with white meat (sea food or chicken). Generally, white wines are drier than red wines (ie, they do not leave a sweet aftertaste).

Most white wines are best drunk within a year after opening. Storage conditions should be similar to that of red wines. The rarities that can be stored for longer periods – three to years — include the better chardonnays, vintage champagnes and the fully sweet white wines.


Celebrations and champagne go together, for what reflects a spirited environment better than the bubbly, effervescent champagne?

Champagne is made from a mixture of black and white grapes. After fermentation, it is infused with carbon while bottling.

It is also known as sparkling wine. But remember, only the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France is called champagne. The rest are simply called sparkling wines.

While the manufacturing technique is similar, champagne is known to be more complex-flavoured (the flavours and the aroma are subtle) and less fruity than other sparkling wines.

In general, champagnes are also aged longer than sparkling wines. Some examples of sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne include Mousseux (France), Cava (Spain), Sekt (Germany) and Spumante (Italy).

Champagne is served in flutes or saucers. The shape of the flute ensures that it does not go flat soon. Saucers serve only a small amount of the drink, so that it can be had before the effervescence vanishes.

Champagnes are popularly used to make exciting cocktails. Some cocktails that you may find include Champagne Flamingo (with campari and vodka), Champagne Cocktail (with angostura bitters), Black Velvet (with Guinness), Mimosa (with orange juice), etc.

Fortified wines

Fortified wines are wines mixed with brandy in varied proportions. It results in higher alcohol content and a stronger flavour. Generally, fortified wines have between 17 to 21 per cent alcohol.

The most popular fortified wines include port, sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Málaga and Montilla-Moriles.

Most of them are named after the place where they are produced. Because of the addition of brandy, these wines are stabilised and are less likely to get spoiled once they are opened.

They are commonly used as pre-meal appetisers or post-aperitifs, taken at the end of meals.

Most fortified wines and some cocktails such as martinis can be served as appetisers or post aperitifs.

Wine shopping

The best mantra for wine buyers is: Read up on grape varieties so that you know what kind of wine you want to buy.

The next important thing while buying wine is the name of the shipper or the producer. In the Indian market, there are only two major players – Chateau Indage and Grovers. They have red, white and champagne.

The price range begins from INR 600 onwards.

Check the label for details on how long the wine has been stored. Ideally, it should be a minimum of six months.

If you want to go for international producers, Italian, Californian and Australian wines are hot right now. While offering good quality, these are not as expensive as the French wines.

Once you have settled on the grape variety and shipper, you need to check on the vintage years. Apart from this, most wine bottles available now include the ‘tasting’ notes as a part of the label.

This includes the flavour, the bouquet, what to accompany, after-taste, alcohol content etc.


Dating mantras for Valentine’s Day

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

From meeting your prospective-would-be with flowers and gifts to lounging over coffee with someone you’re attracted to, the dimensions of dating have undergone a radical change over the years. Now, dating does not necessarily indicate commitment or a serious relationship.

How different is dating today?

“It’s not really about boyfriends or girlfriends,” says Radhika Pingale, a college student from Pune. “I would say it is about spending quality time with a person you find interesting and probably care about a little more than others. Yes, at times your attraction towards that person is rather high — you might want to eventually look at a relationship. But one shouldn’t assume that going on a date with a person means the person would be ready for a commitment.”

While dating in India has traditionally been associated with two people seeing each other with the possibility of marriage as a backdrop, the scope seems to have broadened now. It is more about meeting to explore a relationship and knowing more about each other. It can boost an existing relationship, or initiate one.

How do you approach a person for a date?

This is something that gives a lot of us the jitters. How do you go about approaching someone that you like, without ending up with a black eye or being rejected?

“Honesty is the key, I would suggest,” says Romit Jhaveri, a chemical engineer. “If you like someone and want to ask him/her out, I think you must let the person know why. Once the person is comfortable with your intentions, s/he would be more comfortable going out with you.”

It is not advisable to ask a stranger out. A certain degree of acquaintance and friendship is necessary. A casual “How about catching up for coffee this evening?” is likely to get a better response than a nervous “Uhh… actually, I was wondering if, you know, we could meet up for dinner? I mean, if you don’t mind, of course, just to get to know each other better?”

You must sound confident. If you are jittery, the other person is likely to doubt your intentions. Be friendly, casual, but sincere, to make the person comfortable. Do not pull the person into a relationship without his/her consent.

A few things to be remembered when you ask someone out the first time:

– Be there in person. Avoid asking your partner out over the phone or any other medium. It is easier to clarify misunderstandings, if any, when you are face-to-face.

– Ensure you have privacy. Do not ask a person out in front of a group of friends. There’s a great likelihood of at least one of you turning red in the face with embarrassment.

– Let the conversation be natural. Do not rehearse your lines – nevermind if your fave movie star does it in his/her movies. It’ll only make you nervous and you’ll end up feeling like a clown.

– Begin with small talk. The other person may be taken aback if you jump to the topic of meeting up somewhere out of the blue. Steer the conversation towards catching up on a date.

What can you do on a date?

A date with an acquaintance is bound to be very different from a date with your steady partner. In the latter case, the comfort level is already established and you are likely to know the person’s likes and dislikes.
When dating an acquaintance, what to do depends on the nature of the relationship.

A couple of hours at a coffee shop is the safest bet if the person is relatively unknown. Else, you can try a casual lunch or dinner (not the candle-lit ones). Of course, in this case go to a restaurant that serves a variety of cuisines, not just your favourite one. Preferably, ask for suggestions from your date before freezing on the rendezvous, so that his/her tastes are taken into account.

There are a few unconventional ideas as well, in case both of you are not the flowers-and-chocolates kind.

If you know each others’ likes and hobbies well, you could try trekking, maybe even with a group of friends. Else, some quality time spent together in community work – at an orphanage, a photography expedition around the city, a bowling parlour or a pottery workshop – can make for an interesting date.

In such cases, ensure both of you are into it and that one person is not bored at the end of the day. Such activities not only help you bond better, but also help you discover a lot of facets to each others’ personalities.

How to prepare for a date

Make an effort to let your partner have a pleasant time. You need not go over the top, but do keep a few simple things in mind:

– Dress well. You need not buy a new dress for every date or don designer wear. Simply wearing well-pressed and well-maintained clothes suitable for the ambience goes a long way to show that you value the occasion.

– Do not over-accessorise. Dress up the way you would when you go for any social occasion. Being well-groomed does not mean being overdressed. You need to be comfortable with what you wear.

– Use a deodorant. Body odour is an absolute turn-off. If you are using a perfume, use it minimally. Some people are allergic to perfume; you need to be sensitive to that.

– Be on time. Excuses such as ‘stuck in traffic’, ‘the boss called for a meeting’ and ‘there were guests at home’ do not create a good impression.

– If you are not very familiar or close to your date, do not embarrass him/her with a gift. If you insist on buying a gift, let it be something that lends a casual touch to the occasion – such as a simple bouquet or a small pack of chocolates. Avoid red roses and heart-shaped items if you think the other person is unaware of your romantic interest in him/her.

Dating etiquette

“It’s so embarrassing to be with a person who is ill-mannered or awkward in social situations,” says Pingale – something that many would echo. “Once I was out for a movie with this guy who I thought was rather cute. But when we met another friend of mine at the movie hall and I introduced them to each other, this guy did not even shake hands! He just said ‘hi’ shyly and looked away.”

While social etiquette is applicable to dating as well, do not go over the top – you run the risk of appearing over-courteous and artificial.

Some pointers:

– If it is late in the night when you decide to get back home, offer to drop the lady home if she does not have her own vehicle. Do not expect her to invite you in for a coffee. The drop home gesture is meant purely for security.

– Chivalry is not yet outdated, though the men may not be expected to open the doors all the time or let the lady in first everywhere. Be practical. You need to be relaxed on a date; do not be too formal.

– If you plan to go on a date that requires some preparation like booking of tickets, making reservations in a restaurant, etc, the person initiating the date should take care of these before the date. Do not disappoint your partner by being disorganised.

– Respect each other’s views and do not expect your date to agree with or appreciate whatever you do. Also, be assertive – you need not agree with everything that your partner says simply to please him/her. It can be irritating when the other person realises you are faking it.

– Brush up on dining etiquette and other aspects of formal social behaviour if you are not well versed with it. Avoid embarrassing your date.

– If you do not want to be seen with your date by certain people, choose a meeting place accordingly. It is extremely ill-mannered to request your date to walk at a distance because you can see your uncle across the street!

Jumpstart your career

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

What is the key to success?

That is the question on every young, ambitious executive’s mind these days. The bare essentials such as hard work, discipline, time and stress management and good work still hold good. But here are a few tips that could add to your persona and make your career soar.

A parallel career

If you were not in your present career, where would you have been? Would the doctor have been a singer? The software developer a magician? A lot of us are fond of certain things that could have been the core of our activities had our present career not been so demanding of our time.

Well, you own your life. So, resolve to pursue that activity whole-heartedly. Give it at least four hours a week. Doing what you really enjoy not only makes you happy, it also improves your productivity at the workplace. As you know you cannot have time for your exciting pursuit unless you finish work on time, you naturally become more disciplined and punctual.

You can  probably indulge in these activities on a freelance basis, if your terms of employment allow it, adding a neat sum to your income. How about teaching the neighbour’s child how to play guitar for a few hours a week, or writing an article for a magazine once a month? Opportunities abound; you just have to identify what you love doing and go after it.

Enhance work relationships and environment

While the focus of your career is definitely performance oriented, one cannot work in isolation. Work relationships are an important aspect influencing professional growth.

Ajay Gupta, a senior IT professional with Oracle in Bangalore, says, “While I have initiated my growth through relevant certifications and upgradation, I must say my managers and work environment have contributed a lot to my success.”

The statement rings true almost universally. So make sure that one of the things you do this year is to improve your relationships at work. Remember, the relationships have to symbiotic, not parasitic. A healthy give and take of ideas and opinions is essential. Also, share the credit for your success with your teammates and superiors. While the effort may have been largely yours, the influences come from a lot of external forces.

Not all of us may be blessed with conducive work environments. However, resolve not to make that an excuse to sulk. Instead, take the initiative to change things. Do you think the processes are not in place and ad hoc decisions are hampering your performance? Why wait for the boss to mend things? Do it yourself. Assert your ideas to make the workplace fun to be in. Brainstorm with your colleagues and present a compilation of ideas to your boss. You are sure to be noticed for your enterprise and leadership skills.

Be observant and open to learning

Learning and growth result not only because of big breakthroughs, but also due to the cumulative effect of little lessons we learn every day. Be a pro-active and conscious learner.

While landing a plum assignment or bagging an offer from an industry leader does provide an impetus to your career, what really goes into these achievements is what you learn everyday on the job. Says Savitha Kasha, a lawyer practising in Mumbai [ Images ], “The high-profile cases come in only once in a while. What helps me succeed in those is my experience from the so-called mundane activities. Observing the way your opponent argues, the way judges put across queries in a routine case, the way seniors approach an issue — all of these have contributed to learning.”

Do not wait for those D-days to learn and grow. It is your entire personality, rather than your technical skills, that matter at higher levels in an organisation, preserve and implement these precious lessons.


It’s the name of the game now. And it’s easy. While good performance and hard work definitely count, networking goes a long way in presenting you with opportunities to enhance your career growth.

For instance, there are a lot of business networking groups online. You can google your way into an e-group that has members in your area of work, and participate in discussions. Also, professional clubs and associations that charge only a nominal membership fee are good places to gather contacts and learn more about the industry.

These contacts come in handy when you look for new jobs or new clients in your current job. They can also be of great help in supplying industry-specific information that helps you improve your presentations and knowledge about your profession. There is a lot of information out there that is already compiled and ready to use. Avoid re-inventing the wheel and putting in long hours of research when you can ask for help. Of course, the aim is not to be lazy and get others to do your work, but it does save a lot of productive time.

Be a life-long student

A lot of us may be glad about finishing with school and college, safe that we don’t have to mug up for those exams anymore. Do not discount the power of education. An additional academic qualification always helps when it comes to choosing people for vertical growth or important assignments.

You need not take a break from your career to acquire another degree or diploma. There are a lot of distance learning programmes available at universities and professional bodies, which add value to your resume. Sign up for a programme relevant to your field of work. A master’s degree definitely adds spark to your resume, even if it is from an open university.

Continued interest in academia reflects to your employers that you are eager to learn more while doing well on the job. It presents a positive image that is sure to better your prospects.

You will always grow in your career, so long as you pursue it passionately. What goes a long way in determining a sustained zeal to grow is whether you enjoy your work or not. As Henry Ford says, “Work does more than get us a living; it gets us our life.”

Dining etiquette, demystified

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

The gorgeous Julia Roberts got away with her gaffe in Pretty Woman when she unsuccessfully tried to saw her way through a French delicacy with fine-dining cutlery.

But we lesser mortals might just end up creating a very bad impression if we do the same.

For instance, your boss may take you for a lunch meeting at a plush restaurant. You order an exotic continental dish. The treat arrives and you attack it with fork and knife — a clash of cutlery, a clumsy push against the water goblet and there flies your chunk of meat out of your plate and… onto your boss’ shirt!

It’s a horrifying scenario. But you need not worry. Ease your fine-dining worries with these handy tips on dining etiquette.


At a formal luncheon or dinner, wait for an indication from your host before you seat yourself. The host may have a certain seating arrangement in mind.

In very formal events, there will be place holders with your name on the table to guide you.

In many cases, however, the host will either guide you to your seat personally or indicate that you may sit where you please.

Gentlemen, please remember chivalry is not yet dead! While the ladies may not give you condemning looks, they will appreciate it if you wait for them to be seated before you sit.


Now we come to the problem area — cutlery.

While many of us may not use a fork and knife at home, you are expected to adhere to some global norms at business lunches and other formal dos.

Sounds intimidating? It’s not, actually. We’ll tell you why…

~ Take it for granted that the place settings on your table will be correctly arranged by the server. This means you are provided with the adequate number of forks, knives and spoons for each course that is to follow.

~ Wondering which fork and which knife to pick up from the entire spread?

Simple rule: Work your way from the outside to the inside. This means the outermost fork and knife are meant for your first course (usually salads or starters) and so on.

The number of forks and knives also indicate the number of courses in the meal (This tip is particularly handy for those who like to save space for dessert).

~ The dessert spoon and fork (if necessary) are placed parallel to each other above the dinner plate.

~ The side plate (often referred to as the bread and butter plate) is to your left, along with the salad plate. The liquids — including water, wines and tea or coffee cups — are to your right.

~ It is customary that you maintain the place settings through the meal. If you pick up your wine glass or water goblet to have a sip, place it back in the same position.

How to…

Now we come to the ‘how to’ part:

~ Holding your cutlery

As indicated by the place settings, hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right.

Europeans prefer to hold the fork in their left hand with the tines pointing towards the diner. The knife is held in the right, with the sharp edge facing inwards.

Americans prefer to cut the food using the fork and knife. After using the knife, place it on your plate and eat with your fork, tines facing upwards.

Either way of eating is acceptable.

~ Slicing through

While cutting up a dish, use the fork to hold the food down and cut with the knife.

The pressure of your index finger on top of the knife should be enough to slice through the dish.

Avoid sawing (back and forth motion) with your knife; it will seem as if you are hacking your meal!

Always cut bite-sized pieces of food, so you are not embarrassed while trying to fit a huge chunk into your mouth.

~ Taking a breather?

When you pause during a meal, you may place the fork on the left and the knife on the right side of the plate, so that they cross over at the centre of the plate.

~ Second helping

If you need to pass your plate for a second helping, place the fork and knife parallel to each other at the right side of the plate, to make room for the food.

~ The end

The end of the meal is usually indicated by placing the fork (tines up or down) and the knife (blade facing you) parallel to each other diagonally across the plate, with the handles pointing right.

Napkin guidelines

~ While it is acceptable to place the napkin on your lap as soon as you are seated, people usually prefer to follow the host’s lead.

If it is a small luncheon napkin, you can unfold it completely before placing it on your lap. In case of a large dinner napkin, fold it in half, lengthwise.

~ Use your napkin to gently blot your lips during the meal. Remember, it is not a towel to blow your nose or wipe your face!

~ If you need to get up during the meal, place your napkin on your chair to indicate you will be back.

~ At the end of the meal, place the napkin neatly on the table to your right.

Do not fold the napkin; at the same time, take care not to leave it in a crumpled heap.

10 dining mantras

i. Never speak with food in your mouth.

ii. If you are not comfortable using a fork to eat rice, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the server for a spoon.

iii. Do not ask for permission to smoke on the dinner table. It is considered rude. Preferably do not smoke at all, unless the host takes the lead or grants you permission.

iv. Avoid answering calls and messages on your cell phone during a meal, unless it is very urgent. Ideally, the cell phone should be on the silent or discreet mode.

v. If you happen to drop a fork, spoon or knife during the meal, do not pick it up. You may ask the server for a replacement.

vi. Do not rest your elbows on the table during the meal. When you are not using the cutlery, place your hands on your lap. It is acceptable to lightly rest your wrists on the table.

vii. Avoid ordering finger foods, so that your fingers don’t get messy. If you do, try to use a fork to eat these.

Also, never order the most expensive item on the menu unless your host urges you to try that dish.

viii. Do not slurp while having soup. Wait for hot food items to cool sufficiently before you have them. It is not acceptable if you blow on hot food to cool it.

ix. If you want to have bread or rolls with soup, tear a bite-sized piece, place it on the side plate, butter it with the butter knife and then pick it up with the fork. Do not hold the bread in your hand while buttering it.

x. If you want something you cannot reach, politely ask the person nearest to it to pass it to you. Never reach across your neighbour’s plate to get something.

Thank you!

Burp! Had a nice, sumptuous meal? Hold on, you still have work to do.

Remember to thank your host for a wonderful meal.

Your host would definitely appreciate a thank-you card or note or some flowers that you could send across the next day.

6 ‘soft’ skills you need for success

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at

A reputed software company in India is all geared up for a client visit. The clients have indicated that, after inspecting the progress of the project they have outsourced, they would like to meet the team members working on it. Why? To select one team member for a stint onsite — something almost every software engineer aspires for.

Ravi has been one of the most active members in the project and has done a wonderful job. He is technically brilliant, but has some concerns:

Will he able to communicate his performance to the client in an impressive manner so that he is chosen?
Why do his team mates not prefer to come to him for solutions and go to less capable people instead?
His project manager doesn’t seem to be very warm towards him either, although he does drop in those occasional mails appreciating his work.

Here is a typical scenario in an IT company; or for that matter, any organisation where interpersonal communication is involved. Or, like in Ravi’s case, where an employee suffers from a lack of interpersonal skills.

Are technical/ job-related skills enough?

Technical and job-related skills are a must, but they are NOT sufficient when it comes to progressing up the ladder.

With the traditional paternalistic style of leadership becoming passé, professional managers expect their teams to be proactive and communicate openly.

“Soft skills are very important in business. It is essential to be technically sound, but one should also have the ability to convey the idea to the masses in the simplest possible manner,” says Mayurkumar Gadewar, an ERP consultant with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

With the boom in outsourcing taking root across industries, many professionals and subject matter experts directly deal with their clients on a regular basis.

Their approachability and people skills are what ultimately sustain the contract their employers have bagged.

“Planning is necessary but execution is also equally important. And it takes soft skills to execute any idea because it involves dealing with people directly,” says Gadewar.

6 soft skills for every hard-nosed professional

Behavioural training experts say there are several soft skills are required in these circumstances. Some of them include:

i. Interpersonal skills

ii. Team spirit

iii. Social grace

iv. Business etiquette

v. Negotiation skills

vi. Behavioural traits such as attitude, motivation and time management

Do you have these? If your answer is yes, good for you.

But if your answer is no, then you know it is time to approach either a training organisation or a training consultant.

Will formal training enhance your soft skills?

There is a lot of argument in the industry as to whether it is possible to enhance soft skills in a few hours of training, especially when one considers the fact that a person has lived with those traits all his life. To this, the answer is harsh but real — a professional who wants to do well in his/ her career does not really have a choice.

In the initial years of your career, your technical abilities are important to get good assignments. However, when it comes to growing in an organisation, it is your personality that matters, more so in large organisations where several people with similar technical expertise will compete for a promotion.

Training on soft skills becomes all the more relevant in a country like India where the education system does not delve into personality development.

“Soft skills training is essential because we do not have it in our academic curricula. Therefore, corporate houses have to take up the task of grooming employees who are the link between the company and the external world, so that they are able to present themselves better, ” says Sumeet Mehta, an equity research analyst with Fortis Securities Ltd.

Be your own trainer!

While organisations are definitely investing in augmenting their staff’s people skills, here are some inputs for professionals and students who would like to initiate the process themselves:

i. Be a part of team activities

It could be either as a part of your church choir, or an NGO, or your local youth circle.

Observe your own behaviour in the group and how you relate to others.

ii. Ask family members or close friends to write down your best and worst traits.

Ideally, have at least four to five people do this for you.

Evaluate the common traits all of them have mentioned. Thus, you can be aware of your strengths and work improving your weaknesses.

iii. How well do you manage your time?


Can you do more in life? Or is your day too crammed with activities? Effective time management is very essential in the corporate world.

iv. Introspect on how you react to feedback.

In organisations, people skills mostly come into the picture when there is feedback given — be it for an idea, an executed project or a presentation.

You are judged by the way you respond to feedback.

Do you get defensive?

Do you insist you were right?

Do you meekly accept criticism?

Remember, people tend to be judged and stereotyped according to their responses. You will, too.

v. How good are you at critiquing?

While responding to feedback is one side of the coin, giving feedback is the other side.

Are you aggressive? Pessimistic? Do you believe in constructive criticism? Or prefer to be the yes-man?

vi. Live consciously

Any organisation is manned by people, therefore soft skills are all about how you deal with people and present yourself.

Though it may be easier said than done, soft skills can be enhanced simply by being aware of oneself and living consciously.