India is a Hair Salon

January 17th, 2008

Yesterday as I was choosing how to get my hairs cut- there are only two styles here- feather cut and step cut- I came to the realization that all of Indian conversation functions like conversations in a stereotypical beauty parlor in the US.

I’m talking about a parlor in a neighborhood, not one of those ritzy spas (that I long for…) where everyone wears black and talks in a falsely soothing voice. You know the scene- people come in and out of the beauty parlor, some are regulars, some are walk-ins, and some are friends of friends. They all know the same people cause they’re from the same neighborhood. So they talk about eachother, it’s loud and busy and gossippy and full of that energy where work combines with chit chat and bits of information about other peoples’ lives are traded like valuable jewels. Whoever has the most juicy information is suddenly the most popular and the same stories get told over and over again.

This is a lot like the conversations that happen in households here. People from the neighborhood may just drop in at any time and trade secrets and stories, updates about who just had a love marriage, who failed out of college, who is trying to go abroad and who burned their chapatis. The best story-tellers are loud, talk with their hands and eyes, and make the subject of the story as dramatic as possible. There is no penalty for exaggeration or harsh treatment of someone else’s delicate tale. Bring it on sister is the motto.

Ever since I got here I’ve been fascinated by the way people talk here- not physically how they talk but what they’re talking about. It all seems so inconsequential- who often the people next door eat meat? - but that’s how they talk. And the same stories get repeated over and over and over again.

So for those of you who can’t experience this first hand, hang out at a neighborhood parlor and see if you can get a feel for that, then add in bright clothing and the smells of a curry simmering away in the background, and what you’ve got is pretty darn close to the real thing.


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    This Blog is a collection of my thoughts about culture - my background and culture, growing up between multiple worlds, organizational culture - how we can shift the "feel" of organizations by the choices we make, and cultural competency- understanding eachother better to make better decisions and form meaningful community.

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