Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lina's Top 3 Stories from India

India can be polarizing.  I've read accounts of visitors who just love India and everything it has to offer - the people, the weather, the food, everything.  But then I've also read about people who think it's the most hellish hell-hole they've ever experienced and venom spews from the page as if they had literally taken a step into Hades and rue the day they ever did it.

I fall into the former category, sans the hot weather.  But the people and the food?  Stellar.  Here are my top stories of the week:

1 - The Indian Head Bobble

Now, this description is not meant as an insult, but it is truly the most accurate way to describe the popular head motion that I've seen just about every Indian do.  It's like a constant and fluid head nod, only toward each side vs. forward and back.  The first time I saw this was 3 weeks ago, when I first came onto the International Innovation business.  The marketer I support grew up in India, and while we were talking, I'd see his head bobble from side to side.  

My only frame of reference for this head move is when an American cocks his or her head to the side as if to say, "Yeah... not buyin' what you're sellin', but hey, you're the boss."  So imagine my interpretation when I see my new coworker bobbling his head side to side.  I remember actually thinking, what a jerk; he doesn't even know me, and he's being dismissive.

In India, I had a meeting with my local suppliers to clarify what we were about to execute, which was a fairly chaotic study.  All throughout the meeting, I noticed that they were head bobbling, and I just couldn't understand where all the antagonism was coming from.

Later that day, I met up with my Mexican coworker who spontaneously asked, "Have you noticed the Indian Head Bobble?"  I stared at him and yelled, "YES!!  Yes, I know exactly what you're talking about!"  He explained, "Yeah,  I think it's just a way of them just showing that they're listening.  Like the way we keep nodding for the other person to continue.  Or it's agreement.  But I've decided that I don't think it's bad."  Huh.  Well that's definitely another way of looking at it...

The next day, we made it a point to ask my Indian coworker what it was all about.  He confirmed that it was a show of agreement or encouragement to continue on.  And then I confessed that I had misunderstood the movement and thought he was a total jerk the first few times I met him.  The problem, I explained, is that there are no smiles, no encouraging facial movement, to go with the head bobble.  It's a very serious face with the head bobble, so I had misinterpreted it and boy, was that a good lesson in culture...  He said, "Wait, I don't do that.  I know Indians do it, but I don't."  And the Mexican and I said in unison, "Dude.  You're doing it right now..."

2 - The Women in the Street 

One night, when driving back to the hotel and while stuck in the immense traffic of Mumbai, I was sitting in the back seat talking to my coworker when I heard the driver lock the doors and then a knocking on my window.  I turned my head and found myself eye to eye with the thin, wrinkled face of an old woman.  I gasped in surprise - who expects someone to be that close to the car and peering in, no less?  It was a beggar.  She was knocking on the window and wailing, trying to get our attention.  My driver and coworker were insistent that I not give her any money.  If I were to do that, all the beggars along the street would come running and swarm the car, and then we'd be screwed.  It was so sad.  The knocking, knocking, knocking.  The wailing, wailing, wailing.  It was incessant.  I felt utterly helpless.  

3 - The Joke

We were talking to Indian kids about candy.  As part of the warm-up exercises, we ask the kids to tell us their names, what kind of things they like to do, etc.  The discussion wandered to how no one trusts anything made in China.  One 9-year old girl said, "I have a joke," and proceeded to tell this, retold in my own vernacular:

"An Indian guy marries a Chinese woman.  The Chinese woman dies a few weeks later.  The Indian guy is distraught and seeks solace from his friend.  His friend says, 'Man, you know that Chinese goods don’t last…'" 

The funnier thing was that afterwards, everyone in the room turned to look at me.  My Indian coworker said, "You know that's a joke, right?  Not everyone thinks that."  Cracked me up.

1 comment:

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