Learning about Western culture at an Indian call center

How can you learn a culture without living in it I ask? I remember as a child growing up in Massachusetts, my only impression of Indians were from movies. I saw mysterious guys in turbans playing the flute and charming snakes. They had great accents and were fun to watch — a bit scary too. But, in real life there are only a few snake charmers in India and the rest are not like this. India is a complicated country with regions, castes, personalities, some lack personality too, classes, neighborhoods, etc. You cannot put a finger on the Indian personality, although there are some common themes and some common inept behavior.

For Indians to understand Australians, Americans and Brits seems equally daunting. How can you sit in Noida and have a crash course in what English speaking Westerners were like.

One lady was told that Australians are dim-witted, heavy drinking racists. How can you reduce the fourth largest country in the world in such a demeaning and simplistic way? I met tons of Australians in America, Taiwan, Europe and Singapore. I found them to be the most friendly, exciting, wonderful people anywhere, and I love their accent. Some of them drink heavily, but I didn’t meet the drinkers so much as I met cool people who were educated and fun! Describing an entire culture using over-simplified terms doesn’t educate a call center worker, it misinforms them. It might be better to depict a culture in terms of common behavioral themes. In high school there are the jocks, the geeks, the nerds, the cool guys, the average kids, etc. There is not just one type, and not everybody fits into the common types either.

Another lady was told that Americans are 90% big hearted while the other 10% are just down-right brilliant. I have lived my entire life in America with extended trips to India and Taiwan. I will tell you that ounce per ounce, perhaps there is more compassion (a Hindu virtue) here in America than there is in India. But, there are lots of underachievers here, dumb people, short-tempered folks, as well as some scarily brilliant people. Despite America’s stupidities, our country finds a way to have our businesses function and that is why we are more successful than most other countries who just can’t get it together.

The way to learn a culture is to live in it. If you have serious call center reps who you intend to keep for a long time and pay well, they should live in America, Australia, or whatever country they are going to cater to. The more countries you visit, the more you learn about culture, especially if you interact with the locals over a long period of time. Or you could hang around with Americans in India which is easier. The type of Americans who come to India are not always representative of the norm. Especially when you see white girls named Sally traipsing around town wearing a silk mysore sari. It might make more sense to import a good cross-section of Americans so you can feel the culture in a more well-rounded way.

Another way to learn culture for call center work is to see how various cultures handle various types of problems. Dating, marriage, education, work and various problems are handled differently in different cultures and by different individuals. So, seeing many examples of how people in Texas handle having their credit card turned off might be a more helpful cultural education rather than being told that Texans like everything big, yee-haw!!!

From my western perspective, I would say that the biggest flaws of Indians are their insensitivity to others as well as their incessant desire to nag others. Westerners don’t like nagging too much, loud noises are not appreciated (such as your screaming kids) and a refusal to solve problems is another things Westerners don’t like. Even if you have never met an American or Ozzie in your life, if you are attentive to being considerate, control loud noises, and solve problems quickly and effectively which might involve triple checking your work, oh, and don’t nag, you might be very appreciated by the average westerner — but, no guarantees. And one more thing — please hold….

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