Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Signs You Work in an Indian Office

A few observations written out of love for my coworkers...

1. Hidden resources. There is a surprising lack of resources for such a large office. Just to remind you, I work in an eight story corporate office complete with elevators, security badges, and a parking garage. There are four or five people at the front gate alone who greet you as you walk in, including one guy who runs a mirror along the undercarriage of your car. There are three elevators, two restaurants, a whole floor designated as the cafeteria, and one fax machine. That’s right, one machine for 350 employees. I learned about this because a couple of weeks ago I had to send a fax. To start, I needed to print a professional letter on letterhead. I wrote the letter but am not connected to a printer, so I recruited a coworker to help me print. Then I had to find the admin.  guy to ask him to get the paper who had to ask another girl for the key to a locked cabinet. He handed me two sheets so that when the printer messed up on the first, I had one chance to get it right. Letter in hand I was told to go to the first floor to talk to the fax operator. She was out to lunch. I returned back only to learn that the fax machine had moved to level three in legal services. I had to walk through rows of unknown cubicles to find the fax machine and wait for the fax operator to return from a meeting. An entire afternoon down and my fax was sent.

2. Motorcycles. My coworkers all drive motorcycles into the office. While that might be the case if I worked at a Harley Davidson shop or something in the states, here driving motorcycles and mopeds is completely normal, even the preferred mode of transportation. When cars are expensive and roadways are so jammed pack that eight modes of transportation are squeezing into four lanes, motorcycles are simply the best option. I was so amused by one of my coworker’s cool black helmet that one day I insisted on putting it on in the middle of the office. I’m pretty sure they all thought I was a little weird after that.

3. The chaiwallah. There is a person in my office whose whole job, as far as I can tell, is to bring us chai- very milky, very sweet tea-- twice a day. Once at 11am once at 3pm, like clockwork. I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs because everyday exactly around 11 and exactly around 3 I start to feel a little parched. I look around my desk and Ganesh, my chaiwallah, is usually standing there with a tray of little tiny cups filled with the delicious treat. In many offices when the chai comes nobody does anything but stand in groups sipping to themselves, the equivalent of gossip around the water cooler. Most recently though, tragedy struck. My office outlawed the personal delivery of mugs so that I have to leave my desk, go to the little kitchen outside, and pour my own chai. The new rule had rendered Ganesh’s job pretty much obsolete but in this service-oriented society no one seems to care. I find that in most restaurants, hotels, gas stations, salons, and stores there seem to be a whole lot of employees doing absolutely nothing at all.

4. Lateness. Not to be rude or culturally insensitive, but Indians are kind of lazy. The office opens at 9:30am every morning but people don’t usually start trickling in until around 9:45 or so. It is what they call “Indian Standard Time.” Punctuality can be so bad that the education department implemented a daily check-in for our morning and evening meetings to ensure that people actually come on time. You color green if you are on time, yellow if you have an excused absence, and red if you are late. Who new that coloring would actually hold people accountable, but it does!

5. Lunch room etiquette. I know I have spoken about this before but I feel like it deserves another mention. Lunch time is so much fun. For less than a dollar I get a huge tray of two types of rice, naan, three varieties of curry, yoghurt, and a dessert. I sit with my coworkers who sometimes buy, sometimes bring from home. They open their “tiffins” (ie lunch boxes), take out spoons, and begin scooping their food onto each other’s plates. It is a strange experience for me because obviously I would love to share my food. It feels very uncomfortable though to just take from my plate and plop onto another’s without asking them first.  A few rules I learned the hard way: 1) If you are eating food with a spoon do not use that same spoon to scoop food for another person. This should be obvious for hygienic purposes but everybody shares everything (even the same bottle of water) so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. 2) Don’t bring the same leftovers twice in a row. This isn’t a huge no-no but one of my coworkers looked horrified when I told her the coconut curry I had made was the same one I brought in the day before.  A lot of people make (or have their cooks make) a fresh curry and rice every morning for their lunches. 3) Wash your hands before and after. There is a row of about six sinks attached to the cafeteria for this purpose alone.

6. Christmas. I think one out of about 25 people in the education team at my work is Christian. Nonetheless, it was insisted we decorate the meeting room for Christmas. Being the intern, it was naturally my job. The team spotted a potted plant in the lunch room that they intended on repurposing for our Christmas tree. The admin guy ended up doing most of the work- stealing the plant, wrapping it with read and green sparkly streamers, lights, and topping it with a Santa Clause stuffed animal. He hung a star from the ceiling and scattered the floor with balloons. The “tree” was hidden in the conference room so that when everyone came in for our morning meeting it was a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t help but crack up seeing my coworkers excitement about the dinky tree and balloons, which I think they interpreted as my genuine excitement. I spent my afternoon that day building a giant snowman to accompany the tree. Perhaps that excitement was genuine…

1 comment:

  1. i just cracked up about your comment about feeling parched at 11 and 3 every day- too funny! i so wish that somebody held that job at bank of america folly road. it reminds me of that episode of the office where jim offers dwight an altoid every time he starts his computer.