THE LAST WORD : Chala Indian, Bill Gates banne!

In the last three decades, at least two million of our countrymen would have different stories to tell about their stint abroad – what they call as off-site postings

The funniest story I have to tell of an Indian software engineer on his first trip to the West is that of a young colleague of mine Deepak, eighteen years ago who packed his bags in Mumbai and flew off to Newark to take up his new assignment as software consultant at the offices of our firm in Princeton, New Jersey.

Armed with an International Driving Permit and well instructed on the complex methodologies of hiring a car at a US airport, Deepak managed to successfully navigate his car onto the New Jersey Turnpike and seeing an amazing stretch of empty road in front of him, his foot instinctively pressed the accelerator to the floor. It wasn’t long when he saw an unfamiliar car with a red light on top pulling alongside and the cop inside waving at him. Oblivious to the thought that the cop was asking him to pull over to the side of the road, Deepak happily waved back to the cop and continued speeding. The cop followed him to his office and promptly confiscated his license for three months. It took a chastened Deepak many words of solace before he ventured to drive again in the United States.

Deepak is not the only case of a young Asian with little experience of the ways of the West being trapped in an unfamiliar situation on a first trip abroad. In the last three decades at least two million of our countrymen would have different stories to tell and their employers, equally unaware of any way of life outside their home country would have recoiled in horror at young Indians dipping whole rolls of bread in the olive oil at an Italian lunch and biting and chewing merrily.

My former colleague Vivek Gupta, who spent over two decades in both the UK and US has many tips to provide on how to eat, dress and behave but no amount of training and cultural sensitisation can take the very Indian behavioural traits away till a few mistakes are made.


I myself will never forget a trip I made in the nineties to the city of Pittsburgh and stayed the night at a small hotel. The next morning, I was rudely awoken by loud knocks at the door and told by a swarthy American to immediately get into the company bus. They had mistaken me for one of the dozens of countrymen who were joining a well-known staffing firm the next day. In fact, chatting with the receptionist later, I was amused to hear that this was the landing place for many “Fresh off the Boat” Indians and the hotel had removed the mugs from most of the bathrooms, because many folks, unused to a shower over the bath tub would simply fill the tub with water and use the mug to have a traditional Indian bath by pouring water on their head!

These stories are not being used to belittle Indians when they travel abroad. On the contrary, we all can rightly be proud of the country we come from and in industries like software exports, the Indian tag attracts the highest admiration in many countries. I recall getting into a boat off the ship on a ten-day Alaska cruise from Anchorage a decade ago at the little island of Ketchikan. The boatman, who had never been out of the state in his life looked at me and said “India – Computers?” a recognition that made my wife and I beam and acknowledge the competence and sincerity of those who had built this industry.

However, as India proudly takes its place now among the leading nations of the world, all of us senior leaders owe it to the next generation to make each one of them worthy ambassadors of the country. No longer are we a nation of only snake charmers and rope climbers and the way our young travellers carry themselves abroad will determine the speed at which the world gets comfortable with India and Indians!

My former colleague Vivek Gupta, who spent over two decades in both the UK and US has many tips to provide on how to eat

This is of course easier said than done. In my school years in Ranchi, I almost took for granted that somebody stronger than me could jump the queue and grab the last few tickets to a movie and the way to reach my destination by car would involve a number of wrong side passing and toots on the horn. Our own industry probably consists of over 60 percent people who have grown up in similar circumstances and it will take a fairly large dose of indoctrination before instincts can be overcome by appropriate behaviour.

Learning and Development managers in any organisation which sees itself as a global firm must take special care to inculcate new values and work cultures that will stand our employees in good stead when they travel anywhere in the world. Cross-cultural training is important and country specific tips will always be welcome, but in all our education institutions and business corporations, a commitment to build globally compatible executives and managers will be the beginning of a new set of Indians and indeed a new India marching towards a tryst with a global destiny!

By Ganesh Natarajan