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 :)


VIBGYOR said...

Nice one!!!!!

Divya Shankar said...

Nice post Sharma :)
Very true .. this list is endless. Can relate to the post so well. This excessive communication at the billing counter has begun in a big way here as well - in McD s , dominos pizza outlets - there are so many many questions that one even feels like quitting it all and not eating food. The other case is of how when one enters the malls or cosmetic outlets like Health & Glow, the sales ppl begin to flock to you seeking if you need their help. It is terrible. Most times I draw the most rude expression and say " NO Thanks"
Pointing out "american diamonds" is apt and very funny - just like "kolkata famous victoria chats" that you will see in most places in Bangalore though actually Delhi and Mumbai have always been known for chats ;)

Jaya said...

really entertaining and strangely insightful...keep writing

shark_surfs said...

@Shanta Thanks :)
@Divya Can totally relate to the ones you've listed. Even I resort to the same tatic at Health & Glow and other similarly staffed stores. He he this is the first time I have heard about Kolkata chats being famous.
@Jaya Thanks :)