Monday, March 17, 2008

What doesn't work

After working here for a year or so, I have come to find such glaring differences in the work cultures between the US and India. I never noticed it when I first worked here some 10-15 years ago. But after having worked in the US, I notice it more.

I don't write about the IT/Software/Call Center culture (which is still new to India) or the Advertising firms (that are and always will be "cool" places to work). I refer only to the traditional industries. And to my experience. In this non-confrontational Indian environment, its a little difficult for women (especially since there are 3 women and 102 men in my company) to say something to their bosses or colleagues without them taking offense. So I'm using this blog to tell anyone who works:

1. Hey Mr. General Manager - Everyone prefers to be addressed by their title rather than their names. They are, without blinking, called MD and CMD and President and etc. After always using first names at work in the US, its really strange. There, the CEO down to the coffee guy is on a first name basis. Here, I was first called Madam. Then when I asked them to call me Arundathi, I am now Arundathi Madam!

2. I'll give you time to think of a decent excuse - I sit down for a meeting and decide on a game plan for an upcoming project. We chart out responsibilities, deliverables. We review it in detail, what kind of information we need, how to get the information, how to present it. When the time comes to present, Mr. X's information is not there. I just don't understand. Has he forgotten? Has his dog eaten his homework? Who knows? Those are things that are just not asked or answered here! Its almost impolite to ask people why they didn't meet their deadlines! And they just don't bother with excuses.

3. For God's sake, Turn OFF the Cell Phones!! Its unbelievable that even if you tell people politely at the beginning of the meeting, they won't do it. And they will answer calls in the middle of the meeting. Just to whisper that "I'm in a meeting, I'll call you back"!? What the heck? Maybe when you say no cellphones, you have to specify no talking, no whispering and no texting either. And no, we don't care that you have the entire movie's soundtrack as your ring tone.

4. Leave the Toiletries at home. In the middle of a meeting today, this woman opened her handbag, pulled out her nail clippers, kept her hands under the table, and went click, click, click. Did she really think no one could hear her or see her cutting her nails? And in the middle of a presentation with 8 other people in the room?! What are you thinking? Be a little professional, people.

5. Don't wipe the drool off your face in public! How about one guy who was in a meeting with me and we were going through a proposal in detail. I look up after about 20 minutes of studying the figures, and this guy is fast asleep! In his chair. Snoring. He wakes up when I scrape my chair and wipes the drool off his face and continues with the meeting.

6. Use Deodorant. Its available everywhere in India now. Use it. Don't lean over people to explain graphs/ figures or even to hand them cups of coffee if you haven't used deodorant.

If anyone has any funny stories from work, do share. It might make mine seem a little less weird!

14 comments:

Raaga said...

I worked with someone who came from the old world India and didn't like the fact that I called him by his first name. Being in HR, I must tell you, that this first name thing is far from accepted... I know of places where HR will project the "first name basis" as one of the reasons why you should work there :-)

But my close to 10 years of working in traditional/new economy companies have not made me experience the kind of stuff you are :-)

Arundathi said...

its crazy, i tell you. i'm sure its just me. LOL!

nandita said...

Great to see your posts coming in - although i was laughing while reading this one, i can imagine your frustration...add one more to the list...problem with punctuality...

I work from home, so most of these problems are avoided!

Arundathi said...

o - i have no problems with punctuality - they all leave at exactly 5 pm!!! You can't find anyone around at 5.01 even if your life depended on it! :) lol!

thanks for stopping by...

Baskar said...

I'm a foodie and that's how I ran into you blog...Will be in Chennai for couple of weeks over summer...What restaurants would you recommend? I have Lotus, Ente Keralam and the roof top Italian Restaurant that I can't remember the name of on the list.

Arundathi said...

There are several to try according to what kind of food you enjoy. I like BBQ Nation in T Nagar, Peshawri (for Mughlai food) in Chola Sheraton Hotel, Hip Asia in Connemara Hotel and Benjarong. Have fun!

Anu said...

OMG that is hilarious!!

Arundathi said...

yes i tell you there's something to laugh about every evening! :)

Deepa said...

New economy, old economy, I've not seen a lot of difference. There're some superficial differences. By an large, India is such a society of hierarchies. And status consciousness. It's not going to go away so fast. The attitudes don't change in the IT area, even when superficial things change...

Chillpilgrim said...

Oh this post really connected with me as I work in an IT Company Venture which is a part of a Manufacturing Industry... So I've got some weird ones too.

1) There are some hip and cool seniors in the offices who prefer being addressed by first names and then there are others in the admin/management/finance team who have their manufacturing background who want to be addressed as Saar/Madam.

2) The holidays are never in tune with an IT Company. They are more in tune with a factory. And Ayudha Pooja is duely celebrated with an iyer performing poojas and chanting shlokas with employees standing around in a circle with a solemn expression. The first time I saw this, I just couldn't help but giggle, when I got a dirty look from the Finance Director as if he expected the employees to pray for the well being of the company.

3) Deo issue is huge. There are soooooooo many to choose from and yet people don't use them. I normally invite people over to my smallish room for a discussion and the after effects of a sticky, sweaty body in an Air Conditioned Office brings out the villain in me... well almost!!

4) There are some people who are very very tech savvy and cool with the latest gadgets hanging around with their latest Zune/iPod in cool Ts chatting about their latest US Trip while there are some others who belong to the old world who treat a PC like their first enemy.

Very funny, my workplace...

Arundathi said...

Deepa - I agree with you, but India is changing a lot and fast - I'm continually surprised.

Chillpilgrim - oh what a hoot!! loved reading your comment! And so much of it was true for me!!

bhraman said...

Arundathi, I got into your blogs looking for bagels in chennai :)

I haven't yet browsed all of your blogs, but this one caught my eyes!

IT companies in chennai is way too behind its culture compared to their US counterparts/clients (I mean all the MNCs I have worked so far). They say working hours flexibility, but you will definitely make heads turn to you if you leave the office at 6 (no one would have watched you come in the office at 9 though!).

Arundathi said...

bhraman - So did you find the bagels then? :-)

Yes, I agree, there is definitely no flexibility - you can arrive early and leave late - that's the only kind of flexibility you have

GKB said...

ROFL..This is one hilarious post..
GKB