Thursday, 17 April 2014

No emails after 6 PM please; we are French

If ever there was  a misleading post title - this is one. But I am feeling mischievous, and since when has journalistic puritanism been required in a blog ! So read on.

You may have caught the "news item" with exaggerated headlines which seemed to imply that the French had banned reading emails after 6 PM. The trouble was that they did no such thing.  What they did was a collective bargaining agreement for independent contract workers which insisted that they be given a day off after 7 days and that after 13 hours of work a day they were allowed to "disconnect communication tools".  Nowhere did it say they wouldn't read emails after 6 PM.

But the point is that the news item was entirely believable, given the stereotype of the French worker as lazy and prone to long lunches. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The French work as hard as anybody else, at least in the private sector. I worked in a French company for a while - I should know. But the trouble is that with news like the 35 hour work week, draconian union rights, etc etc, the French have an image  of laziness and so anything that reinforces that stereotype is easily believed.

Stereotypes abound in business.  How often have I been asked in immigration counters in various countries if I "was in IT" ? The stereotype of an Indian foreign traveler is that of a coder. And if you are traveling to Australia, the stereotype is that you are not only a coder but are smuggling in 74 packets of every spice known on earth, 4 varieties of murukkus, 18 sweets, etc etc.

The Chinese business stereotype is that of an untrustworthy shifty individual who is out to steal your secrets. The worker stereotype is of a guy or a girl willing to work endless hours in poor conditions for a pittance.  The supplier stereotype is of somebody who can deliver poor quality at incredibly low prices. All three stereotypes are now largely wrong. 

The German stereotype is of precision and excellence in making things. Manufacturing genius. Balderdash now. German "quality" is nothing to write home about. Anybody who owns a Volkswagen car in India should know.

The American stereotype is of a loud bully who knows nothing about the world outside his home town. Again grossly wrong. If ever there was a collectively internationally savvy business race, it is the American. Notice that I refer only to the business community. Jane Doe , despite being a starlet,  might think Europe is a country.

Think of the Nigerian stereotype of utter corruption and email finance scams. Again this is increasingly becoming  untrue. Nigeria recently became the biggest economy in the continent displacing South Africa, admittedly by some jiggery pokery, but you now HAVE to do business in Nigeria if you want to be a global player and it is not that corrupt.

The trouble with stereotypes is that they are so hard to shake off. The brand gets sullied for a long time if the stereotype is negative (a la France or Nigeria) and gets undeserving benefit if it is positive (a la Germany). By that yardstick, perhaps the Indian stereotype of a coder is not so bad. At least it has the connotation of being "brainy" as one immigration officer in the US told me !

Actually widely differing, and wrong, stereotypes abound inside India. The Bong is a long winded lazy bum. The Punjabi is loud and crass. The "Golti" is doing M Tech to maximise dowry. The Kannadiga is sleeping after a large dose of ragi mudde. The Mallu is either coming from or going to the Gulf, but will not work inside his state. The Gujju is out to make money and nothing else.  The Tamil exists solely on curd rice. The sisters from the North East are all "chinkies  of easy morals"  (what a horrible, awful, wrong and offensive stereotype). But all that is forgotten when we step outside and land in a foreign shore. We then become a "brainy coder". Three cheers to the ignorant immigration officer in the West for forging an absent national unity, at least in  stereotype !

11 comments:

  1. good one - nice ending! There's also the Indian doctor stereotype especially in the geriatric town I live in :) I am so tempted to let them think that - after all it is just a matter of detail :)

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  2. I still thought Germany is known for high precision engineering, no?!
    Maybe like everyother in the world, they too have joined the Good to worse.

    but ramesh, forget the ignorant immigration officer,even i am ignorant. Read my thoughts.....

    In certain cases, even me thinks the same, especially what you have written about india , the golti is definitely that. Most goltis around me think sending their children to IIT and IIM and pawn the home theylive in to send their wards to Foreign shores( especially US). Years later, with the US$ they buy two more villa houses. for them anything other than IIT,IIM or MBBS is not considered Studies.so the training starts from class 5by admitting them into corporate and techno schools.

    I have a soft corner for kannadigas so i won't repeat what you have said but will say euphemistically they are not ambitious and very seeda -saada not the slitthroat smart types who work their way up. Their goodness of accomodating everybody has given the famous kannada tag" swalpa adjust maadi".
    mallus ofcourse land up in gulf or everyother teacher or nurse is from that land. Gujjus and marwaris i believe in what you have written, ask me they are all around me. ( but i also appreciate their economical and enterprising nature)

    Tamils are just that, especially tambrahms are definitely the thayir saadam community( did you see the simpson iyers cartoon that is trending all over social sites:) I won't be surprised one day if pizza is topped with thayir saadam(yuk)

    And yes i will stop here... but not before saying The punjabi is definitely loud and crass. Onc can break the stereotypes but cultural patterns....na....it is in their genes...DNA. Some things never change:)

    (above comment solely based on my observations from my little world: there can be exceptions too:))

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  3. @J - Geriatric town ???? What is a teenager like you doing there :)

    @Asha - Very naughty ! :)

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  4. Haha! One of my favorite topics. And I agree with Asha. There is a reason why those stereotypes exist. I used to play this little game with an American colleague here. I would guess where in India somebody was, whenever we came across an Indian and he would ask the person if I was right. I have never been wrong so far and his eyes popped out of his head every time I did it! :D :D

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  5. @Deepa - Oh, and I forgot to add Maharashtrians are beautiful, kind, brilliant, generous, warm, ......... :)

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  6. @A friend of mine was elected CEO of a prestigious American consulting business. He used to say of the firm - "The only time I have been racially discriminated against in the firm is when someone asked me for IT Support".

    Incidentally the world is changing. Yesterday, at the bookshop in New Delhi T3, I found a whole stand of Lonely Planet traveller guides specifically for the Indian Traveller. Rajalakshmi's time has come after all!

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  7. ...and love compliments :)

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  8. @Ravi - Oh yes - that has happened to a number of people :)

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  9. Ha ha ha.... Very true... Even I have been guilty of generalizing these stereotypes :)

    One local Bengaluru stereotype you forgot, "All IT guys are rich" :D

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  10. @Prats - IT guys ARE rich. That's not a stereotype - that's a fact :):):)

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