It was very interesting on a number of levels. First of all, I won a prize! Yeah for me. It was this wash cloth. This washcloth was made by handicapped people and it is adorable. They may be handicapped but they sure are talented.
I also won a cd that has the Indian National Anthem on it. Yeah for me again. 😎 Here is a link to it if you want to hear it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZi3fwP09zw. This one is by AR Rahman – that’s right movie buffs – THE AR Rahman of Slumdog Million. Jai Ho indeed. It is a beautiful song.
And just because I am bi-partisan like that, here is a link to the U.S. National Anthem by Whitney Houston. And yes, I LOVE this song.
Now, back to the meeting. Global Adjustments is a group that helps expats get more comfortable in their new surroundings. As such, the presentation was focused on helping us survive our transitions. Now, this is a monumental task because there were probably 125 people at the meeting – about 10 were Americans, one was an Indian who left and has returned to live in India, and then there were people from everywhere else. So forget about a level playing field – there isn’t a lot of common ground – except for the fact that we were all willing to take on the adventure of moving far from home in hopes of growing as global citizens.
So there are some universal truths. You do not have to agree/like with them – but just knowing that they exist will help with your transition.
English by any other name is not necessarily the English you know. Communicating can be frustrating here. Many people hire staff who claim to speak English then get extremely frustrated when they have a hard time talking with them in English. As you know, this has NEVER happened to ME personally, but some poor other frustrated souls. 😉 So, what Ranjini recommended is to use fewer words. My hubby actually recommends this too. He is wicked smart like that.
The ever polite English woman might ask her cook for a cup of tea in this way …
It would be so lovely if you could possibly make me a little cup of tea, if you wouldn’t mind, please. Thank you so much.
Apparently, “a cup of tea, please” is much less muddled and easier to understand. Translation – less frustrating and it means you get that bloody cup of tea much faster.
This is the word you use to greet someone in India. It means much more than just hello or nice to meet/see you. It literally means “I bow to the divine in you”. Now that is some kick arse kind of lovely – don’t you think? It is accompanied by holding your palms together at your chest and bending a little towards the person you are greeting.
Time does not exactly stand still here – but it is a relative term. I have learned an important word – lugbug (I am not sure how to spell it – but that is how you I say it.) Lugbug means “about”. That is how time is measured here – about. It is not precise.
Ranjini gave the example of ASAP. To A-type Americans this means yesterday or at least right now. As SOON as possible. To Indians this means as soon as “p.a.u.s.i.b.l.e.” – whenever you get it done – pauses are possible. See there is a big difference.
Indians dress much more conservatively than most Westerners. Knees and shoulders covered. Yes, even when it is 110+ degrees outside. Not everyone visiting/living here follows those guidelines – but really it is respectful to do so. It will save you stares and maybe even some jeers.
Ranjini also mentioned that if possible take an Indian woman with you shopping for clothes. Apparently, Indians can be critical of each others dress (women being critical must be universal hee hee) and there are some fabric/styles that are more acceptable than others. I don’t really follow this one too closely. I have never been too overly aware of what other people think about the way I dress – I am a pretty boring dresser – solids with solids – so I wear what I like. If I get laughed at, it won’t be the first time. But this good to know if you are at all self -conscious or if you are going to a business meeting or traditional Indian event. There I would seek out some guidance.
Apparently, most Indians consider it rude to say no to a request. So, many times, they will agree to do something that is simply not possible. Enter frustrated expat full of expectations that yes actually means yes. There’s that damn language barrier again. So, if you get silence or a not exactly a resounding yes response – it is important to ask follow-up questions. How are you going to do this? When are you going to do this? Are you absolutely sure you can do this?
Ranjini also suggested that it might be helpful to give people an “out” when you ask them something. Tell them that you want an honest answer and it is okay to say that it might be hard to accomplish or even that it cannot be done. Explain that it is better to be upfront with expectations than to disappoint you later.
This is not just in an office my friends, remember this for electricians, carpenters, cooks, drivers, EVERYBODY!
It is important to remember that this is a hierarchical society – whether you agree with it or not. Bigger cities are getting away from this somewhat – but not entirely. Your driver will likely outrank your cook – who will outrank your housekeeper. You outrank them all. 😎
Indians are hugely attached and involved with their families. It is important to remember how significant their families and extended families are to them. Respect those bonds.
I had several questions about this and sadly there was not enough time to open up a real discussion on this issue. But Ranjini said that most expats need to let go of the guilt of having staff. It is part of life here and in many ways it is (almost) a necessity. I still cannot bring myself to say it is required – but believe me it is extremely helpful and my life would stink without any help. So, I count my blessings on this one.