Posts Tagged ‘culture’

A Cultural Blunder (of a unique sort)

December 3, 2008

Well we were warned as Fellows that cultural blunders would happen, and I’m sure there will be more to come … Mine involved my first late night at the 1298 Dial for Ambulance office In Mumbai. This time of year it gets dark around 6pm and not many lights were on in the office. Now you must understand that since I have been in India very helpful staff, office boys, shop keepers, drivers etc. have been doing most everything for me, so I recall thinking that I am more than capable of turning on a few extra lights for myself. I get up and walk over to the incredibly complex lighting system that exists in India. For those of you who have not been here each light has its own individual switch and they are usually not marked – creating a myriad of options – my office has 24 switches alone on one main wall. This is to conserve energy I’m sure, which is a good thing, but makes it complicated to simply switch on a light. So I turn a whole row on, just like that – ah the power of not feeling helpless! – and immediately all the office computers go dark and the hum of activity stops. Hmmm this is not good, everyone turns to look at the fool who turned on all the lights at once at the expense of the PCs. Worse yet we have our ambulance call center on-site 24/7 – yikes! Lucky for us there was no emergency call during the 2 mins or so that it took to get power back up and running. We have excellent IT support here thank goodness.

I did learn my lesson however, the simple one is that you can have good lighting or functioning PCs – but not necessarily both in India. And the more important one is that while in Mumbai I need to learn to be patient, to take things one step at a time and to understand consequences before forging ahead. Easier said than done, I think.

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Lost without translation

January 6, 2008

When I read Seth Godin’s “All marketers are liars” one attribute of good storytelling is authenticity.

The stories need to be real so as to appeal to the consumers and yet am grappling with this issue myself.

Am working in a community in Pakistan where the national language is Urdu,which means in all my field visits I have an interpreter with me who is my third ear.I sort of get confused at times because I will laugh at a joke only after everyone has laughed and my colleague will then interpret it for me.She also gets caught up in it all since she took up english a few years ago;sometimes not finding the correct english words or just shrugging it off as not important for me to know.

I then think that the authenticity of the story is lost in between;the culture gets eroded and the real meaning gets distorted as I retell their story. This is maybe the reason that in as much as most of the muslims do not understand Arabic;they still pray in Arabic to maintain the original message.

A culture of togetherness

December 18, 2007

Everything in India, it seems, is done together.  If there is a question of directions from one rickshaw in traffic to another, nearby motorcyclists will chime in.  If there is a square peg that needs to go into a round hole, everyone in the room will work together to try and make it fit.

The other night I was out at dinner with some new friends, talking to a young Indian woman who had lived and studied in New York.  She decided last year that the U.S. was not for her and she wanted to move back to Hyderabad to be with her family.  Being the highly independent person I am, I asked what it was like, being back under her parents’ roof.  She replied, “It’s not so much about my individual happiness as it is about us all managing to get along.”