The difference between being friendly and being service minded

Hi Everyone

At this blog I have mostly, or well, almost mostly, written nice about India and Indians. Ok. There have been a few posts that have been written when I have been frustrated. And honestly, I do think that being frustrated from time to time is part of being a foreigner in India. It IS really different there, and that can be really difficult for us to accept from time to time.

I have just come back from a two weeks trip to India. The trip included a very nice weekend in the backwaters of Kerala. But also some of the usual frustrations that I always have when I travel to India. So I think it is time for me to write a quick post about what I feel is the difference between the friendliness I find in India and being service minded, which I really don’t think I see a lot of in India. Off course a blog post like this will always be a bit black/white, and there are exceptions from this. And if anyone feels provoked by what I write, that’s fine to me.

The background from this blog post is actually some small update I made on Facebook when I was about to check in to go home to Norway. For the first time I used an Indian airliner for an international flight. When I wrote a negative status about this, one of my Indian friends quickly messaged me and said that she hope that my next visit here will be better.

So what happened, and how can I say that Indians are friendly but not service minded? Well. Let me take the friendly part first. I think I have honestly never been in a place where people are smiling more than in India (maybe with the Philippines as the only exception). People really ARE friendly there. If you have any problems, a lot of people will always reach out to you and try to help.

This flight however, reminded me about everything that is wrong when it comes to being service minded. I honestly don’t understand how it is possible to make some things so complicated. It all actually started in Brussels, when I should board the Indian airliner there. Luckily I had checked in all the way from Oslo, so that was not a big problem. But when I came to the gate, it was a huge chaos and a completely mess. Most other airliners (I think all that I have ever used) have one point at the gate where you show your ticket and eventually your passport. So like everyone else, I thought this would be the same and stood in a queue to show my ticket. When I came to the desk I was asked if I had passed the other desk. Off course I hadn’t done that. The other desk was where you should show your passport. No information indicated this. So I and a bunch of other people went to that other desk to show our passports. Off course all of us were at that point frustrated so there was no proper queue there. Just a lot of people who tried to push their way forward. We made some jokes about it and said that it is easier to board a train at Dadar then to enter an Indian flight.

Some of the same happened on my way back to Norway. I went to the check-in counter in Mumbai. But instead of allowing people to go directly to the check-in, this company had two people (passport vallahs I guess) that were roaming around in the queue. It turned out that they checked the passport. Why is that a problem you might ask? Well, it was only two of them or five or six desks for the actual check-in. So these folks made us wait extra even before we came to the actual check-in queue! How is it possible to make even such an easy task so complicated?

I had my stop-over in London. It was like coming to a different world! And I have to tell you that this was the day after the Olympic had ended, so Heathrow was a quite busy airport. When I came to the security check a nice gentlemen told us that there was a little bit of queue so we could go to the next counter. Queue? There were hardly three people there. And the next one was completely empty, so it all went very smooth. Inside the airport I went to an Italian restaurant to get some food. The waitress informed me already before I had ordered that they were out of this or that. So different from an Indian restaurant where you first place your order, then wait, then after some 20 minute some other waiter, who is higher in the hierarchy, come and tell you that half of what you have ordered is not available.

Why is it like this? I have tried to come up with some objective reasons, without being biased here.

One reason can off course be the difference in understanding about time. I wrote an article about M-time and P-time some time back. And as a western I have to accept that India is not a country where time is considered to be important, or at least not the most important. In Norway we like to rush from place to place and always be in a hurry. Even eating is something we do mostly to not be hungry, not to enjoy the food. Many other places it is not like that. If time is not important, why should you have routines that are efficient?

And I think it is also something about creating jobs. India is a country with a huge number of people. Off course the government like to employ as many of these people as possible. If they can’t do a “proper” job, what do you do then? Well, you maybe just create a “not so proper” job to them. This is something you can see everywhere, even in my own building. I have been told that Capgemini are expected to hire a number of people for this reason. They might not really contribute, but they have a job and a stable income. I discussed this with a Norwegian friend of me who just came back from a trip to the Philippines. It is a bit the same there. But I think that the difference is that at the Philippines they hire a lot of people to do the same job, but they maybe not create too many not needed jobs.

Even one more reason why it is like this can be the training that people in India get. The lower level people are not supposed to make any decisions at all. They are only trained to do the simple job that they have. I have so often been told by friends and colleagues that I have to remember that I deal with uneducated people. This is probably true. In order to be really service minded, you sometimes have to step out from your comfort zone and do or suggest things that you might not know fully. In Norway you would get credit for doing this. I’m not too sure if it is the same in India.

Let it be clear. My next trip to India is already planned. I will absolutely not let the small “obstacles” prevent me from going there. If anyone got provoked about this blog post, then fine. Feel free to comment on it. How to handle this kind of frustration is to me a really important part of being in India, so I’m absolutely up for a discussion on this topic.

Talk to you soon!



4 thoughts on “The difference between being friendly and being service minded

  1. Bang on the mark as usual, Karsten. Hiring unqualified people for what is seen as “grunt work” is no way to move forward. It might provide a multitude of people with income but it in no way contributes to the development of the country.

    It infuriates me to constantly hear tales of “India’s growth story” and how it is fast becoming a world power. The real fact of the matter is that India’s success is down to the law of averages and the protected power of the dozen or so conglomerates. They have turnover and workforces big enough to control the economy on their own. Take away these and the middle-class (which largely supports the scale of these businesses) and you have a whole different picture – of poverty, inefficiency and tragic management.

    Comparisons with China – which are often – make my blood boil. China has got it right by enforcing education and competition within a country with a similar population. China will be a world power, if it is not already, whereas India is floundering around amid patriotic waves of self-congratulation, bereft of strong leadership and the will to improve matters.

  2. As an Indian, I have to sadly concur with RichieRahRah’s comment. There’s staggering inefficiency, nepotism and corruption “baked-in” into the system at every level be it in the government or the private sector.

  3. To me this is a very interesting and topic Karsten.

    The concept of “unqualified people in not proper jobs” always fascinated me.

    Anyone, even a Norwegian 🙂 recognizes “that guy” when seeing him in the elevator. The elevator man. Pushing the button with the number 4 on it, after receiving the direct instruction “fourth floor thanks” from us. As if we couldn’t have done that faster our self.

    Once you have seen that guy, you instantly understand the “Unqualified people in not proper jobs” concept.

    As you indicated, he will definitely not “think out of the elevator”. He will for sure not take any decisions or be able to handle any kind of special requests.

    If I didn’t know better, as a Norwegian, I would assume he had a service function way beyond the button pushing.

    However – I know his only mission is to push the button. I know he doesn’t understand English. I know he doesn’t know anything about the companies in the building. I know he has no training to handle any situation, other than calling his boss.

    I don’t expect anything from him. So nothing (not much) could go wrong. Hence I am a satisfied client.

    I am more concerned about “Unqualified people IN proper jobs”

    At all having “not proper” jobs, obviously creates a grey zone.

    Someone obviously filling a job where we actually ARE expecting a service – but just get friendliness – is so much more frustrating, right?

    I look forward to meet you this week.

  4. Pingback: » Unqualified people in “not proper jobs”. Great? MY FANTASTIC INDIA

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