Monday, 23 November 2015

God Bless America: Part II

I am happy no one asked me the reason for the caption. I would like to clarify. 

During these 4 months and about 10,000 miles of travel within the country to experience numerous attractions, one common thread was conspicuously visible. Americans are proud of what they have done and demonstrate the pride without inhibitions. Be it a Base ball game, a Football game, a video detailing Caves or journey of a space craft retired, you will listen to “God Bless America”, their National patriotic song written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised by him in 1938. The later version has been recorded by Kate Smith, becoming her signature song. The song is in form of a prayer ("as we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer") for God's blessing and peace for the nation ("...stand beside her and guide her through the night..."). (Source: Wikipedia)

I thought I can only say that after the travel.

Early comments have given me encouragement and some direction. I realize, my friends may be more interested in what I have learnt. Let me assure you, theories and studies I am talking about will only help all of us appreciate realities better.

Appraisal of others’ behavior is a common human tendency. And when we write about what we observed, it is also a kind of appraisal. It is essential that all appraisals are more objective to be effective. I would therefore intermittently present the dimensions on which group, team, organizational and national cultures can be objectively understood, characterized and profiled drawing from the literature. It may be good to agree that in areas of sociology, theories are critical and sound observations made by intelligent people in the past and therefore are relevant.

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory is one such framework for characterizing national cultures in relativity, developed by Geert Hofstede. Hofstede developed his original model to examine the results of a world-wide survey of 'employee values' by IBM between 1967 and 1973. The theory was one of the first that could be quantified, and could be used to explain observed differences between cultures.

The Hofstede’s model of national culture consists of six dimensions. The cultural dimensions represent independent preferences that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other. The country scores on the dimensions are relative. In other words, culture can be only used meaningfully by comparison. I would while bringing forth the cultural parameters try to relate our experiences and my observations. 

Now, all generalizations are wrong (including this one) and as such at times I may tend to over generalize. Please take it with a pinch of salt.

First the Hofstede’s dimension number one:

Power Distance:
This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept that it is perfectly in order if power is distributed unequally. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance (India scores 77 against USA’s score of 40) accept a hierarchical order. Our cast system could be at the root of such acceptance. Our society accepts differences and even stereotypes such unequal groups. In societies with comparative low Power Distance like USA, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

We did experience the power equality in day to day life during our stay.

At home, in India, Artisans who are engaged for repairs and maintenance of household equipment or structures at home, are treated, by most owners of the properties, with disdain. Now, this can be a sweeping generalization and may not be true for some. But such cases are exceptions and not norm. A meson or a carpenter or a vehicle mechanic or a driver or a plumber, notwithstanding that he is invited for jobs, will wait outside our place and may be allowed to enter homes after clear instructions. He would remove his shoes. He will not smoke while on premises. He will request for water, hesitatingly. He will eat, if at all something is offered, going out of the house and making sure no one sees him. This is normal and in line with the cast system we are inherited with.

Reduced power distance in US means such artisans are treated as equals. They will give appointment or take appointment. They will come by their own car. They will carry their food, drink and even their portable oven to heat their food. They will enter house inquiring how has the day been for the service receiver and may be, sit on the chair, if you need to discuss issues, without asking you, of course. He will not expect to be fed. He will be able to discuss not just the job but will have opinion about guns control, drugs control, presidential elections, you name the topic.

A host described, what is ultimate proof of low power distance. They were consulting a world renowned doctor for a child’s eye condition. The doctor an Indian, was so close that he insisted them to stay with him at his house during their visits to the town for consultation and treatment. He would ensure the guests are in company always. It was on one of those days that the doctor informed the guests that he will not be able to give them company. The reason was, he had to take a carpenter, who was working for hospital, to lunch. 

Can we ever think of treating a service provider with lunch or dinner?

More to follow. Please stop me if I am incoherent. Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

“God Bless America” : Part I

I am privileged to have people around me who are highly appreciative of what I do. Such appreciative groups have their expectations as well. At least I believe so. I believe they do expect me to write down what did I learn from our recent tour of United States of America. Even those who may not expect, I feel will certainly appreciate if I write down learning from the visit.

It is imperative, I evaluate the benefits for the cost, not just to me but to my hosts as well, incurred.

It was planned and much tom-tommed-about tour, as is my way of doing things. Many would inform, about such travels, only those who need to know, at the last minute. Some may not even inform. I believe I must announce my plans well in advance and let all those who matter know what I am conspiring to do. This strategy has multiple benefits. We get all the advice we need to have upfront, and we are prepared for all the adversities we may encounter. Planning for the tour started, I remember, immediately after a milestone of marriage of the younger one was reached, in February 2015.

Even before we left on July 11th, as is a habit, I pondered over what should be areas of interest during any such planned, prolonged and pricey travel. And it struck me that cultural differences is normally the talking point when ever relatives from such far away, modernized places visit us. And so comparing cultures was obvious topic of study. 

I have learnt, though not in an organized way, culture is what you see, feel and experience in the communities. I did look for more standard definitions and zeroed on:

Culture (noun)
1. The ideas, customs, values, and social behavior of a particular people or society.
2. The arts, artifacts, systems, processes and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

I was conscious, all these four months, to note these aspects where ever we went. 

I feel, before I start elaborating on my observations, it will be of interest to students of sociology and humanities, if I present findings of some studies, which will perhaps explain my observations as well.

Besides, when you are visiting a place which is allowing you to travel and hosts you, while narrating experiences the challenge is to ensure you do not hurt the popular sentiments and at the same time present your views objectively and dispassionately. In order to be objective in my narration, I looked for quantitative studies and thought of relating ground level experiences with the findings of the studies.

In order to ensure I do not become a bore and drive my friends away from reading this monologue, I plan to cover various aspects in following order, in future posts:

·         Theoretical aspects and findings of studies describing national cultures;
·         Comparison of Indian and American culture by scholars keeping the dimensions used for study in view;
·         My observations related to cultural dimensions keeping definition of culture in focus;
·         My learning from the tour for the benefits of those younger ones who plan to visit or migrate.

Your comments are welcome, as usual. They will help me cast my narratives better.