By Michael Pfeiffer
1. Commuter madness. Indian drivers don’t drive in marked lanes; instead drivers honk at every car they pass or want to pass. Approaching an intersection? Don’t pause or stop. All you need to do is hold down the horn while you accelerate. Roundabouts are suggestions. Turn signals novelties. And elephants are regular forms of transportation occupying the lane ahead next to you.
2. Timing is 11.5 hours different. In Indian time, when you say “I’ll see you at noon-ish,” you are saying “I’ll see you sometime between 12 and 2.” In addition to lax timekeeping, everything takes three times longer than when stateside. Vendors regularly promise delivery end of week, only to announce on Friday that delivery is expected next Wednesday, er Friday. Unlike other time zones worldwide that are whole hours different than MST or EST or Pacific Time, Indian time is 10.5 – 13.5 hours ahead of the time zones across the continental U.S.
3. Cow town rules. Cows freely roam the streets of the city, meandering through traffic and eating from street gutters and trash bins. Cows are prized both in Hindu religion as well as for their useful by-products. Milk, cream and butter are staples of Indian cooking. Dried manure is used for burning in stoves and furnaces. Most Indians are vegan, and even those who eat meat will only eat chicken, lamb and fish. Indian McDonald’s serves the McVeggie burger.
4. Construction war zone. Ahmedabad is the sixth largest city in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. New construction is evident in each direction you look. What’s striking is how the buildings are being built. Modern buildings are constructed with century old tools and techniques. Bamboo scaffolding is tied together with twine. Workers climb the uneven scaffolding without harnesses and none wear safety gear, helmets or glasses. Women in colorful saris carry wet concrete on their heads.
5. To TP or not to TP. Hotels that market to an international crowd offer TP in the rooms. Public restrooms in commercial buildings and restaurants don’t feature toilet paper; instead, there is a faucet to the left of the toilet. Use your imagination is the pun that applies here.
6. There is no “s” in Applebee. Same logo, same name, less one apostrophe s, Applebee is the most Americanized dining establishment in India serving Continental, Indian and Oriental cuisine. Several international brands show up in India with a consonant or vowel delimitated. As well, meat is off the menu. Fast food chains including Dominos, Subway and McDonald’s are all vegan in deference of cultural differences.
7. The Caste System is intact. U.S. small business owners find themselves wearing all kinds of hats when running a nascent company—from running sales during the week to performing custodial services on the weekend. Not so in India. One of my projects was to clean and repaint the office to match the US headquarters. I bought paint and cleaning supplies and alerted the employees to wear clothes for painting. When they learned I was serious, they watched, gaping at me. I got each of them to try their hand at painting, but each quickly lost interest. The work was “not what we do,” they euphemistically put it.
More than simply a division of social classes, the national elections held in December 2012 were driven by caste coalescence. In India, you don’t vote by your political party; you vote by your caste.
Michael Pfeiffer oversees the international division of Unleaded Software Inc., leading ecommerce and CMS website developers headquartered in Denver, Colo. Pfeiffer spent a month in Ahmedabad, India overseeing operations of the UseOctane.com division formally called Unleaded Software Solutions Private Limited.
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