Today, a conversation over breakfast led me to answer an essential question. If there was one key tool or habit that Indians could learn from Americans, which one would I point towards? And vice versa?
Having now worked in both the US as well as India, I would say, without an iota of hesitation, the willingness to work. Or work ethic. Or just a sincere attitude towards honest, hard work. However we might choose to define. Whatever words might do justice to this concept. Here in America, very rarely have I walked in to an office, any office for that matter, and not been greeted with a smile. (Airlines offices at New York's JFK Airport might be the only exception to the rule.) Otherwise, I have visibly felt the willingness to work in the other person's body language. I have been greeted with eye contact and a smile, and either the matter has been attended to immediately or someone has called me back with details later. In comparison, I have remembered several offices back home and my nightmarish trips to them either to request for interlibrary loan, or to sort out my taxes, or point out an error in the phone bill. And been greeted with disinterested grunts or lackluster attitude.
Do I sound as if I am generalizing? Perhaps, although I will hasten to add that I myself have been fortunate to work with mostly excellent professionals back home. They have been exemplary bosses who have been generous enough to teach me everything I know today about the ideal workplace.
And what can America learn from India? Warmth, hospitality, respect for the older generation. I have never been to a friend's house in India, where the mother has said, "If you are hungry, you can make yourself a sandwich from the fridge." Having lived here for four years, I can see the justification from her point of view. She is being polite and friendly and opening her house to me. But my Indian upbringing wants to jump to the conclusion that she isn't friendly enough, or warm enough or hospitable enough. What kind of casual nonchalance is this, especially towards your guests? Now if it were my own mother greeting any of my friends, she would cook a feast. She would serve the food herself, she would shower questions about the guest's well-being and spare neither money nor effort to ensure their comfort.
On the same note, every time I see exceedingly flippant or disrespectful student attitudes towards teachers, I cringe and think to myself, "This may not have been possible in most Indian universities." Which is not to say that I am naive or foolish enough to assume that Indians never misbehave with authority figures. They do so, I have done so, but our cultural accouterments are such that most of us would think twice before telling a teacher something as banal as, "I missed only three classes this semester. I think it's unfair that I did not get an A!" Where on earth does this sense of entitlement come from?
Nevertheless, I will continue negotiating my twin worlds and although I have been told not to compare, I will allow myself to do so. I think, for me, that will be the easiest way to continue to let my mind grow.