Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Day in the Life III

The left lens – the one that serves the more efficient of my partnership of eyes – popped out of my specs on Thursday evening, the screw that held it in place having disintegrated, dematerialised, or whatever - I was not prepared to spend ages trying with my fingertips to locate an item no bigger than a Times New Roman size twelve bold lower-case ‘i’. My heart sinks when something happens to put my reading-glasses out of commission, so utterly do I depend on them. I am long-sighted, and if unspectacled, peer into an aqueous blur that extends some eight feet in front of me. Reading from a page or screen is impossible. On the train Friday morning I squinted miserably at a book through a magnifying glass, the font size appearing at eight in the periphery of my vision, veering up to eighteen in the centre, dwindling back to eight at the opposite end. It was very uncomfortable and I hated everybody around me for talking, chewing and having silly faces - even more than I usual do.

The girl at Boots Opticians in asked ‘did you get them from ourselves here?’ and when I said no, I got them elseways from otherselves, told me she could not repair them and I would have to go to Stamford where I bought them, because they had a lab and would be able to fix them. By the time I got to work I was thoroughly pissed off – couldn’t read anything, operate the photocopier, use a computer or be sure which tea-bags were mine. A colleague printed and photocopied stuff for me as if I were disabled. It’s extraordinary how frustrating it is and how ratty it can make one to have the eyesight one takes for granted temporarily suspended. I wasn’t in the best of moods for teaching.
We had the penultimate session of a twelve-week module on intercultural communication, in which we’ve been looking at what features of human communication are valued or de-emphasised by different cultures, and how, when representatives of different cultures meet on shop-floors and in boardrooms, they can seriously misconstrue each others’ intentions. Here’s an example of the kind of thing we’ve been analysing. Jennifer of Chicago-based Rapacity Technologies is calling Sanjay in India. Sanjay is the manager of one of Rapacity’s vendors for customer service outsourcing.
We really need to get all of the customer service representatives trained on the new process in the next two weeks. Can you get this done?
That timeline is pretty aggressive. Do you think it’s possible?
Well, I think it’ll need some creativity and hard work, but I reckon we can get it done with two or three days to spare
OK, great, let’s get going on that, then. How is everything with you guys?
All’s well, but the monsoons this year are causing a lot of delays. It’s hard getting around the city.
When Jennifer calls back ten days later, she is pissed off to learn that the retraining is less than half complete, while Sanjay is surprised that she is not pleased to hear how many reps have been trained. The problem is that Jennifer is convinced that he agreed to complete the training in the time specified, and Sanjay is just as convinced that he made it quite clear that this was impossible. Jennifer is from a ‘low context’ communication culture where you say what you mean and mean what you say: everything is in the words. When Sanjay said ‘OK’, she assumed she had a done deal, and only then moved on to the chit-chat bit. Sanjay is from a ‘high context’ communication culture. A direct ‘no’ is impolite in India, and so refusal must be communicated via hints dropped throughout an exchange. The hedging about the aggressive timeline and the mention of transport problems because of the monsoon are the hints, and they bypass Jennifer completely. The result is probably that she thinks he’s a lazy bastard and not to be trusted, and he thinks she has the subtlety of a gloved pugilist picking daisies.

So, we looked at yet another cultural train-wreck in which a US company in a joint venture with a Mexican firm
succeeded in antagonising the people of a whole region of Mexico without having a clue how they did it. After a reasonable time for cerebration, I asked the students what they thought had gone wrong.
‘Different cultures’, one of them said. I waited for elaboration, but that was the sum of her contribution and she obviously thought she’d nailed it.
Listen, love, I once had to use a text about yawning with a bunch of teenagers in Kalamata. I asked if they knew why we yawn.
‘Be-caws we are tye-red!’ they said.
OK, I admit I asked for that. They were kids, used to being asked dumb display questions by teachers and were not to know that I was asking if they knew why tiredness should provoke yawning rather than erection, blushing, sneezing or breaking wind. But for fuck’s sake, woman, this is a module for an MA, you’re a graduate student, how can you possibly suppose that that is anywhere near an adequate response to the bloody question? The entire bloody course has been about different bloody cultures, so what a-bloody-bout them?

I know many a Chinese student is unwilling to put herself forward for fear of being thought a show-off, but after so long amongst us, you would think… I dunno. Maybe I’m doing my share of misconstrual here. We were joined for the session by an older lady who introduced herself to me as a visiting academic from the University of Beijing and colleague of Professor Jiaying Feng, the woman who is in charge of the MA. She would like to attend my lecture, she said, as she had heard they were ‘very excellent’. Like most teachers of adult classes, I’m used to assuming that everyone is happy if they are not whinging. Positive feedback is relatively rare, so I was flattered. Then I wondered if the new Chinese lady was merely offering polite, high-context style formulas. Perhaps she was Jiaying’s spy. No, too paranoid. Still, I hadn’t expected the management to be such slime-bags, had I?
I arranged cover and got the 12.18 back to Stamford, hoping my specs would be repaired in situ and not, as I feared from the Boots girl’s reaction, have to be sent away, leaving me blind as a mole for a week. In fact, the repair took approximately three minutes, and this was a huge relief until I realised that by skipping the afternoon’s teaching I had effectively paid fifty-six quid for a screw the size of a Times New Roman size twelve bold lower-case ‘i’.


Sam said...

Steve! I still read your blog posts half way around the world and they still entertain me! I don't miss work in the slightest but I'm happy you've got work on the MA despite the answers to questions seeming to be about as insightful as those received on the IGE!

Vilges Suola said...

Hi Sam, thanks for stopping by. I suppose you need to be reminded periodically of the daily slog that is DMU.We got rid of INTO and the dean has pronounced himself optimistic about the coming academic year - Christ knows on what grounds. Have fun in the Far East!


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