Date archives "March 2008"

Outsourcing Interview

The other week I saw an email in my inbox (and to be honest, it was one of my mailing list addresses that I use for all internet marketing stuff, and I only saw it as I was scanning through the subject titles to see if there was anything of interest) when I saw one about a new outsourcing project from Chris Crompton called Outsource Mastermind.

Being in the subject matter of the new product (I’m working for a company to whom people outsource to), I was very interested and opened up the site. Chris was asking for feedback and suggestions on what he should include in the product (great way to create the perfect product btw, ask the people what they want and then fill that need).

I filled out the form and basically said, ‘hey, I’m from the UK but I’ve moved to India to work for an outsourcing company, plus I have loads of experience in outsourcing, get in contact’…which he did.

The end result was a 30 minute long telephone interview which he recorded and will (hopefully!) be adding to his product.

You can check out Chris’s blog and get some great FREE outsourcing tips by text and video. There’s one tip about a sneaky way to choose the programmer that’s just brilliant, and I’d never have thought of it before. Go check it out here.

Outsourcing Mastermind should be ready for release in April.

Studying English While Learning Tamil

One of the great things about living in India is the opportunity to learn a new language. In India you have over 14 different languages to choose from, but it makes sense to learn the local one 😀

I’m living in the state of Tamil Nadu, in the main city called Chennai (it used to be called Madras before they decided to get rid of the connection with their colonial past). The city is fast filling up with British expats like myself and international students from organisations like AISEC.

One of my main goals while living out here is to learn the local Tamil language.  However, the interesting thing is, that as I’m learning Tamil, I’m studying English more and more.

For example, until recently I didn’t even know what the origins of the English language were. A quick bit of research and I’m able to give you a condensed history of the English language…

English is based on the Germanic language brought to the UK by the Saxons of what is now North-West Germany. However, even this Germanic language is a sub-category of the Indo-European language which can be traced to Northern India. When the Normans invaded the country in 1066, Old French was the language of the law, courts and administration. Even when it was changed to English, many words and phrases remained.

In the 16th and 17th century, many words were borrowed from Latin. Modern English that is spoken today can be traced back to the Elizabethan era.

There is a very interesting diagram showing the classification and evolution of languages here: History of Language Diagram

Where English is quite a modern language, Tamil is credited as being one of the oldest languages, that is still widely spoken, in the world, with a heritage that can be dated back over 2,200 years – this makes it one hell of a difficult language to learn! Take the letter ‘L’. There are three ways of pronouncing it!

Back to English.

Even though many educated people in Chennai can speak English (well, I like to call it Indo-English because the sentence structures and word usage are different), I’m able to understand them quite well, but often they are unable to understand me.

This is because I would use slang, abbreviate (don’t, do not) words, and more significantly use idioms, metaphors and similies when I’m speaking.

Time and again I would have to go back and explain a slang word or saying, and in the true Indian fashion of wanting to learn and understand, they would ask why we use such words, what the orgins are etc. Since we don’t pay much attention to what we’re saying in the UK, we never really get a chance to study our own language or the origins of words and sayings.

Take this saying:

Straight from the horses mouth

A bit of research tells you that the origin of this saying comes from horse racing and the only way to accurately tell the age of a horse is to look at it’s teeth and mouth. Hence, “this horse is 3 years old, I got it from the horses mouth” ie. the information came direct from the source.

Other sayings and slang that I’ve been asked to explain include…

  1. Raining cats and dogs
  2. Come down on you like a ton of bricks
  3. Went down like a lead balloon
  4. Stuck between a rock and a hard place
  5. Chavs
  6. If you can’t beat em, join em
  7. Hard as nails
  8. Sweet FA
  9. Scot free
  10. Cushty
  11. This time next year…
  12. Bent as a nine bob note
  13. Cool beans

And many more sayings besides. There are also some sayings that don’t seem to have any origin, they are either a play on words which have different meanings or slang meanings, it can confuse the hell out of my Indian friends…

  1. Let’s make like a tree, and leave
  2. Let’s make like a banana, and split
  3. Let’s make like a donkey’s d***, and hit the road

There are also occasions where I have to give someone a better way of saying something. For example, on our help desk, a phrase that was often used was:

  • Please be in patience

I explained to them that although any English speaking person would understand exactly what they meant, the accepted way of politely asking someone to wait would be:

  • Please be patient

This was taken with a certain amount of skeptism, because “everyone knows that patient means someone who’s undergoing healthcare, like a Doctors Patient.

I think that’s long enough for my musings on the English language. It’s an interesting subject for me and it’s a shame we don’t learn more about the history of our own language in school history lessons.

For further reading on the history of English, Tamil and words and phrases in English, check these sources:

An Argument About Coffee

Just had a little argument about the best way to make coffee today. I was asked if I want a coffee, to which I replied, “sure, I’ll boil the water”. This was met with a blank expression along the lines of “why the hell do you want to boil the water?!”…Err, to make coffee?

Well, as it turns out, here in India, we make coffee in the opposite way to the UK (well, at least in the opposite way to the way I make coffee!). They boil the milk first, and then add small amounts of water to taste.

Naturally an argument ensued about which is the best way to make coffee. Frankly I think we’re going to have to do some double-blind tests to put it to rest 😀

You Know You Are In India When…

Just a little fun, no offense meant from this list 🙂 It’s just some of my observations from the last few months of living in Chennai.

  1. A Honda or Skoda is considered a premium luxury brand
  2. The tuk-tuk driver demands Rs 150 for a trip that you know should cost Rs 70. But you end up taking anyway because you just spent the last ten minutes trying to explain where you want to go to and haven’t the energy to do it all over again
  3. Over-taking on a blind bend is considered a skill rather than reckless driving
  4. They drive a bus through a gap in the traffic you wouldn’t even take a bike through
  5. The correct lane to be in for turning left or right is where ever your car is at the time
  6. It is the job of people behind you to get out of the way when reversing and you absolutely should not look out the back window when going backwards (for this reason every vehicle is fitted with some tacky tune that plays whenever it reverses :D)
  7. Traffic rules are merely polite suggestions
  8. Every other question is about food
  9. You’ve put on 10kg of weight since coming out to India and fitting comfortably in to your size 34″ waist jeans is but a distant memory, and someone remarks that you are looking too lean
  10. You are laughed at because the girl you happen to think is pretty and attractive is considered to not be fat enough
  11. Every successful film is about finding true love and following your heart, but in real life ‘love’ is not enough to justify a marriage
  12. Arranged marriages actually start to make some sense as the whole boy meets girl thing is taken care of for you and you can get on with the rest of your life (doesn’t mean you agree with it though!)
  13. You can accurately guess the plot of every Indian movie that’s ever been, currently popular and will ever be made simply by stating “boy meets girl and there’s a wedding at the end”
  14. You look out the window and it’s day time, you look out the same window five minutes later and it’s pitch black
  15. You can make artistic pictures by joining up dot-to-dot style all your mosquito bites
  16. Hanging on to the outside of a bus doing 30 MPH mere inches from the massive tyres with one hand and chatting on your cell-phone with the other is considered an acceptable form of commuting to and from work
  17. Seat belts are for weenies
  18. Motor-cycle helmets are for weenies
  19. They simply don’t believe you that the biggest actors and actresses in India are unheard of in the UK outside the Indian community
  20. Ditto for the films
  21. Cricket actually starts to make some sense!
  22. Rice and curry for breakfast isn’t in the least bit unusual
  23. It takes 4 guards with whistles to help you reverse out of a parking space
  24. It hasn’t rained for 4.6 billion years, but when it does, mother nature attempts to dump the entire Indian ocean in just 2 hours
  25. You see another white person in the pub and they suddenly become your best friend
  26. Every Indian that you meet in the pub is in the film industry
  27. Any Indian reading this light hearted and tongue in cheek article is offended and angry that I should write such a thing 🙂

Got anything else to add?! Let me know! I’ve promised the guys in the office we’ll do a “You Know You’re in England When…” post if they can come up with enough funny suggestions!

A Typical Day In India…

Thought I might write about a typical day for me in India. Could be incredibly boring for some, could provide useful information for others…who knows?!

My day usually starts around 9:30 – 10am when the maid comes in and starts cleaning the apartment. You don’t have hot water on demand, so you have to turn the heater on and wait 15 minutes or so before it’s hot enough to have a shower.

When I was in India last time, breakfast consisted of rice and curry (the sauce is called ‘gravy’ in India). But now I have my own place, I’m embracing traditional Western values by having muesli or cereal with fresh orange juice for breakfast 🙂 I plan to start making tea in the morning too, but I haven’t gotten around to buying a kettle yet…

I get to work between 11am and 12 noon, getting there either by car if Aravind stayed over or tuk-tuk if I’m on my own. Trying to get a tuk-tuk is always an experience. The office is located in an area called Nungumbakkam, but thanks to my wonderful British accent, the tuk-tuk drivers simply can’t understand me when I tell them where I want to go.

Getting a tuk-tuk would cost a local about 70-80 rupees, being white, it’s extremely rare for me to get 80 rupees, it’s usually 80-100. For reference, 100 rupees is about £1.25 or $2.50.

I take lunch around 3pm. Sometimes I bring a packed lunch with cheese sandwiches and an apple, or I’ll go down to the sandwich shop below our office (think: Greggs, if anyone is reading this in the UK). If I buy lunch it’s around 60 rupees (£0.75).

Work generally finishes around 8pm and depending on the plan, I’ll either go out to a nice restaurant for dinner or go home and cook some pasta. Going out to a restaurant at a 4/5 star hotel costs about £15 for three people – not too bad!

If I have to make my own way home then the fun and games start all over again with the tuk-tuk drivers. I live in an area called Mandavelli, but once again, I say this word and a look of confused incohesion crosses the drivers face. It’s always an adventure to find out where you’ll wind up at the end of the journey…

…Since I live near Mandavelli station I use that as a local landmark when explaining where I want to get to, but it’s still incredible how many drivers have no idea where it is. This evening for example, I was taken to Mandavelli bus station.

I’ve also just discovered that apparently the way I pronounce ‘Mandavelli’, it sounds like I’m saying ‘head hurting’ in Tamil. That caused a lot of amusement in the office…grrr.

Anyhow, back to dinner and food…

Pasta is rediculously cheap, this evening I went and bought 2 packets of pasta, 2L bottle of coke, some milk and some juice and it came to 110 rupees – about £1.30.

Since they also have Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza here, we’ll occasionally order a pizza, this is a bit more expensive, costing around £4.50 ($9.00) for a medium pizza, 4 slices garlic bread and a bottle of Pepsi. The pizza’s are all made from the same ingredients, so they taste exactly the same over here as they do in England (surprise?!).

In the evenings I’ll kick back and watch TV, I’ve got a nice 32″ widescreen flatscreen TV mounted on the wall with cinema surround sound – it’s all good 😀

Umm, so there you have it, a short ‘day in the life of’ someone living in Chennai. Not all that exciting really, except maybe second guessing where you’ll end up when you climb in to a tuk-tuk!

Playing The Matchmaker

I was inadvertantly playing Cilla Black the other day at the office, let me set the background if I may…

Anand, the CEO of Agriya, the company that I work for has decided that it’s time to get married. Or rather, his parents have decided that it’s time for him to get married – this being India afterall. A hunt up and down the state of Tamil Nadu has uncovered several likely candidates for the marriage.

One of the candidates parents were not keen on the proposed marriage because Anand was the CEO of a ‘small’ company, and to them that meant high risk. They wanted someone who worked for a ‘big’ company like Infosys for their daughter, under the belief that this would provide a more ‘secure’ income.

Keen to prove the daughters parents wrong, Anands parents asked them to come and visit the office and see for themselves that this was a medium sized business that was going strong. They agreed and visited the office the other day.

Unfortunately for Anand, the initial impressions were not good, they saw the downstairs office and were not completely impressed. Then they came upstairs to my office and they did a complete U-turn in their opinion.

The reason?

Agriya has two Westerners working at the office 😀

As soon as they saw me and one other European guy in the office, they changed their mind and said “Agriya must be a big company if white people are working for them”. So after that, it was Game On for the marriage!

See, not only am I doing a wonderful job, I’m also helping office staff to get hitched. I think that deserves a payrise…

Update: Game Off! Cancel everything, the sky is falling, the marriage has been cancelled! 😮 Rumours, hearsay and theories abound.