Sunday, October 28, 2012

Letters from London

I started writing this on a fine Sunday afternoon when I had work on 3 strategic business case presentations for senior executives, 2 major sales deals reviews with my business unit head, 5 unavoidable super-urgent escalations from my boss, appraisal for my team and my own mid-term performance review pending for completion by Monday morning. In short I had nothing important or even remotely interesting to do and my mind wandered worrying about the party I am supposed to go to in the evening.

I say worrying coz my approach for social interaction is borderline psychotic and is marginally better than the autistic Dustin Hoffman of Rainman. So while I don’t throw feces or stomp my chest upon coming in contact with people,, I do prefer avoiding meeting them, if there is an option.

But as fate would have it, I happen to be in a career where a major part of my job revolves around working and getting work done with people who I don’t directly control. And to make it worse I support Global markets, which means I have to follow varied patterns and understand behavioral traits to get on a good rapport with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Tough ask, but then it’s not work if you enjoy doing what you are doing and of-course one can always find small games within parameters of work to make it fun.

Reading human behavior is one of them, that I personally like. And at the risk of being judged by you all for judging you all, I must say we are all slaves of patterns.

I am from India and have worked there for major part of my working life. Back home survival for a people haters like me was, I would say - rather easy. You see, in India you don’t really need social skills. You can get away with murder as long as you are an authority over cricket, can discuss the private lives of Bollywood stars including & upto that of their second cousins, adjust your crouch in full public view, burp aloud post lunch (or for that matter post breakfast,, or infact without even remotely coming in close contact with food) and convincingly be an ostrich in claiming Indian growth story being at par & perhaps better than that of China. 

Gossip, crib, loath - that’s basically all that you need to be good at to be popular.

And of course it does not harm if every now and then, out of nowhere, you just stand up wherever you are and shout; ‘Sala poora system is kharab hai’ (‘Bloody whole system is rotten’). PS: This shouting will work anywhere – office, railway station, airport, shopping mall, while waiting at red light, at passport office line, bar, dance bar, amidst annual performance review with your boss …   just anywhere. Feel free to use it as a natural conversation starter, if you may.

Now while largely the thumb rule applies across the nation, you may have to do minor customization based on region.

For example if you have to “fit-in” in Delhi you may want to; periodically burst out into loud laughter without any obvious or remotely sensible reason, address every male as your ‘Bhai’ (brother), ogle at every female form in sight including girls at work who know you and have lunch with you, be prepared to kill for ‘bread-pakora’ or 'Chole Bhature' and ……. every morning in traffic, invoke mothers & sisters of every single fellow driver on road as an early morning pleasantries exchange.

While the rest of the country is content with just a smile and ‘Good Morning’, we in Delhi say; “B*$#^%@d side mein kar le na isko”. While largely misunderstood amongst general public, the phrase to us Delihities loosely stands for, “*Smile* Dear Brother, can you please let me pass. Thanks. And yes .. have a good day *Smile*

Mumbai is different. Bring a “Practical Approach” to life, and you’ll glide through. You would be just fine in this city as long as you are willing to jump over a dying man on road, while running for your single-minded focus in life, which is to catch your 8:30AM fast local train to Church Gate. Repeat the same with not even a smidgen of shame or iota of guilt in your eyes in the evening and you are golden.

Chennai calls for some pretentions, especially if you are not from there. You have to pretend that you like having Sambhar in all there meals of the day, you have to pretend that using coconut oil for preparation of ‘Chikken Tikka masala” is acceptable, you have to pretend that their English accent and unwarranted emphasis on yum (M) and yun (N) is completely normal and more important than all, in night or on dark cloudy days you have to pretend that you can still see their faces and not just their teeth.

Anyways not dissecting Indian personas in detail, I must say I was a little skeptical to start with, when I moved to London. But then all you need is a keen eye to catch those unsaid rules and you would glide through any after office catch-up over beer (… which BTW must happen everyday as a rule!).

Now take a break my global audience for a moment, and listen carefully my Asian friends. From a brown man to a brown man, I must tell you that here in London, you will always find herds of “Likes”. And you would need a different strategy to fit-in each one of those groups.

A British accent for example while desirable in a white gathering is decidedly catastrophic in a desi group. When going out with fellow “Asians” (and mark my words you will!) the success mantra is to mock without distinction all British born confused desis & any brown skinned living form with the slightest hint of an English accent. Forget how good a person he/she may be, “they are all faking it” is what you must maintain to be accepted in that group.

With white men you would be just fine. Don’t worry too much about what you speak as half of them come with heavy stereotype & they are just amazed to see a Asian man talking in legible English which is grammatically better than their own and other half are too awed by the sheer genius that is “An Indian Mind”. O PS: Anything that is brown is ‘Indian’ here.

Now for all my readers from across the globe, while you are in London, as long as you can criticize the royal family, make fun of the queen, effortlessly jump between metric & imperial system (and trust me you will have to .. while giving directions for journey they will tell you the distance in 'Km' and speed in 'miles/hr' ... genius, sheer genius!), crib about the dark & damp weather, pretend to accept that pound is the best currency of the world and portray London Tube as the best thing that happened to mankind after sliced bread, you would just be fine.

I have lots more to talk about this beautiful Island nation and its innocent people who genuinely believe UK & Europe are two distinct recognised continents, but then that calls for a different post.

Also for the moment I have high stakes with the embassy of ‘The country that must not be named’, so I would refrain from making any comments about them ... But then you all have already seen the ‘The Dictator’...

Disclaimer: I hope you do realise at all of what’s written above it made up … I want t go on record to say that I officially believe you don’t behave like that … More importantly, you know you don’t behave like that …. Well, don’t you?


Ramnik said...

Good One mate.... will encourage you to keep it coming more frequently.. :)

Anonymous said...

I have wanted to post something like this on my site and you have given me an idea. Cheers.

Renu said...

I think that London is the best place to get all the good infrastructure plus everything Indian too..

Rajesh said...

Interesting analysis.

sulagna ™ said...

you know what Brijesh, there are times i sit , waiting at the bank or the airport or maybe a bus stand and i observe people..its so much fun guessing how would he be treating his team members, or how would this girl adjust into a big family or how dramebaaz will this lil girl grow up to be

Ritika said...

Great Write up Brijesh :D

I love how you compared Dilli waale :P

R. Ramesh said...

interesting observations the end of the day...i luv mumbai like no other city...a dynamic one which makes people run run and yet enjoy the funnn

Brijesh said...

@ Ramnik - Sure buddy, will try

@ Renu - London sure has its plus point. Only if the weather remains less gloomy in winters.

@ Sulagna - you are gifted !! thats the best and least expensive passtime

@ Ritika - Thanks for your kind words. I almost qualify as a Delhiite. Its close to my heart

@ Ramesh - Thanks ramesh.I would agree for mumbai. Have spent 2 years there, there is nothing like Mumbai for sure!!

padmaja said...

I have been there in all these places you mentioned and so should I believe the disclaimer :-) Great post Brijesh, enjoyed quite a few other posts as well today.
Thanks for your visit and feed back, appreciate it!

Shilpa Garg said...

Interesting letter, which made for a fun read!
Most of us are introverts but our job makes us to a closet introvert which is an introvert pretending to an extrovert!! :)
I wonder how many would be going to that temple for visa :D

rama said...

In India we think even strangers are our closest friend, for our immediate questions after the usual name, language, job, would be to ask him/ her, whether they are married,if yes, then how many children, if not married we would hand out a list of eligible, bachelors and spinsters, and if by chance they don't have children we would automatically assume they need the help of certain well known gods and Goddessess to solve their problems and so on.
Whereas when we take the same liberty with foreigners , they are totally dumbstruck.
However, in our country among our people it is okay, but with outsiders we have to move with caution, and must know what to ask and what to reveal.
It is indeed funny.
Well I know a lot of people who would speak English in the way the locals speak and when they are among Indians they speak normally like us, I like that as it makes communication easy with both parties for it is natural to follow the saying,"When in Rome, do as the Romans do".
I always automatically speak Hindi with typical Punjabis who speak Hindi in a certain way, and I speak Hindi like a person from UP just as they would speak. It is so much fun to change, and it also pleases them to hear a South indian speak their language just like them, or even better than them.
Finally, I feel one must enjoy whatever one is doing, then it no longer feels like a job.
Sorry for the long comment.

Vineeta Yashswi said...

very interesting...