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April 06, 2006

A lighter look at culture and work ethic

There are many extremely "writable" things about Oman, one of which is it's work ethic - which heavily draws from the culture surrounding it. From revealing to amusing to endearing - I present it the way I've experienced it - unedited, and replete with my blinding prejudices!

Quit being fussy!
To start with, I was always amazed at the straight face with which every person (be it the taxi driver, your car cleaner, or your co-worker) asked you your salary. When my initial shock gave way to acceptance of the fact that “it is like that only” – I would pretend as if I haven’t heard. But that became difficult to carry on because the words would then be more purposefully and deliberately thrust onto your face - “How much do you earn?” “Very little”, I then started saying, with a sad face. But I dropped even that line, when a taxi driver asked me in response whether that was because I hadn’t studied beyond high school! So now I say – you guess?? And then go along with whatever his guess is!

Boundarlylessness please...if you may?
All God’s creations are to be valued. All man’s creations are but a meek attempt to reaffirm your existence as a divine instrument. Or something as ambiguous as that, i think. So boundaries, hierarchies, processes exist only to create employment opportunities and provide fertility to the barrenness of the soul. An escalation process? You mean like the ones in those multi-storeyed malls which my children fear to climb onto? Ok..this was a “heightened” (pun intended) exaggeration. But the spirit of "seamlessness" does burst your seams when your planned day is intermittent with random stuff that were never meant for you in the first place. Or that would never need to come to you if the process was followed.

We are all God’s children
I’ve never felt so bonded / “related” even in family weddings – every other person adopts you as his / her “sister” or “daughter” – and there you go! That’s the beginning of many concessions that he would want you to make for him! And how much can you do in the name of "love for the family?"

If I really peel off the part that is amusing and light hearted, I think what touches me most about this culture is its unpretensiousness. Back home, there are too many trappings that we get caught in - and sometimes we need to go through extensive de-layering to recognize an individual for what he really is.
On the flip side of course, unpretentiousness also calls for a misplaced emphasis on simplicity, when the situation calls for a slightly more complex analysis (I know I’m being very kind in using these words). As individuals and corporates struggle to synthesize paradoxes, this simplicity would be rudimentary and obstructive to growth

I also struggle with fatalism brought into decision making situations (be they tactical or strategic), exemplified by stances such as “it will happen, God willing”. I mean….I also “prayed”…..every Wednesday morning…when TIMES ASCENT hit the stands – “Dear God – let this ad create the magic that I so desperately need this month!”…..BUT!
Initially, I would pass off these stances as nothing more than casual remarks – but I think it is much more deep-rooted than that, deriving from a total belief in a third entity – call it God, call it destiny / fate / luck. I too am i believer– but I rarely (actually never) use my belief as a cushion that will make my fall hurt less, and these ones particularly are a bit too soft for my comfort. Give me the hurt any day.

But then that’s the thing about culture right – if I start using my frames of reference, I will ALWAYS make judgements. For example, who decides that it is not appropriate to ask or answer questions relating to one’s salary? If you ask me, it’s grown out of our own refusal to engage with inequities which will most definitely remain in the system. And this slowly acquired connotations of “etiquette”, “personal space”, and the likes. So its ok to ask questions on marital status and family background because that’s not personal? Highly debatable – all these things. Here is a culture that is less fussier about acknowledging these inequities. Does that make them socially naïve? (As an aside – in any case, all employees have a standing joke about their colleagues' / boss' salaries, which is – “I won’t ask you, coz I already know!)

And so..as Gautam beautifully put it in a comment on one of my previous posts - "When faced with a divergence, its not about leaving a path, but about continuing a journey." Amen to that.


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