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Outsourced as a Guide to Indian Corporate Culture?

By Berniegourley @berniegourley

As my wife and I prepare for our move to Bangalore, we are doing research to help us avoid inadvertent insult and blasphemy . We’ve learned such useful facts as: a.) don’t tug on a Sikh man’s beard, and b.) don’t buy a statue of the goddess Durga to use as a hat rack.

Source: Dipankan001 (via Wikipedia)

Durga Source: Dipankan001 (via Wikipedia)

These are just the kind of faux pas a well-meaning but uninformed American couple might make. (Oh, you say, not really?)

Every culture has its little proclivities that seem insane from the outside, but which are so deeply ingrained as to be invisible from the inside. (In fact, I had trouble thinking up such American cultural proclivities, but I believe they exist. Our norms are just so ingrained as to be hard to see. Of course, we are also a  diverse society, a young nation, and tend toward the irreverent in the social domain– all of which may make our cultural idiosyncrasies look a bit different from those of more traditional societies.)

We’ve been reading books like Culture Shock! India, which is one of a series of books that explain the various cultural idiosyncrasies of different countries. (I was first introduced to the series through Culture Shock! Cambodia, though I have read other such books about China and Japan.)  Such guides are extremely useful for explaining do’s and don’ts. However, they don’t necessarily prepare one for the corporate culture of India, which is a mix of Indian, Western, and   multinational business cultures. For insight into the corporate culture we turned to:

Outsourced
For those of you unfamiliar, Outsourced was a sitcom that ran for one season (2010-2011) on NBC. The premise of the show was that the manager of a novelty company call center is moved from the US to Mumbai. He becomes acquainted with Indian culture as he must teach his staff enough about American culture  so that they can communicate with the customers they are on the phone with all day. Some of the humor comes from the exposure of a very conservative workforce to products that include dildos and slutty Halloween costumes, but much of it is just cultural tension more broadly. The show was popular with critics and Americans familiar with India. Unfortunately, that was not enough to keep it on the air, particularly when Americans who buy tacky crap and couldn’t find India on a map were the butt of the joke at least as much as were Indians. (Americans who buy tacky crap and are geographically illiterate are a large demographic within the television viewing public.) At any rate, the show was clever and well-acted.

One may scoff at the use of a sitcom as reference material, but the show seemed to be well-researched. For example, I know that its discussion of the famous Indian head bobble matched the description in the cultural guide quite well. The bobble is a non answer that can mean virtually anything. The video below gives a more detailed explanation, but the visual is not so good. From what I’ve seen, most people tend to do this action more with the top of the head staying relatively stationary while the jawline swings side-to-side.

This left us wondering whether other elements of the show will ring true. The show introduced me to a new term, “holiduping.” This is when one’s employees convince a manager that a day is a holiday, when in reality it isn’t. To get the joke, you must know that Indians have enough work holidays to make US Federal employees say, “Damn, that’s a lot of holidays!” Furthermore, not all the holidays are national. There may be days taken off in Karnataka that are not in Gujarat, and vice versa. This can make it a challenge for new comers to keep track.

I’m curious as to the views of people in-the-know about how accurate Outsourced was. Most of the cast were Americans of Indian origin, but it doesn’t look like the same was true of the lead writers.

Tags: Bangalore, corporate culture, culture, etiquette, expat, holliduping, humor, India, Indian head bobble, living abroad, norms, Outsourced, sitcom, TV

By in Commentary, culture, expat, funny, humor, India, living abroad, travel on August 10, 2013.

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