Where I come from, we have a “doing things ourself” mentality that is very strong. If something needs to be done, our first thought will be to “JUST DO IT”, trying to involve as few others as possible.
Especially if we are talking about the “faster to do it myself” type of practical tasks. In India however, I find it to be rather opposite. The “NOT doing things myself” mentality seems powerful. All kind of believable and unbelievable tasks often needs to be handled by someone else. As many people as possible are involved.
Crash creates situations
When these two mentalities meet, interesting situations occur. Some of them amusing and will make good stories to tell family and friends later. Some of them confusing, and will make even better stories to tell family and friends later.
The service sector tops the list
The situations most visual to you and me are service personnel related. Simply because this sector is so extensive, at least seen from a westerner’s perspective.
Once back home, you are guaranteed to tell the story of the four persons behind any small shop counter. One serving you, one receiving the money, calculating and giving back the change and one wrapping the goods in a newspaper. Yes and one monitoring it all.
I am sure I have created equally many stories for Indians to tell about me, then I myself have stories to tell back home. I believe many of them originated in the very same event. That makes it win-win, right?
Example 1. Spilling Coke on the floor
In a team meeting in India, we were sitting in a circle on our chairs, with no table. Eagerly talking, it was unavoidable that I kicked over my bottle of Coke placed on the floor.
Since it was some paper towels within 2 meters from where I was sitting, I just went for it, bent down and almost completed cleaning up before the team was able to stop me.
Instead, one of the employees went several floors down to get the office boy. Resulting in 6 people sitting idle, waiting for him to show up, and then watching him perform the cleanup of the last drops of Coke.
I like this story for clearly demonstrating a cultural difference. I am sure the team also remember their boss in cat-pose, cleaning the floor.
Example 2. Too much service?
In Norway, any grandmother would carry her 20kg bag in and out of a hotel herself. Simply because in 99% of the hotels there is no one to do that.
Being escorted out of a good New Delhi hotel, I could not help thinking of how extremely different this is in India.
2 members of the staff had obviously earlier picked up my 20kg piece and hand luggage. The checkout was done very smooth, in-room. Now, one person was carrying my laptop-bag escorting me from my room to the waiting car. Another person, just escorting me, assuring the success of the departure. Then, if you add the elevator man, the 2 men opening the entrance door, the concierge and the driver – it is quite a machinery to relocate room to car. What an enormous difference compared to a do it yourself country.
I have to say I have learned to live with a little pampering, but the little “do it yourself” guy inside, whisper to me when it get over the top.
I have no problem understanding that too much service actually can make a westerner feel un-comfortable instead of the intended: comfortable . In the very same situations, many Indians would expect nothing less.
Example 3. I will do the gardening myself then…
In 2003, my family rented a house in India for a long period. The house happened to come with several live-in servants, which was new to us at the time. Everything, and a little more, was taken care of. Most people would define our house as considerably over-staffed.
Big staff=many situations
One lesson learned was that more people does not necessarily equal to faster done, or less work for yourself.
I will limit it to one story for now. At one time, we had bought quite some pots, soil and various plants for the house. Having a well above average house-crew, one of them even with the designation Gardener, I was kind of expecting the work to be taken care of. After a couple of reminders, I communicated I would not be able to control the “do it myself” force within me if the pots, soil and plants wasn’t “done” by the next morning.
The day after, I was filling soil in the pots with my bare hands- planting flowers and palms in them at the speed of light. Again on “all four” on the ground – this time with the family, the gardener and the rest of the servants watching with their mouths wide open. From a safe distance.
In a western country like Norway, with its extremely high cost level and flat hierarchies, there is simply no room for a guy in the elevator pushing the buttons for us. Either we push it our self or we remain on the ground floor.
In India, the scenario is very different. An enormous base of unqualified and semi qualified people are forced to work for very low salaries. One of the results of this is a huge number of people working in every possible and impossible service functions. Jobs that are not even required – is created, to secure a minimum income for as many as possible.
What a flora of specialists
Another factor is the complex hierarchies found in all parts of private and public sectors. Resulting in an extreme specialization. Each person with a very limited responsibility area.
“I will have someone arrange it”
People have a very clear perception of their role and responsibilities. Not to mention what is NOT part of their responsibilities. To me it seems most tasks are to be taken care of by someone else. The decisions taken at the top, and the tasks distributed down the complex hierarchy.
Among other effects, this obviously demands for huge service departments.
As an example, even small companies have multiple employees to serve tea, coffee and snacks.
Your cast defines your work
Traditionally in India, the caste system defines the trade and work a person should involve in. The cast identity is still strong, even if the system itself doesn’t formally exist.
The planets must be right
A majority of Indians are strict believers of Astrology. It might seem strange to you, but be aware planetary positions are influencing what to do or not at a given time.
So, should we do it our self?
Should we clean up the Coke on the floor our self? Should we insist in carrying our own laptop-bag out of the hotel? Should we take over the gardener’s work- to save a day or two?
Obviously not. You are in India, so do as Indians. You will confuse and make people feel not needed. If someone is running around the car to open the door for you – it does not help him or her if you are opening it yourself one second before they reach.
Am I getting Indian?
Last year I found out our secretary is calling the electrician whenever it is required to change a light bulb in the house. I assumed the maid could do it, but anyhow, I am fine with the arrangement.
As always, I would appreciate a lot knowing your comments on the subject. Comment here or email me.
Thank you for reading.