Last week’s Reply All was riveting. The second part was this week. You should listen. This post will spoil things if you haven’t. Trust me, you won’t regret the ride you’ll be taken on.
So, this story has something to do with India. My readers and friends know that I am quite familiar with the country. (A degree in Indian culture, rusty Hindi which was once functional, two years in the country end-to-end, one of which was in one stretch.)
While I was listening, something was niggling at me. And I finally managed to put my finger on it. See, one part of the story is Alex’s magnificent sleuthing, and diving into the underworld of scammers. But another part is… India.
I kept having the feeling that (no fault of Alex or the rest of the crew) bits and pieces of what was going on were getting lost in cultural translation. I got to see behaviours that I know to be usual or at least unsurprising through the eyes of somebody who is not familiar with Indian culture or India – and at times made to appear more significant than they seemed to me.
For example: guy from far out in another state goes to Delhi to try and make it in the city – perfectly plausible. Ends up doing some shady job: also not surprising. Not that many moral qualms? I’ve remarked previously (long looong ago on this blog) that Judeo-Christian culture has strongly embedded values of righteousness, fairness, and stuff we consider basic like “not lying” that is not necessarily present in a majorly Hindu-influenced culture. So, lying to somebody’s face? BSing like there is no tomorrow? Being completely impervious to confrontation, even when the facts are in front of your face? Not at all surprising. This is where our Western understanding of how relationships and individual psychology break down.
Inviting somebody you’ve never met (or barely know) to your house? Quite normal too, and, I’d like to add, particularly if they are foreign (mix of curiosity, sense of opportunity, and also simply duty to be a good host). Similarly, asking somebody “what’s your plan?” is a rather banal question (I always find the American “what’s up?” weird, in the same kind of way). Being stand-offish, not showing up, last-minute stuff, cancellations: just normal.
A few years ago, I noticed that the way I deal with this is I really slip into “Indian mode” when I’m in India. In “Indian mode”, I do not function the same way as in “Swiss mode” – at all. Things that annoy me in Switzerland do not annoy me in India. I do not want to do the same things. The way I approach planning (or lack of) my time is completely different. There is Swiss-Stephanie and there is India-Stephanie, and I have learned that one should not try and make plans for the other. Weird, huh?
Before I wrap up, I just want to make two things clear (because I can feel the comments coming):
- I’m not criticising Reply All’s stellar job on this story. Just pointing out some minor points of frustration for me, which are only impacting me because I am way more familiar with India than most Westerners. And seizing the occasion to show how easy it is (and I’m sure I do it too!) to ascribe intentions or meaning of our own to words or actions that we don’t have the cultural framework to interpret more precisely.
- I am not dissing India or Indian culture. I am describing some behaviours as they come across seen from here, and the cultural gap may mean they are seen negatively – just as some Western behaviours are perceived negatively when seen from India.
Read this article about the sleuthing on Ars Technica.
Read the AMA on Reddit.
- Would You Say India is Behind the West? [en] (2000)
- India [en] (2000)
- Lift09: Turning Lake Leman into Silicon Valley? [en] (2009)
- Back From India [en] (2012)
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- Lift10: Technology and Cultural Difference in China (Basile Zimmermann) [en] (2010)