02 October, 2009
That's his career finished then
No doubt the Righteous will scoff patronizingly and uproariously. Who am I to begrudge them their fun, but I will offer one personal observation.
Much of my final year working for the multinational company whose blushes I will continue to spare by referring to it under the pseudonym Megacorp Inc was spent in training up two young Indian chaps whose task was to learn my job and take it back with them to Bangalore.
Keen and intelligent young men both of them. That it took nine months to complete the "knowledge transfer" to even a barely satisfactory level was less an indictment of their competence as IT professionals (and indeed of mine as a "teacher") than of the fact that the work in question was totally unsuitable for offshoring. But that's another can of worms entirely, and my second-line manager got his bonus, so that's alright then.
Let no one tell you, incidentally, that one of the great advantages of offshoring to India is the country's near-universal English language skills. After daily contact with these two chaps over a period of about nine months, our communication in spoken English was as laboured on the day I left as on the day we met. The fact is that Indian English, the language that Indians use among themselves as a politically neutral lingua franca throughout the Subcontinent, is syntactically, morphologically, lexically and phonetically very different from British English. Other colleagues reported similar experiences, and at least one team, based in Southall and partly staffed by folk who had themselves immigrated to the UK from India as children or young men 30 to 40 years earlier, finally refused to communicate by telphone with their offshore colleagues in Bangalore and Hyderabad, preferring to rely solely on email communications, which could be deciphered at leisure.
Anyway I digress, as ever. These two young chaps were intelligent, keen, patriotic, proud of India's recent progress on the world stage and, as much as they enjoyed their stay in London, keen to return home. Two comments stand out from that time.
The first was when one of "the lads", marvelling at London's vibrant diversity, expressed amazement at how foolish we Brits were to let all these bloody foreigners in, in such uncontrolled numbers and taking the place over. It would not be tolerated in his native Madras.
The second was when the other young Indian turned to me rather shyly one day and formally thanked me, as a representative of the British people, for the good the British had done in India. I am not making this up, and he was deadly serious. It was the British, he said, had among other things created the infrastructure — the railways, the civil service and other administrative structures and, in its localized form, the English language which provided a Subcontinental lingua franca which was politically acceptable in a way that Hindi, say, could not be — the infrastructure that made the modern unitary state of India possible.
Hmmnn... interesting digression.
I spent a couple of years abroad often in the company of Americans. When I first arrived, clearly many of these Americans were completely baffled by my attempts to communicate with them, and I was asked on a number of occasions if I was an Australian.
I adjusted my speech, clearing out all slang and removing glottal stops and so on and by the time I returned to the UK I sounded a bit like a 1970's mid-atlantic radio 1 DJ.
It occured to me that even when Brits and Americans use the same words, I suspect we frequently have completely different associations for them. The end result, is that even when your communication is as neutral and near perfect as possible, Americans will still come away with a slightly diferent meaning than Brits.