Destination: Delhi

Mother Jones Goes to ‘Culture Training’ at an Indian Call Center

In the latest Mother Jones, Andrew Marantz has a fascinating story about his brief stint as a worker at a call center in India. Here’s Marantz on the mandatory “culture training” that workers undergo before they hit the switchboards:

Indian BPOs work with firms from dozens of countries, but most call-center jobs involve talking to Americans. New hires must be fluent in English, but many have never spoken to a foreigner. So to earn their headsets, they must complete classroom training lasting from one week to three months. First comes voice training, an attempt to “neutralize” pronunciation and diction by eliminating the round vowels of Indian English. Speaking Hindi on company premises is often a fireable offense.

Next is “culture training,” in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture”—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. “The most marketable skill in India today,” the Guardian wrote in 2003, “is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.”

(Via Where Am I Wearing)

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Aboard the ‘Ladies Special’ in India

The New York Times reports from a new women-only commuter train in Delhi, part of a pilot program spanning four major Indian cities that’s aimed at cutting down on the harassment of female passengers. I’m thrilled to hear about the program, but here’s hoping it will only need to be a short-term solution—as one interviewee noted in the story, “You really need to make every train as safe as the Ladies Specials.”

Judging India

Delhi rail lines Photo by The Wandering Angel via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

In New Delhi, JD Roberto deemed much of what he encountered backward and barbaric. But his moral compass was about to be reset.

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Don’t Forget to Splurge!

Don’t Forget to Splurge! Photo by Carlton Browne via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Carlton Browne via Flickr (Creative Commons)

For me, part of the fun of budget travel is the chance to loosen the purse strings once in a while and drop some cash on a worthwhile splurge.

Whether that means a night in a plush hotel room after weeks of hosteling, a spa day, or a way-out-of-my-price-range meal, I generally find some way to treat myself once during any budget-conscious trip—and, I figure, I appreciate my reward that much more than if I’d been pampering myself all along. It doesn’t have to be about spending a lot of money, either. My favorite travel splurge of all time cost just $15.

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Cycling India’s Wildest Highway: ‘Arise, Son of Kunti’

Cycling India’s Wildest Highway: ‘Arise, Son of Kunti’ iStockPhoto

In which Jeffrey Tayler pedals more than 1,000 miles along the Grand Trunk Road. Part two of five: The road to Delhi.

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Taking Black History Month to ... India?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is apparently making good use of cultural diplomacy early in her term. Before she departed on her current Asia tour, Clinton sent a delegation of U.S. congressional representatives, civil rights leaders and musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan, to India to commemorate U.S. Black History Month. The group includes Martin Luther King III, who is retracing a trip his parents, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, took 50 years ago to study Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

Meanwhile, Hancock, Khan and jazz students from New Orleans will perform at concerts in Mumbai and New Delhi, then jam with students at the Ravi Shankar Institute of the Performing Arts. I’m pleased to see the group continue a long tradition of U.S. jazz ambassadorship abroad.

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nathan's hot dog Photo by hellochris, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Welcome to Global Positioning

On the intersection of place, politics and culture

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