Sunday, August 26, 2007

Common Sense Is Not So Common

Something that Mr. Smith and I have noticed is that while a lot of the people in India are highly educated, things that are common sense seem to escape them as a whole. This is something that has provided some entertainment and much frustration during our stay. For instance, we bought a battery back up for our computer this week. Basically you plug all the parts of your computer into the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) and then plug the UPS into the wall. Now when the power goes out, our computer won't shut down while the generator kicks in. Pretty smart huh? Unfortunately all the outlets into the UPS are too close together, the result is that you can only actually use every other outlet. Grrr. While we are on the subject of outlets and such, there seems to be only a basic guideline as to the size of the prongs on your plugs. Some plugs fit well, some are too snug, some are so loose they fall out. These are not old and new things. These are all electronics that have been recently purchased.

Here is another strange practice; when you go shopping in a department store, as you choose things to purchase, they don't actually let you take them. They give you a slip, you go and pay, then you come back with your receipt to pick up your purchases. I understand that this is to safeguard against shoplifting, but come on! Yesterday we were shopping for our daughter's 12th birthday and had to make several stops on several different floors after we had shopped and paid, to pick up her gifts. It is really annoying.

As usual there is a reason for the subject of this post. Last week our cook pointed out that there was no vent in the kitchen. He was hoping that we could arrange to have one put in. What Uday didn't know is that there is a vent in the kitchen. Kind of. There is a fan and there is a pipe from the fan to the window... a window that does not open. With bars on the inside that also do not open. So the pipe ends about four inches short of the bars and glass. Not a very effective set up if you want to actually get the hot air and smoke out of the kitchen. "Not to worry!" said we. "Surely the office will send someone to fix this silly set up if we point it out." And they did. Work men came, they looked, they discussed, they measured, they cut a hole in the glass and they left. Now the system works like this: Fan, pipe, four inches of open space, metal bars, one inch of open space, 5 x 5 inch square hole in the glass, the great outdoors. Not only is this a completely ridiculous way to solve the problem, but it is also a fabulous entrance for the gazillion mosquitoes that are outside. And right during Dengue season too. Sweet! Now our kitchen is still hot and smokey and Skater Girl looks like she has polka dots. Even on her forehead. I don't know what it is about this girl that the bugs love so much, but we are all safe while she is in the room.

Tomorrow round two of the great kitchen vent adventure will begin. Perhaps this time they will put in a screen to keep all the bugs out. Of course they will have to cut a hole in it, in case some of the hot air and smoke wants to show itself out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To Tip, Or Not To Tip, That Is The Question

When we first arrived in India we were beholden to the restaurants that delivered for our survival. At that point we continued the American practice of tipping between 15-20%. We were informed by a good friend that even 10% is considered generous. Since then Uday has come into our lives, now we order out about once a week. So, for the last 7 months when our food is delivered we have tipped 10%. Sometimes the delivery boy looks very surprised, usually they look happy, once in a while they look guilty.

A few weeks ago when our McDonalds arrived, a manager had come along for the ride. He politely explained that tipping is not encouraged. Apparently there were fights at the restaurant over who got to deliver the food every time a call came in from our address. "Please!" he said, "you must stop tipping, it is causing me many big problems." I apologised to him and to the delivery boy who would not be getting his tip and slunk back into my house. Since then I have stopped tipping the McDonald's delivery boys.

Yesterday I went to the Indian version of a supermarket. Every time I go I buy about 10 bags full of stuff. Some poor kid grabs all 10 bags and goes out into the street and finds my car. It is not an easy street to navigate because it is always packed with traffic and there are no sidewalks. I usually give this brave soul Rs. 100, or $2.50. Lately I have noticed that when my shopping cart is almost full, the grocery baggers start jockeying for position to get me into their lane. I really didn't think it was a big deal. But once again I was approached by the manager. This one was neither so nervous, nor so polite. "You must stop giving the boys money!" No explanation, just the order. Perhaps this was all his English would allow, but I doubt it. Either way, when we made it to the car I didn't tip the young man who had carried out all of the groceries.

Today, however, I am wondering if I did the right thing. It is my natural inclination to follow the rules, but if $2.50 is enough to make a measurable difference in the week of these boys, should I stop giving it to them just to avoid inconveniencing the managers? I honestly don't know. So I am asking you, what do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jaya He!

Last week India celebrated 60 years of independence from Great Britain. I knew that I had to have a post on this subject, but I was stumped. I started many times and from many different angles, usually critical. It is not hard to find fault with India. Drive through Delhi on any given day and you can easily see many of the problems through your window. But I wasn't able to finish any of these posts and feel good about it. After all India has gained its independence at a very different time in world history from my own country and it really wouldn't be fair to compare them. Not to mention the fact that the India has been independent for 60 years, not 231 and I am biased, no country can compare to my own.

So, I have instead decided to congratulate India on her Independence. (I am sure she is relieved.) Learning to govern yourself with such a huge population, crushing poverty, religious and linguistic diversity, and uneasy neighbors, all under the scrutiny of the "Global Village" cannot be easy. And yet it seems that India will succeed where so many others have floundered. And so I will instead add my voice to the 1.1 billion Indians chanting "Jaya He!" or in my own language"Victory To Thee!"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

ER - India Style!

For those of you who don't know me well I must preface this post with a little information. In 2002 while I was pregnant with twins, I developed a couple of fairly serious heart problems. As a result I take a lot of medication and have a low energy level, not that I was ever considered hyper active. I am generally a decent heart patient, not great, but not the worst. However, since we moved to India I have been a textbook rebellious heart patient. I haven't been taking medication or seeing a cardiologist. So, on Tuesday when I was taking clothes out of the dryer and had some pretty severe chest pains, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.

In the interest of getting to the important part I will summarize the next two hours. I took a dose of medication for the first time in a long time (dumb), I took a low dose aspirin (smart), I laid down and hoped it would go away by its self (dumb), I called my husband for a ride to the hospital (smart) and I decided that if I was going to the hospital I had better shower (dumb). Despite the New Delhi rush hour traffic, and my own stupidity, I made it to the hospital alive.

One of the interesting things about Indian medicine is that your medical records really are yours. You take them home with you. They leave them next to you while you are in the hospital and no one blinks if you pick them up and flip through them. So during the down time that comes in every trip to the hospital, Mr. Smith and I amused ourselves by looking at what the staff had written about me. It was all pretty normal until we got to a line that said "State of Mind of Patient: Psychotic Violent Combative" and the nurse had circled "Combative". Combative?! Me?! I am so not combative. The worst you could call me is stubborn, or even passive aggressive. Honestly though, that is only to my husband. To everyone else I am nice to the point of being a pushover. Luckily this gave me something besides the current situation to obsess about. Since I am all about ignoring a problem until it goes away, that worked for me. So here are the three possible explanations that I came up with for my being erroneously labeled combative.

1. My Fault. Upon arriving at the hospital the diuretic (a medication that helps my body get rid of the fluid my heart can no longer pump off) I took kicked in and I suddenly had to go to the bathroom very badly. Now, everyone knows about the paperwork that must be filled out when you check into a hospital, and normally I have no problem answering all the questions about myself, my parents, my habits, my religion, my choice of shampoo, whatever. But, have I mentioned that I had to go? So as the sweet nurse, then the doctor, then some guy with a stethoscope, all took their turn asking me seven hundred and thirteen questions in broken English, I might have mentioned a couple of times that I really had to go. All right it was more than a couple of times and I eventually became a bit insistent, extremely polite, but insistent. Truly, I was only looking out for them. Did they want to change the sheets and mop the floor? I don't think so. Finally the paperwork was complete and a wheelchair was found and I was wheeled to the bathroom about 50 feet away. After that, I didn't ask. I just got up and walked to the bathroom. Perhaps my initial insistence, or the fact that I wouldn't wait for the wheelchair after that, came across as combative.

2. Mr. Smith's Fault. Mr. Smith is on the large side. He is tall and wide and has the ability to look a little scary and when someone he loves is in danger he becomes all business. On my second trip to the bathroom (and all subsequent trips) he walked beside me and stood outside the door with his arms folded over his chest and a scowl on his face. People in the ER waiting room must have wondered who I was that I needed a bodyguard just to go to the bathroom. Then he got in a little tiff with a guy at the desk. First, the guy showed him a list of room types that he could choose from for me. Suite, deluxe private, private, shared, etc. Mr. Smith chose one, only to have the guy inform him that only shared were available. To his credit, Mr. Smith made no comment at this point. Then the guy told him that there were no beds ready at all, and that it would take "some time" to get one for me. Mr. Smith asked if "some time" meant that they were preparing one and it would be half an hour, or if it meant that we had to wait for someone to checkout in the morning or die to get a bed. The guy said that it was best if he didn't commit to a time frame, in case he was wrong. This is where the tiff came in. There was no yelling and no cursing, which in my book means that Mr. Smith behaved himself, but nobody at the desk was under the impression that he was pleased. Finally the nurse took pity on Mr. Smith and told us that it would be morning at the earliest, at which point I sent him home.

3. The Nurse's Fault. This one is my favorite for obvious reasons. I think her lack of English skills played a part in this. Perhaps she thought that this line had to be filled in, so she chose one at random, or, if she knew what the words meant, picked the lessor of three evils. I like this explanation the best and choose to believe it. It fits in nicely with the image I have of myself.

As for everything else, I am home and doing just fine. I have been scared straight and promise to follow all the rules in the heart patient handbook.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Silly Signs

One of the entertaining things about living in a foreign country is some of the signs that we see. English, although known by most educated people here, is still a foreign language which leads to some funny mistakes. I also think the British influence causes problems. Recently a new mall opened up nearby with underground parking. As you pass the security check there is a sign like this...

This has been a favorite of my kids and is always the cause of stifled giggles. We tried to get an actual picture, but alas, no luck. I noticed this week that they had written " CAR^ " in front of the word Dicky. This of course made me wonder what exactly some poor confused mall goer had opened.

Now there is a new favorite. Today is Friendship Day, so for the last week or so there have been several billboards around Delhi advertising it like this...

I'm not sure if this is supposed to represent mending an old friendship, or if "The Bird" means something different here than it does in the US, or if someone just really misunderstood what this gesture means. Either way, being flipped off by a 20 foot rainbow covered hand is down right funny in my book.

I know this is a short post, but I think I will start posting more examples of the language mess ups and culture confusion that we see. We always get a good laugh out of them.