Sunday, November 21, 2010

Notes from an overgrown island - Part I

Hiya there!

Ya I know - I have not been posting much since my landing in this country. Been planning to post something about my first views of the place for about 3 months now. But you know how it is with blogs - you always wish to post something, and you keep delaying, and before you know it, you keep delaying even further.

As is customary with any blogger who has shifted base to a new location, I shall now pretend possessing total knowledge of everything about the place I am in and deliver verdicts with the apathy of those suited reviewers on Sun TV movie reviews.

So this is my FIR about my experiences in England. Or United Kingdom. Or Great Britain. Or whatever else this place is called. Trust me, I don't think many natives here know the difference between UK and GB. Being a consultant, I had to illuminate a Brit friend here  with that knowledge (that I myself had acquired from Wiki) to get "Oh is that so? Never knew that. Thanks!" for a response. God promise!

In the months I have been here, my biggest learnings have been about the social customs of the place.

Being polite to others is a way of life here. I suspect if they don't perform any act of kindness to others in a day, they'll end up with digestion problems in the night. The most common 'act' you will find here is - opening doors for others.

Back home, opening a door was a simple process.
1. Reach the door
2. Open
3. Exit

Here, people have a fairly elaborate procedure for this.
1. Reach the door
2. Open
3. Wait like a sentry until someone else turns up
4. Then smile at them, and say 'After you'
5. They will smile back at you and insist that you go first
6. Smile, shrug, and go over to the other side
7. Then hold the door open for the other to pass through
8. Say "Cheers" and leave (not "What ho" or "Pip pip" or any of that stuff you read on PG Wodehouse)

I have had some fairly interesting experiences with this protocol.

Once after an unduly long meeting, I had to rush to the restroom (don't snigger, grow up). As I reached for the door and opened it in a hurry, I saw that it lead to a small passage with another door at the other end. And as providence would have it, at exactly the same moment, someone opened the other door from the other side. I know this might sound confusing, so I have taken the pains to draw out this complex graphic for you:
I guess you got the point now - there were two of us standing at the two ends of the passage, each holding a door open for the other. Remember multi-threading deadlocks? Exactly that. The atmosphere was tense. The air was crisp. Sweat covered both of our foreheads. Our brains were trying to work a way out of this stalemate. Furrowed brows. (But still, smiles on the lips). After a volley of "After you"s from both of us, we made a mutual decision to 'do it' in sync. Falling just short of counting to 3, we left our doors and lunged to reach the other door at the same time.

And we succeeded. 

As the other guy heaved a huge sigh of relief and turned back to smile one more time at me, I had already rushed in to reduce my weight by a few grams.

Then there was the time when another complex situation arose cos' of this protocol.

I was just reaching the entrance to my office and was about to push the door open, when it opened by itself. There was a man on the other side wanting to get through. As I smiled and stepped aside saying "After you", he smiled and stepped aside saying "After you". And a lady joined in from his side, also wanting to get out. That's 3 people trying to get through 2 ways of 1 door. If that wasnt complex enough, add in the "After you"s and the fact that 1 of the 3 is a lady, you get a potboiler.

Eventually we guys somehow sorted it out and went on our paths relieved, but confused if we had followed the right protocol. And no - I don't remember how we really got ourselves out of the tangle.

But I had learned an important lesson that I have been putting to good use ever since - now if ever it looks like I would be reaching a door at the same time as someone else, I would dish out my phone with nonchalance, move away from the door with nonchalance, and nonchalantly start speaking on the phone until the moment of embarrassment passes by.

Yet another social custom I took some time adjusting to is: the greeting. On my second day at my client's office here, as I reached my seat, my neighbour looked at me, smiled, and asked "Are you alright?". I froze in my tracks, and wiped my face, checked my hair and de-creased my shirt and responded to him with a very doubtful "Well.. Yeah.. But.. Why?". By the time I managed to say all that, he had turned away. The incident affected my balance - was something wrong with me that I didnt know about? Shortly, I rushed to the restroom and checked in the mirror. Everything seemed fine. Perplexed, I returned back a confused man. It was much later that day that I realized that this was the standard greeting here; their means of saying "How are you?". And it is meant to be responded with "Not bad". Felt like an idiot when I learned that.

Again, I did not make any of this up.

To be continued (hopefully)...