Monday, June 6, 2011

Cultures and Communication

If you've ever been to a different place or seen one of those HSBC ads ( you know that communication can indeed be a strange yet amusing activity in a different country. Shrugs, long pauses, raised eyebrows and forceful gesticulations ensue - and if they stop there one is indeed fortunate.

I have quite some fond stories that I have either experienced personally or overheard and love sharing. So let me begin at the very beginning:

It all began with a visit to the Starbucks one afternoon as I sought refuge from boredom in the local mall. The payment was made and a casual yet rapidly spelt out question "do you want it to go" in a rapid pace had me puzzled. I was a wee bit bewildered unsure if I the lady at the counter was being rude and asking me to go but then her expression didn't seem unfriendly. So then I made it clear "I would like to get it and then go." A couple more visits followed with similar questions and answers before I finally got the hang of it. Huh! Well I got off a bit better than another fellow Indian who apparently was asked the very same question at the end of a long series of rapidly spelt out questions at a local McDonalds in his first few weeks in the country. He simply replied in a frustrated tone "As you please!" Looks like we need to educate the cashiers with a simple term called "Parcel" - that would make life so much simpler. However till that happens I have resolved to nod (in the correct direction) to the "To go" question and demand the "To go" boxes !

Another lesson came at the local grocery store. with the question "Would you like to bag it?" I was stumped and said no a couple of times. Well the lesson was learnt after to carry two loose nearly frozen milk bottles (without a cover that is) and a whole lot of other grocery at one shot. The lesson cover = bag! That may sound simple but try using "Bag it" instead of the commonly used cover, pai (tamil), pishwi (marathi), thaili(hindi) * and think how covering something and bagging something actually mean different things in the English that we are used to.
(*don't we already have enough words!)

Next come our wonderful names - last name longer than the long first name with a amazing combination of vowels & consonants that even we can't recognize in English at times. Encounter a cashier and you can keep having the same conversation of wow after they see your name. Thankfully thats limited to my last name and my hubby's first & last names. Have heard his last name go from Rangarang to Rangeelasomething to Rangsomething. On his first name people give up before they start ! In fact watching the expression of the cashier or employee trying to read it is in itself an experience. We even heard from a friend the consternation of a Subramaniam addressed publicly as Submarine-ian :P

Then there is the incident of the famous "American diamond". A friend visited a jewellery stone and asked the shopkeeper whether the particular jewellery on display was a real diamond or an American diamond (Indian colloquial reference). Further explanation on how fake diamonds were called "American diamonds" colloquially in India really didn't help assauge matters and a quick exit was deemed best.

Hmmn... I am sure I will be adding more to this list over time. For now however this is where I say Adieu :)