One interesting thing about living in two different cultures is to try to compare them. What are the similarities and the differences between them? When I lived in Mumbai I did a lot of such comparisons with foreign friends. All of us wanted to dive into the Indian culture and to really understand it.
This is something that is important from a business point of view. If you read stories about why multicultural projects fail misunderstandings due to culture is often pointed to as one main reason.
So, since I work in multicultural projects, this is off course important for me. But I have also taken a personal interest of this and read a number of books by gurus at this area like Hofstede, Hall, Trompenaars, Messner and so on. But still I feel a bit puzzled about this and struggle to point into what exactly are the differences.
Last week I came across a post on a Facebook group for expats in Mumbai that really got me to think. A foreign girl had posted there. She said that her sister was coming to visit and asked about the price for a driver with car that could take them around Mumbai for half a day. The answer (written exactly in this way) was the following: “and wht budget u rlkng forwh do u wnt it”. Ok. I do understand that some people write very much in shortenings when they write on Facebook and such. That’s not my main point here. The main point is the question that is used to answer a question: “What’s your budget?” When I read this, it really strikes me that this is a phrase I used to hear quite often in India. If someone came to Oslo and wanted to rent a 2 BHK in a particular area, the agent would straight away say that the going rate in the area would be this or this. In India (and in many other countries) this is quite different. People will always ask you (the buyer) what you are ready to pay for it. And the price will depend on your answer. The idea of a fixed price just does not exist.
Two more examples at the same; I once, and hardly more than that went shopping with an Indian friend of mine. We went to Lifestyle in R City Mall, where they have fixed prices on all their items. But still she started to haggle! The staff seemed uncomfortable with this shroud girl, and I really felt embarrassed. But she managed to get some discounts and was clearly proud of that. The other story is about some Norwegians who visited Mumbai. Somehow they managed to get out from the hotel and into some different area. They then had to take an auto back. The meter read 2.80. Everyone who has stayed for some time in Mumbai knows that they should have paid INR 37 (see conversion app). They thought that they should have paid INR 280! They told me that they wanted to be nice to the driver and gave him 300. And they also told me that he smiled and seemed to be quite happy with this. Off course he was! They had paid almost 10 times the “fixed price”.
Did the driver cheated on them? Well, most people might say so. But if they wanted to pay 300 rupees for such a trip, why not? Again; what’s your budget? The price will totally depend on the buyer’s budget and what he is willing to pay for the service or goods that he’s buying. This is something I have reflected of many times. Is it really ok that things are like this? Well. Maybe. It just changes the rules for a transaction a bit. In Norway we have very strict laws that protect the buyer. It might be that India does have some of the same kind of laws. But they are surely not followed everywhere.
My main point here is that when you deal with other countries you have to understand how business is done in these countries. What are the KPI’s to the person you deal with? Does he or she really understand your situation? In a book I read it says that in Japanese there are 28 different ways to use the word “yes” to say “no”. Will I as a Norwegian understand this? Probably not. At least not initially. Experience from a foreign culture is the key here!
Talk to you soon!