Catching the Chennai Express

Catching the Chennai Express

I’ve been in Chennai now for three weeks and I conclude my trip tomorrow and start the 30 plus hour trek back home catching the Chennai Express both literally and figuratively.  I have been joined by a fellow member of our leadership team who will continue the work of recruiting, hiring, and training our newest team members.

I thought on the eve of my return to the US I would highlight some more of the things that I’ve learned while I have been here.  For starters I had assumed that the most spoken language in the world was English but I know understand that Chinese (Mandarin) is spoken by the most people followed by English and then Hindi.  Of the 1.2 billion people in India less than half speak Hindi with the remaining population speaking a mix of almost 1,000 languages not just different dialects or regional variations.  Here in Chennai where Tamil is the dominant language it has been explained to me that it’s not common for people to speak Hindi or even understand it.  Rather what I have been told is that if it were not for the British and the introduction of English as an official language that people in the same office would not be able to communicate with each other.

That being said there are still a number of differences between the English pronunciation and expressions that are used here in Chennai and the expressions that we would typically use.  I think my favorite difference is the use of the word “intimate” instead of the word “explain” or to “let them know”.  It took me a little time to understand what someone meant when they said that they would “intimate someone”.  Other examples would be the word “freshers” to describe recent college graduates.  Additionally the word “batch” is used to describe the college class that you graduated with.

To better understand how to effectively communicate here I asked if it was true that people will rarely tell you “no” in the Indian culture.  What I know understand is that isn’t an accurate perception.  I haven’t had any real issues with people telling me what they think as long as I ask the right question.  For instance when I first arrived I asked lots of questions around how things were done since I wanted to be culturally aware and culturally sensitive.  The answer was often whatever you would like to do is fine.  For instance one of the things that stresses Americans more than just about anything else is figuring out what the culturally appropriate rules are for tipping in a new country.  The answer I commonly got was whatever you would like to do.  However when I finally realized that the better question to ask was “What would you do?” I got clearer answers.

The one thing that no one has had any difficult saying no to is my near constant desire to walk everywhere.  Having lived in Philadelphia for five years I still feel like walking is the best way to get around in an urban environment.  After looking at me like I had lost my mind people were quick to offer to get me a ride or transportation.  However I decided to go and see Chennai Express which is a brand new blockbuster movie here in India on its opening weekend.  The movie was fantastic and I can now speak Tamil with a Hindi accent or at least one word of it, “Vanakkam”.  However walking home by myself at 1am on nearly deserted streets helped me realize that they were probably right and I should have taken a car or an auto rickshaw.  I am now a Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone fan.  I would describe Shahrukh Khan as a mix between Jim Carey and Tom Cruise.  He can pull off a unique genre of the comedic action hero like no one else.

There is so much more to share about my experience here in India that I think I’ll save it for my next post which I will have plenty of time to work on during the 30 plus hour trip home.

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