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How to succeed in life without really trying……..

August 28, 2009

I am finally understanding how things work here – well at least a little bit – I still have a ton of questions – but luckily I am not afraid to embarrass myself in the name of learning.

Case in point…

Yesterday I hosted a luncheon. It was a lot of fun and I have pictures so watch for that. But first things first. In order to get ready for it, I had the people who work for us come early. They worked their butts off and made everything wonderful. As you might of read, we had tables delivered so everyone could have a place to sit. The guys who delivered the tables made a mess of the driveway.

Yes, that would be the driveway my guests had to walk down to get to my front door. So it needed to be swept. Sooner than later.

Here is what I learned yesterday. There are very clear delineations as to what exactly everyone will and will not do. Kahn, our driver, drives and keeps the car clean. Laxmi, our cook, cooks and keeps the kitchen clean. Ravi, our house cleaner, cleans and keeps our house clean. The guards, well, apparently they will only guard. And the tent wallas will deliver tables and set them up, but they do not clean up any mess they make.

It really is simple. Kindergartner-level stuff, really.

Well, unless you add an ex-pat to the mix, who doesn’t understand “the way things work” and frankly doesn’t really care. Somewhere along the line I missed the memo.

Kahn, Laxmi, and Ravi have spoiled me. They work together very well as a team. Ravi has made sauce (I want him to learn to cook so his next job will be better) and even Kahn was in the kitchen yesterday cutting up vegetables. Maybe it’s not normal in India – hopefully it is more normal than I have been led to believe – I very much like that it is normal in my house. I like that they like working together and don’t hesitate to pitch in whenever needed.

Ravi was really busy and time was winding down for guests to arrive. I noticed he had not had a chance to sweep yet. So, I asked Laxmi to ask the guard to sweep the driveway. Kahn was by the gate so he could watch the gate for the 3 and a half minutes it would take him.

Did you feel that pull and jerk? Yes, that was the world – it stopped spinning for a minute – I messed with the alignment of the universe. I hope you didn’t spill your coffee – or worse – your wine. Even if it’s Gallo, there’s no need for spillage.

Laxmi tells me that he won’t do it. It is not his job.

Okay a few things…

My American friends are thinking – why didn’t you just do it yourself? The answer to that is – it is well over 100 degrees here and humid as hell and I had already showered. And there are some advantages to living here – I have people – they can do it. Two months ago, I would have agreed with you. Today, I am finally accepting that I can let them do the stuff I don’t like to do and not feel guilty about it.

The guard is not overtaxed with his workload. It’s a long day and a very boring job. He has to open a gate every now and then. From that he has perfected the arm movement he needs to know to sweep. Just longer strokes. Just closer to the ground.

Our driveway is not long. It would have taken him just a couple minutes.

I did not know this was a faux pas.

When Kahn heard the guard said no, Kahn took the broom and swept the driveway. I do know that drivers outrank guards here. How do I know that? Because whenever Kahn is outside with the guard, Kahn gets to sit in the guard booth with the fan and cooler of ice cold water.

As a result, Kahn, Laxmi, and Ravi got a bonus for the outstanding/hard work they did yesterday.

The guard lost his job.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. tapiwa chatikobo permalink
    February 25, 2011 4:12 pm

    sometimes the staff do what they are outside their job descriptions simply because they dont have a choice. why does a domestic worker need to be summoned so many duties compared to other workers in th coporate world. its quiet a shame that the writer cant see how wrong it was for her to order a guard to sweep yet its outside his duties. for him to refuse wasnt a case of insubordination but he was standing for his rights-what his contracrt states out. i think the statement that he refuses while others watched is very misleading. you must hire a person and expect him to do th duties which you had hired them for. i am so sick of people who treat their domestic workers like thrash.

    • February 26, 2011 7:06 pm

      welcome – I invite you to read more than just this post and you will see that I really struggled with having staff and I took many opportunities to help them in many ways – but when your boss is helping get ready for a party, you should be happy to help too. 😎 I did not ask any one to do a single thing that I was not willing to do myself and those who did their jobs got paid a bonus, I fail to see how that is mistreating anyone.

  2. September 3, 2009 11:02 am

    can not believe how many people here agree with how she got things done and fired the poor chap. it was NOT his job. and he probably did a great job of what he was hired to do. and what does he get, he gets fired!! so while you can come here and post a long tale with a super disgusting title “How to succeed in life without really trying”, the poor guard gets fired because apparently he never learnt to succeed in life without really trying. and here’s another lesson for you before you fire another guy because you simply can, the reason he said no is because if you say yes once in India, people think that that’s also your job from then on.

    • September 3, 2009 12:15 pm

      Hi CW and welcome to my blog – please reread the post and comments. I did not understand how things work here. I am still trying to figure out how my jagged puzzle piece fits into the big picture here. I acknowledged that I now know this was not the guard’s job. Although I am still very unclear on why not. And I wouldn’t jump to his defense so quickly on what a great job he was doing otherwise. If he was so fabulous I would have tried to work it out a different way. I guess I fail to see the great horror in sweeping the driveway falling under his responsibility for one day. In America you can often get ahead by doing something extra or anticipating a need – so I am still learning how to work within the rules of India – but unfortunately there is no guidebook – only experience as a teacher.

  3. September 2, 2009 8:43 pm

    This post is really quite funny! I can’t believe he said “no” – I wonder if he would have said no to an Indian family?

    To be honest, casual workers in 3rd world countries have few rights and sometimes people do take advantage of them, but he was silly to have said no. I have found that most expatriates, unlike locals, will offer better compensation and even extra tips for working harder. You gave the others a bonus. A local would not have done that, I suspect. He should have done it for his own benefit. I doubt the guard company that hires him is paying very much.

    In my country, the guards are real guards. i.e. it’s not just about opening the gate. They come armed with poisonous bows, arrows and machetes, ready to defend your life if necessary! It’s the maid who opens the gate during the day when the guards are not there.

    • September 3, 2009 12:03 pm

      I am not sure if he would have said no to an Indian family. Maybe. Apparently the lines are clearly drawn on what his job is. Someone said I should have gotten out the broom and started sweeping just to see what he would have done. That would have been a fun social experiment. Next time. Poisonous arrows would scare me! Stay safe!

  4. Amy permalink
    August 31, 2009 11:35 am

    First, you are an amazing woman with talents, knowledge and compassion at extraordinary levels. I support and respect you, however, believe the guard was wrongfully discharged. Is it true the guard is there for your protection? If an incident occurred while the guard was sweeping the drive, then the authorities would be obligated to fire or prosecute him. Sorry to be the voice of the opposing team. Nice to hear you enjoyed a fun, successful party. Small glimmers of joy are sometimes all that is needed to endure. I cannot imagine your daily trials, but believe God puts us where we need to be to learn a lesson, prepare you for what’s coming, or to be someone’s angel on earth. Written from my safe, comfortable chair in the womb of suburbia.

    • August 31, 2009 9:20 pm

      Hey Amy

      It is so hard to explain the way things work here – especially when I spend most of my time not actually knowing. We asked several Indian people that hubby works with how to handle this – without exception, they said he should be fired. Really, I should have never asked – I did not know that – but he should have done it and then talked to his company about what his role includes. I had our driver at the gate – believe me, he cares much more about protecting us than the guard. The bummer is that all of these conversations happened in Hindi so I will never know what exactly transpired – only that the driveway was swept by our driver. So, the rest of the staff was watching to see if the guard was allowed to say no. Believe me that would set what we call a precedent – and not a good one. Unfortunately, as long as his paycheck came out of my wallet, he should do what I ask within reason. And I cannot even begin to explain how the police work here. Never apologize for sharing an opposing view – if I write it here – I open it up for discussion! Enjoy that womb of suburbia! It’s a very comfortable place indeed! Tell S hello!

  5. August 29, 2009 5:04 pm

    Nice job! Hope your party was fun! I know I’d love it if I had staff to help out when I throw a party.

    • August 30, 2009 12:44 am

      It was actually kind of weird – in a good way – I am used to doing everything myself and enjoy doing it – but I could not just completely stand by and watch – I did my fair share too. πŸ˜‰

  6. August 29, 2009 12:25 pm

    That’s the way to get things done. Only have people around who will do them.

    • August 30, 2009 12:43 am

      My husband said I should not have asked the guard – it isn’t his job – but I am guessing the next guard won’t mind. I had never asked the first guard to do anything extra – never. It really did not seem like a lot to ask. Silly me.

  7. Nancy permalink
    August 29, 2009 10:25 am

    LOVE IT! Love everything about it. You go, girl!

  8. Tottsmom permalink
    August 29, 2009 10:24 am

    I had heard there were very clear lines in the job discriptions on what one would and would not do. I had even heard you had to hire someone extra to do a lowly job like sweeping the drive. So Kudos to Kahn for taking the job in hand. And Kudos to you for not letting the guard try to take advantage of you. Hope the party went well.

    • August 30, 2009 12:41 am

      Apparently the lines are more clearly defined than I realized. And yes, there are street sweepers. And yep, kudos to everyone but the guard.

  9. viksdes permalink
    August 29, 2009 9:33 am

    Hmm super efficient I must say to have 5 people work for are certainly very lucky and perhaps very powerful to find yourself in this position. To be honest you dont see the true picture, the guards, the maids etc are paid what about 50-100 USD range? it isn’t enough to motivate them. Do you honestly believe that your guard or your maid wont get another similar paying job anywhere else or you are doing a favor by having them there? I think in metros of India this certainly is not the case. Also 35 degrees temperature affects Indians and Foreigners alike. Certainly point taken taht people who messed your driveway should have cleaned up but your doorman refusing to clean this mess makes a valid point simply cant be his job!If you want that people in your hose do all things then keep lesser task force but pay each one handsomely and they will oblige you surely.

    • August 30, 2009 12:40 am

      Hi Viksdes – welcome to my blog.
      To be fair, you don’t know me and you have no idea what I pay my staff and/or how well I treat them in other ways. Your estimates of what I pay are not accurate. And, yes, I am lucky – but I am certainly not powerful. Not everyone who works here is full-time. I do not feel that they are lucky to be working for me – but I know they have had opportunities to leave and they have not taken advantage of them. I appreciate them tremendously and am just getting used to having people doing things for me. Again, to be fair, this is not a system I developed. I am just trying to figure out how to function in it. To let people do the things I am used to doing for myself. It is a huge change for me. If you reread this post, you might find that you have missed the idea behind it – it really wasn’t as much about the guard as it was the about the others (notice the title is about succeeding) – the rest of the staff jumped right in and helped each other out – I did not ask them to do that – they saw ways to help each other out and did it – they make a great team and don’t mind working together. The fact that the driver cut up veggies and swept the driveway is a testament to how wonderful they are. Part of the reason the guard was fired was because the other people working their tails off were stunned that he said no when they were doing so much – by the way, I was helping out too – and they were watching to see what would happen next.

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