Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Codes of Conduct in the West as Different from those in India

By Mark L. Takefman With thanks to Margaret R. Campbell, Louse Creber and Michael Rosenkrantz for their contributions

This guide is intended for those Indians who will one day visit a western country and need to be aware of certain cultural behaviours that are different from those in their own county.  I’m not including every difference such as driving codes and attitudes, just some of the basic differences a newbie to Canada or America might need to know when they get off the plane. These include, but are not limited to:

General Public Behaviour

·       No spitting.
·       No blowing your nose in public without using a tissue.
·       No picking your nose in public.
·       No scratching your groin or rear end in public.
·       No urinating in public, use a public washroom.
·       No littering.
·       It is not polite to stare at people, some people will even get mad and begin a fight with you.
·        No “J” walking, that is crossing a road in the middle of a block instead of at a corner. (this is not enforced everywhere)

·       Form lines and no line or “Q” jumping.
·       Don’t push and shove anyone.
·       When getting onto a train, metro, trolley or bus etc. always wait outside until disembarking passengers are off first.
·       It’s ok for a man to shake hands with a woman and visa versa.
·       Time: well let’s just say, it’s not the same in the West. It’s much faster in the West
·       Time: part two, being late is ill-considered unless some good reason is given. What is late, usually more than 10 to 15 minutes in most cases.
·       Don’t be surprised to find most things in USA and Canada are made in China.
·       Smoking is not permitted in many public and private places.
·       Woman’s clothing is often much more revealing.
·       Men can wear shorts (short pants) in public.
·       An individual’s personal space (around their own body) is larger than in India, stand back.
·       People don’t smile as much as they do in India, but it’s ok to smile.
·       Dogs and cats are common household pets.
·       Lotteries are legal and there are numerous ticket booths to purchase your luck. But be advised, lotteries are nothing more than a tax on those with poor mathematical skills. Still, it’s sometimes nice to dream.

·       You should have some emergency medical insurance when travelling.
·       If you have an emergency medical situation, the health care system in Canada is free upon entry.  You may have to pay a fee after your incident which you would claim back from your insurance company.
·       In the USA, you (generally) need to have insurance or show that you can pay for services on the spot.
·       Many of the drugs you can buy over the counter in India are prescription drugs in North America and you cannot purchase them from the Pharmacist (i.e. the chemist) with out a Doctors script.
·       You purchase medical drugs from a Pharmacy or Drug Store.

·       Bartering for goods is not the norm, it does happen, but very rarely.  Most items for sale are fixed prices. But many stores (shops) have ongoing SALES with lowered prices.
·       Most items in stores have electronic tags on them to protect against shoplifters. If your purchased items have not been de-commissioned at the cash register, when you leave the store your products will ring alarm bells, and if there is one, a guard will stop you.
·       While cash is always acceptable, many people use credit cards to pay for things.
·       Many public places and stores have video cameras to watch your every move.

·       Do not interrupt conversations in progress unless it is urgent. Wait for a time to speak.
·       Do not speak in a loud voice.
·       It’s not ok to ask how old or any other personal questions or to remark how fat or make any other negative personal observation.  Positive comments are welcome like: “You look great in that dress.” (this would be to a woman of course)
·       On the other hand – how did you meet your wife/husband a good opener, unlike in India

·       Do not drop by uninvited.
·       Respect the privacy of others, especially around ATMs (ABMs as they are also called)
·       Do not investigate the drawers, closets, purses, luggage or any other item in someone’s household .
·       Not generally ok to ask where someone is going or what they are doing or to peer into their shopping bags.
·       Curiosity in general discouraged.
The Washroom

·       You won’t find squat toilets.
·       Toilet paper is used in the washrooms instead of water and hands, sometimes you can find a bidet, but not in public places.
·       Many public toilets and urinals have automatic flushing mechanisms so you don’t have to touch any handles. 
·       And many public sinks also have automatic water valves on sensors.
·       You still wash your hands after using the washroom.
·       Paper towels and/or electric blow drying units are available to dry your hands.  If not use your pants like in India.
·       Showers and baths replace the bucket bath.
·       Men should lift the toilet seat to the upright position when urinating, and return it to the down position when finished. Women can do the opposite.
Culinary Habits

·       Breakfast is often between 7am to 8am, lunch is at 12pm (noon) and dinner is often a 6pm.  These are general times, as family schedules can change these periods. Eating at 8pm often happens after one has gone out to a show or movie.
·       Children, men and women eat together, at the same time for meals, but not necessarily the same thing.
·       When eating, you generally use a fork and other types of cutlery.  Eating with the hands is allowed only for certain “finger foods” and for confectionary.
·       It is not taboo to use your left hand for eating.
·       Dessert comes at the end of a meal with tea and/or coffee.
·       Tipping waiters is between 15% to 20% (unless a gratuity charge is indicated on the bill).
·       Chinese vegetarian food is very different from Indian vegetarian, you have to try some.
·       Most people eat meat, so the term non-veg is not used. You are either a meat eater (carnivore) or a vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian or something else.
·       You can drink water right from the tap, but many people also use water filters, or purchase bottled water ( which is 90% the same as tap water but bottled).
·       When eating out, people generally sit for around 30 minutes to an hour after the meal having coffee and talking before asking for the bill, we consider this an important part of eating out.

·       An older courtesy requires men to allow women to enter a doorway first and the man will hold the door open for her, and will pull out a chair for a woman to sit on (that is if she wants to sit).
·       In addition, men will stand when a new arrival (male or female) to the table arrives. Your choice.
·       Many modern business women wear suits that look similar to men’s suits.
Legal Issues

·       Never attempt to bribe a police officer, it could land you in jail.
·       Police carry guns and often also have tasers (which is an electroshock incapacitant weapon used for subduing a person by administering electric shock aimed at disrupting superficial muscle functions).
Some Driving Issues

·       When driving and your car is approached by an emergency vehicle, such as a police car, ambulance or fire vehicle that has its lights flashing and sirens on, you must immediately pull over and let them pass. If you are on the opposite side of the road you must also slow down and even stop to make sure they have a clear and safe right of way.
·       Be advised, if you rent a car, traffic tickets are a major source of income for the police, don’t speed etc., and don’t park in non-parking zones or without putting money in the parking meter.
·       Don’t rent a car until you talk to me first, car rental companies will get you to take out all sorts of insurances and options you don’t need.
·       In some cities, you need to find this out when you visit different cities, when you are driving you are allowed to turn right at a red traffic light after you stop and the way is clear.  This is not allowed in Montreal and New York City. Right not left!
·       Driving while Under the Influence of any intoxicant, even of prescription drugs, is illegal.
 ·       Vehicles entering a main road do not have the right of way and must stop until the way is clear.
·       Drive in lanes only, you will be ticketed if you drive down the lines on the road.
·       In Canada, vehicles have daylight running head lights, which are on all the time. But you must turn on all the regular lights at night as well.
·       Horn honking is rarely used unless you’re a goose.
·       There is a difference between Yielding and Merging.  Of course, not all North American drivers know this either.
·       Drivng while using a cell phone or other device, such as an iPod is not allowed in most places. Pull over to talk. No text messaging while driving either.
  • Re Bicycles: In some cities like Toronto, children are required by law to wear a bicycle helmet. Most adults wear them too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Waiting At the Train Station

I was standing on the platform waiting for the train as I was returning home from Gurgaon, just south of Delhi where I was meeting with the head of Cairn’s corporate responsibility department when I started a discussion with a well dressed elderly Indian man. He told me he had two doctorates, one in philosophy and one in economics. He was also very knowledgeable in geography as during our discussion he could name all the Great Lakes in Canada/US.
Our conversation moved into a discussion on the poor in India, as it usually does given the work I am in. We talked about how the poverty index was an inaccurate and outdated measurement of the poor, as it only considered how many calories a person ate to determine their status. (this has recently changed to encompass a better measure. The World Bank estimates that 456 million Indians or 42% of the total Indian population, now live under the global poverty line of $1.25 per day. Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) found that 77% of Indians, or 836 million people, lived on less than 20 rupees per day. Reference is Wikipedia)
As we spoke another man who was standing nearby was listening intently to our conversation. He couldn’t resist the urge to step in and challenge the assertions of poverty we were discussing. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at Gurgaon University, and was very concerned that I had the wrong impression of India. He did agree that the amount of poor was always going to be determined on how you measure them and that the huge population of India was going to make these issues appear much greater in raw numbers. But he felt that there were not as many poor in the country as I indicated and in any case, the situation was improving. I told him I hoped he was right, that would be great for India and its people.
The train then came down the track and I had a problem. I had a reservation in coach B3. It turned out that on this train there were two B3s. Which one should I choose? I went to the Enquires desk and the man there, who fortunately spoke English told me that the B3 in the front end of the train went to Barmer and the one in the back went to Jaisalmer. Up until then I was very impressed with the India rails system, but why couldn’t they just give one of the B3 coaches another name? Then, to add to the confusion, there are lighted sign posts on the platform which tell you where each coach will stop. I waited by the B3 sign near towards the front of the train. But the B3 coach it didn’t stop there and so I started to run towards the back of the train to find the coach. It could have been a kilometer run (it was a very long train) and the train only stops for about 5 minutes. Fortunately the coach was only a few back from where it was supposed to be and I got on to find my seat waiting for me. All’s well that ends well. November 27, 2009
"Experience is not what happens to a man.
It is what a man does with what has happened to him" - Aldous Huxley