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An inferiority complex

Indians bending over backwards to appease white foreigners reflects a deeply ingrained sense of inferiority
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First Published: Fri, Jan 25 2013. 10 34 PM IST
 Do you work for an organization that thinks foreigners deserve better than you do? 
Why are you still there? Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Do you work for an organization that thinks foreigners deserve better than you do? Why are you still there? Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Over the years, this column has fearlessly made known its revulsion for a long list of things: Lotus Notes, BlackBerrys, email bulletins sent to ex-employees, office parties, tax evasion, Internet firewalls, and, of course, Lotus Notes.
It gives me great pleasure to inform you that one more item has been added to this ever-lengthening list of pet peeves:
Anyone who works in branding.
Ha ha. I kid. Brand management has been in the hate list since the founding days of this column.
No. I am referring to:
“Desi people who are petrified of white people.”
Let me set some context here.
I’ve spent the last week in Geneva attending an international watch fair. This mostly means seven days of dehydration, tasteless sandwiches from plastic bags, eccentric dictaphones, hotel rooms in disarray and, worst of all, interacting with human beings. (Human beings are the worst. My advice would be to avoid them unless essential.)
But it also means interviewing and interacting with an entire spectrum of personalities: watch company CEOs, designers, branding (puke) managers, PR experts, and other journalists from all over the world.
And while I make the whole experience sound like a fate worse than a root canal procedure on horseback, it is actually quite enjoyable in parts. The watches, of course, are often spectacular.
Also it is fun to catch up with your friends on the international watch circuit.
So a couple of days ago I was on a shuttle bus that ferried journalists from the conference centre to various hotels in the city. Accompanying me was another Indian journalist who stayed in another hotel. As the journalist was boarding the bus, he told the Swiss gentleman driving it where to drop him off. Later, as we sat and chatted, he changed his mind and decided to accompany me to my hotel for a drink.
But, as the bus turned into his hotel’s driveway, the journalist decided to get up and leave anyway. I asked him why.
“Arrey, I am going yaar. Nahi toh the driver will get angry. You know how these goras are like.”
What? WHAT???!!!
This person was cancelling a leisurely drink or two, on a relatively free weekend, and instead opting to sit in his hotel room and do nothing JUST SO THAT HE DIDN’T HAVE TO RISK OFFENDING A WHITE GUY BY GETTING OFF AT ANOTHER HOTEL!
What the heck is wrong with people?
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Indians, in a corporate environment, bend over backwards to appease white foreigners.
A few years ago, one company I worked for organized a staff party to entertain a few employees who worked in an Italian subsidiary that had recently been acquired. After the drinks and general revelry, a buffet dinner was served, but in two parts. A high-quality ‘international’ buffet was served on one floor for the Italians and some top desi management. While the rest of the local staff had to make do with a regular buffet on another floor that featured a much more pedestrian array of dishes. Why? Because they wanted “our foreign friends to enjoy a relaxed night without over-crowding. Due to budget constraints the same food could not be served to all staff.”
What racist, subservient, spineless nonsense.
In another incident, at another employer, employees were forced to park their vehicles kilometres away from the office so that some visiting Japanese dignitaries could park their limousines easily. This despite the fact that we had half a dozen parking spaces and only two limousines were coming.
The most devious story I know is of a company that had to fly a bunch of management trainees to south-east Asia for a training rotation. The interns flying in from the Middle East, China, Europe and the US all flew in comfortably in business class. This was, of course, as mandated by corporate policy: flights longer than three or four hours were always booked in business.
Except, that is, for the Indian management trainees. The Indian HR operatives decided that Indians did not need to travel in business class. So in order to subvert corporate policy they did something truly devious. They split the flight into two legs, each shorter than the four-hour “business class qualifier”, and booked them on economy on both legs. A few interns complained about how unfair this was. They were told that Indians were “expected to make some sacrifices” that foreign interns had refused outright.
What was really interesting was that a majority never seemed particularly outraged about these things. Not even the employees forced to park miles away, or eat cheaper food of an intentionally lower quality. Most people accepted these double standards in a very matter-of-fact way:
Foreigners? Oh, they deserve better than us.
Sorry, but I am not buying the whole Indian hospitality justification some people give for this. Unless Indian hospitality involves treating Indians like dirt. No. I really think that it reflects a deeply ingrained sense of inferiority.
And while I can understand this in individuals, it is unforgivable in organizations. Do you work for an organization that thinks foreigners deserve better than you do?
Why are you still there? How do you cope?
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama
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First Published: Fri, Jan 25 2013. 10 34 PM IST
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