Rabu, 16 April 2014

No emails after 6 PM please; we are French

If ever there was  a misleading post title - this is one. But I am feeling mischievous, and since when has journalistic puritanism been required in a blog ! So read on.

You may have caught the "news item" with exaggerated headlines which seemed to imply that the French had banned reading emails after 6 PM. The trouble was that they did no such thing.  What they did was a collective bargaining agreement for independent contract workers which insisted that they be given a day off after 7 days and that after 13 hours of work a day they were allowed to "disconnect communication tools".  Nowhere did it say they wouldn't read emails after 6 PM.

But the point is that the news item was entirely believable, given the stereotype of the French worker as lazy and prone to long lunches. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The French work as hard as anybody else, at least in the private sector. I worked in a French company for a while - I should know. But the trouble is that with news like the 35 hour work week, draconian union rights, etc etc, the French have an image  of laziness and so anything that reinforces that stereotype is easily believed.

Stereotypes abound in business.  How often have I been asked in immigration counters in various countries if I "was in IT" ? The stereotype of an Indian foreign traveler is that of a coder. And if you are traveling to Australia, the stereotype is that you are not only a coder but are smuggling in 74 packets of every spice known on earth, 4 varieties of murukkus, 18 sweets, etc etc.

The Chinese business stereotype is that of an untrustworthy shifty individual who is out to steal your secrets. The worker stereotype is of a guy or a girl willing to work endless hours in poor conditions for a pittance.  The supplier stereotype is of somebody who can deliver poor quality at incredibly low prices. All three stereotypes are now largely wrong. 

The German stereotype is of precision and excellence in making things. Manufacturing genius. Balderdash now. German "quality" is nothing to write home about. Anybody who owns a Volkswagen car in India should know.

The American stereotype is of a loud bully who knows nothing about the world outside his home town. Again grossly wrong. If ever there was a collectively internationally savvy business race, it is the American. Notice that I refer only to the business community. Jane Doe , despite being a starlet,  might think Europe is a country.

Think of the Nigerian stereotype of utter corruption and email finance scams. Again this is increasingly becoming  untrue. Nigeria recently became the biggest economy in the continent displacing South Africa, admittedly by some jiggery pokery, but you now HAVE to do business in Nigeria if you want to be a global player and it is not that corrupt.

The trouble with stereotypes is that they are so hard to shake off. The brand gets sullied for a long time if the stereotype is negative (a la France or Nigeria) and gets undeserving benefit if it is positive (a la Germany). By that yardstick, perhaps the Indian stereotype of a coder is not so bad. At least it has the connotation of being "brainy" as one immigration officer in the US told me !

Actually widely differing, and wrong, stereotypes abound inside India. The Bong is a long winded lazy bum. The Punjabi is loud and crass. The "Golti" is doing M Tech to maximise dowry. The Kannadiga is sleeping after a large dose of ragi mudde. The Mallu is either coming from or going to the Gulf, but will not work inside his state. The Gujju is out to make money and nothing else.  The Tamil exists solely on curd rice. The sisters from the North East are all "chinkies  of easy morals"  (what a horrible, awful, wrong and offensive stereotype). But all that is forgotten when we step outside and land in a foreign shore. We then become a "brainy coder". Three cheers to the ignorant immigration officer in the West for forging an absent national unity, at least in  stereotype !
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