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Accent and diction? How will that lead to a career?
July 6, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

"America?" he says. "I'll tell you about America. America is not all honey and roses the way they tell you. Truth is, 90 percent of the people there, you will find, they'll do the most stupid things, impulsive things. I know for a fact. At the same time, Americans are bighearted people, and the remaining 10 percent of them are smart. Bloody smart. That's why they rule the world."

An American spends a summer at an Indian call center, learning how Indians are taught to submerge their Indian-ness to infiltrate western culture, about the illusions their contact with foreigners can dispel, and about the ambivalence of being on the receiving end of global outsourcing in a booming economy.
posted by Naberius (90 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
In many ways that article was both terrifying and revealing as to the cheap labor in less developed countries. At 2 dollars an hour (to Indian workers who consider it a middle class wage), it's no wonder almost all Western countries are opting to outsource these jobs. Welcome to the 21st century.
posted by CreativeUsername at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2011


and the remaining 10 percent of them are smart powerful. Bloody smart powerful. That's why they rule the world.

Now I'm not offended.
posted by Rykey at 9:41 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


In many ways that article was both terrifying and revealing as to the cheap labor in less developed countries. At 2 dollars an hour (to Indian workers who consider it a middle class wage), it's no wonder almost all Western countries are opting to outsource these jobs. Welcome to the 21st century.'

You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.
posted by ghharr at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


Somebody get this brilliant kid a great job.
posted by nickyskye at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.

How is this not a distinction without a difference?
posted by clockzero at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2011


Truth is, 90 percent of the people there, you will find, they'll do the most stupid things, impulsive things.

Sturgeon's Law
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.

An even more accurate / useful way of putting it is, "Our country is rich, their country is poor."
posted by straight at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


An even more accurate / useful way of putting it is, "Our country is rich, their country is poor."

That's not the same thing. A rich, moral country would not exploit the poor country.
posted by DU at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not the same thing. A rich, moral country would not exploit the poor country.

Being rich has rarely, if ever, gone hand-in-hand with being moral.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2011 [18 favorites]


India isn't cheap labour any more. One UK company is bringing its call centre back to the UK, because it's worked out that it's cheaper to pay UK minimum wage than the increasing costs of operating in India.
posted by essexjan at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.

How is this not a distinction without a difference?


"Cheap" connotes exploitation. Are middle-class-level local wages necessarily exploitative?
posted by Etrigan at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The casual throwaway line about phishing was interesting.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 AM on July 6, 2011


It's all well and good for India until jobs there get outsourced to Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where labor is even more cheap
posted by Renoroc at 9:54 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


CALL CENTERS also operate offshore. Many Americans, unable to understand directions given in "foreign" English, get annoyed, so that now Dell, always helpful, for an extra hundred bucks will give you an American for tech help. Don't pay it? You get foreign tech help.
posted by Postroad at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2011


That's not the same thing. A rich, moral country would not exploit the poor country.

I doubt there is even one example of a rich, moral country. Also, I don't think the country is taking advantage, the companies are. A major distinction there. On top of that, this is generally seen as a good thing for developing nations, no?
posted by dave78981 at 10:01 AM on July 6, 2011


"Go on, ask yourself, was it 20 or 30%, your not sure because you blew a wad a money on world-wide security, then there was the housing scam, ya 10% right there, punk.
So ask youeself, do you feel like 10%, DO YA"
posted by clavdivs at 10:02 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]




"Cheap" connotes exploitation. Are middle-class-level local wages necessarily exploitative?


They are if the CEOs or management are making orders of magnitude more than the workers. Which you can bet they are.
posted by lalochezia at 10:04 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


The trouble with these Indian call centres has very little to do with how they pronounce their R's and whether they know random Western facts, and everything to do with the fact that as soon as you ask a question or make any statement which is off of their pre-prepared check-list, the whole facade falls to pieces.

I'd gladly deal with any call centre that can, crucially, fix whatever problem it is that I have. I don't care where they are and what language they speak, provided that the conversation we have is fully comprehended on both sides.
posted by metaxa at 10:05 AM on July 6, 2011 [22 favorites]


I used to work for a call centre that did Apple tech support. If you need help with your Mac there's a strong chance you'll be talking to somebody in Peterborough, Ontario, a hollowed out former industrial town. This was a small Canadian outsourcing company that got purchased by a bigger one, crushing one union drive along the way. The company was bought out by an Indian firm. From what I hear, the main change has been a rise in ruthless stat management and useless executives.

I remember the day we broke standing performance records because, due to a screwup in scheduling, nobody higher up than a team lead showed up at the office -- and half of them were gone. Later, an agent was reprimanded for chuckling and pointing this out.
posted by mobunited at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


That isn't exactly a problem unique to Indian call centers .
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:09 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I always wonder about this "bighearted Americans" trope. Not that I haven't met generous Americans...but 1. generosity everywhere is situational; 2. we do not actually have one of those peasanty, being-a-host-is-an-ethical-responsibility cultures, we have a "hard work and virtue will get you ahead; if you're poor it's because you're lazy" culture; and 3. we have one of the most punitive and unequal legal systems possible in the developed world, plus no social safety net. If that's "big-hearted", I'd hate to see our scrooges.

Americans (if you can taken us as a people) - and I include myself - are sentimental and controlling, with short memories.
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't think the country is taking advantage, the companies are. A major distinction there.

The countries have the option of restraining the companies but decline to do so.
posted by DU at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.

How is this not a distinction without a difference?


Because the inversion implies that the expensive workers, rather than the cheap workers, are the "problem" that is going to be eradicated in the future.
posted by orange swan at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sorry what I meant to say was:

The trouble with these Indian call centres ....the fact that as soon as you ask a question or make any statement which is off of their pre-prepared check-list, the whole facade falls to pieces.

That isn't exactly a problem unique to Indian call centers .
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am fascinated by this. I recently watch the movie Outsourced, and its been preying on my mind ever since, and this (very interesting) article just adds to it. It so easy to be dismissive, but these are often bright educated people doing a very dumb, very odd job. I need to track down more. Anyone have a well written book on the subject? Not the politics or economics, but the people side of it.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That isn't exactly a problem unique to Indian call centers .

Perhaps my point wasn't clear enough. It's nothing to do with where the call centre is. It's about comprehension - if the call centre operative can't understand what you're asking about, there's not a lot you can do.
posted by metaxa at 10:13 AM on July 6, 2011


I worked in an insurance company call center in the US in the 1980s and except for the fact that I didn't have to live in a workers hostel it wasn't all that different. Speak clearly, try to drop your Philly accent and sound middle American, never use slang or jargon.

Some people are extremely rude and abusive, most are OK. A few are extremely nice and send you chocolates from Hawaii.

If I'd talked to a customer about their medical problems for 45 minutes I would have been fired. Every call was on a timed quota. They sucker you in with promises of moving up in the company to a better job. After a year or so I realized that was never going to happen and I quit. It was the worst job I've ever had.
posted by interplanetjanet at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not just unskilled labor that will feel the pinch of outsourcing. Increasingly, legal and scientific work is moving overseas. Given current trends, in ten or fifteen years America will have only three types of people: upper-level managers, low-wage service workers, and the unemployed.

And since someone is bound to counter: You mean like it is right now?

Yes. Only worse.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:18 AM on July 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


I doubt there is even one example of a rich, moral country. Also, I don't think the country is taking advantage, the companies are. A major distinction there. On top of that, this is generally seen as a good thing for developing nations, no?

I hope so, the US is heading towards developing world status.
posted by dibblda at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2011


2. we do not actually have one of those peasanty, being-a-host-is-an-ethical-responsibility cultures, we have a "hard work and virtue will get you ahead; if you're poor it's because you're lazy" culture

Those two ideas reflect different aspects of culture, one is about how you treat guests in your home, the other is about how you treat poor people. I'm also not sure where you get the idea that Americans don't view being a good host as an ethical responsibility, I've known plenty who do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2011


The countries have the option of restraining the companies but decline to do so.

Isn't that up to India to regulate? I mean, the companies are multi-national. How would it be feasible for the US, or any Western nation, to restrict what they do?

Also, isn't this seen as a generally good thing for India? This is opportunity to break out of poverty and rescue your family while you're at it. I think for America and other Western countries where the labor force is adversely impacted, it's much worse.
posted by dave78981 at 10:21 AM on July 6, 2011


A rich, moral country would not exploit the poor country.

I failed to find a single thing in that article I would describe as "exploitative" other than the phishing scam. And, potentially, the way that the call center employees and, by implication, employers, seemed to view America and Australia as populated mainly by ignorant, manipulable idiots.

We laugh at them for working for so little. They laugh at us for paying so much. Who's exploiting whom?
posted by valkyryn at 10:25 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who's exploiting whom?

The bosses, wherever they are.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


My friend from New Delhi was calling tech support for her computer and heard people speaking Hindi in the background. The tech support person refused to speak Hindi with her and kept insisting his name was Chris.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:30 AM on July 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, isn't this seen as a generally good thing for India? This is opportunity to break out of poverty and rescue your family while you're at it.
Albert Schweitzer, who knew well the economic situation in the colonies of Africa, wrote nearly sixty years ago: “Whenever the timber trade is good, permanent famine reigns in the Ogowe region because the villagers abandon their farms to fell as many trees as possible.” We should notice especially that the goal of production was “as many…as possible.” And Schweitzer makes my point exactly: “These people could achieve true wealth if they could develop their agriculture and trade to meet their own needs.” Instead they produced timber for export to “the world economy,” which made them dependent upon imported goods that they bought with money earned from their exports. They gave up their local means of subsistence, and imposed the false standard of a foreign demand (“as many trees as possible”) upon their forests. They thus became helplessly dependent on an economy over which they had no control.
This is of course different, given that we're not talking about resource extraction, but I think there's a potential analogue... particularly if the investment in serving a foreign market leads to a famine of local services. I don't know if that's the case in India, however.
posted by weston at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Live support chat" that connects to a computer program pretending to be a human with a name, programmed with hit-or-miss responses that tend to lead you in circles - this is my new favorite version of "support." If your "contact us" tab takes you to one of those pulling that crap during business hours, You might as well just post a useless outdated FAQ.
posted by longsleeves at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Workers at Indian call centers now sound like the Mac computer voice. That is, I assume they are Indian - due to the bizarre nature of the accent it is often impossible to tell.

Also, if you object to someone else doing a job you would find distasteful at a wage that you would find distasteful, while they have a different view of it, that's not a moral objection, that's an aesthetic objection.
posted by subdee at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2011


Only the most doctrinaire and unimaginative party-line leftist (which is to say DU) could possibly frame this as a simple example of a rich country exploiting a poor one. The Indian call center workers getting what they see as highly desirable middle class jobs certainly aren't being exploited by any conceivable rubric, unless you believe that all wage-labor is exploitation. If anybody is being exploited it's the first-world call center workers whose jobs are disappearing - because there is absolute global mobility of capital and so little mobility of labor, they don't even have the option to follow the work, and in the US they're certainly not getting adequate retraining into a new line of work.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:38 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]



My friend from New Delhi was calling tech support for her computer and heard people speaking Hindi in the background. The tech support person refused to speak Hindi with her and kept insisting his name was Chris.


Yeah. You know why? Because he probably would have been fired for doing so. Calls are recorded.
posted by spicynuts at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


The Indian call center workers getting what they see as highly desirable middle class jobs certainly aren't being exploited by any conceivable rubric, unless you believe that all wage-labor is exploitation.

And not surprisingly, since it's Mother Jones, the author of the article (or his editors) did their damnedest to spin this as 'money doesn't buy happiness'. Everyone interviewed is jaded.
posted by spicynuts at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2011


100% of that 90% think they're in the 10%.
posted by tommasz at 10:55 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I see a doctor who is originally from New Delhi. She told me that her husband teases Indian call center workers. "Your name is not Jennifer! Your mother has never called you that!", he says to them in Hindi.

I try to be nice to anyone who is helping me. It is frustrating when I can't understand someone, but my frustration is not due to the fact that the person is Indian. They didn't ask the multinationals to gut the American middle class.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I really liked this article! Thanks for posting it!
posted by rebent at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2011


If 90% weren't doing such stupid things, the call centers would probably still be in the US.
posted by Ardiril at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two things in the article:

Arjuna told me that he spent the first half of 2003 raising funds for the GOP. As an employee of the outsourcing firm HCL, he called registered Republicans all over the United States to solicit donations. (That September, the conservative site WorldNetDaily, citing an Indian press report, reported that HCL was raising money for the "US Republican Party." The Republican National Committee insisted that the story was false. Later, as it happened, the FEC sued a Texas-based group called the Republican Victory Committee—which employed a Delhi call center called Apex to do its fundraising—for falsely claiming that it represented the party.)

Hot damn.

With his pomaded hair, pearly white teeth, and habit of clapping me genially on the back, Arnab could have passed for a US congressman. Only after several conversations did I learn that as a doctoral student at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, he had been a Marxist student activist. He worked in BPOs because his family needed money, but his dream was to organize the workers. "Not all at once," he said. "Just steadily, over time, I'm thinking how to bring down the system from the inside. Meantime, I'm happy to cash their paycheck."

Double hot damn.

I really enjoyed the article.

I'm still trying to take it in, because it does seem that outsourcing has provided a better standard of living for some people in the developing world, while dramatically reducing the standard of living for the working class in the first world. The ultimate result, in my opinion, is an endless back and forth where you use one population of workers against the other in an unending effort to lower the cost of labor. I suppose, in the fevered wet dreams of a free market zealot like Thomas Friedman, at some point this reduces the cost of living, the cost of services, and the cost of operation to a point where everyone is happy across the globe - but, functionally, I don't see that happening.

The by-product of this is that people who would've been subsistence farmers in an earlier time are now professional Americans (or Australians), but the price of the outsourcing is that the very consumer class you're striving to serve with your call centers suddenly has less and less money to patronize those call centers. It's a strange calculus.
posted by codacorolla at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


>>You've got it backwards. They're not cheap labor, you're expensive labor.

>How is this not a distinction without a difference?


One way of looking at it, I guess: there are a lot more Indians than Americans, and far more of the world is at an Indian level of income than an American one. So in that sense, we are the outliers. Most people in the world would regard $2/hour as a very good wage, whereas you or I would starve on that wage. The norm is $2, we are the exception.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:09 AM on July 6, 2011


It's not just unskilled labor that will feel the pinch of outsourcing. Increasingly, legal and scientific work is moving overseas. Given current trends, in ten or fifteen years America will have only three types of people: upper-level managers, low-wage service workers, and the unemployed.

Well, a lot of jobs will be in the service industry for rich people, and those aren't necessarily low wage. Chef, masseuse, auto mechanic, interior designer. Hands-on expertise that can't be outsourced, that's your new middle class. The 'intellectual' jobs will continue to go to where they educate children better than we do. Matt Yglesias talks about this kind of thing a lot.
posted by Kwine at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2011


One UK company is bringing its call centre back to the UK, because it's worked out that it's cheaper to pay UK minimum wage than the increasing costs of operating in India.

Having worked in call centers at a higher level than "agent" I can tell you that this isn't a "cure-all." Having dealt with agents around the world, I'll take Canadians (they are just SO nice) or Indian Second Tier agents (get the job done fast) over anyone else.

The wage factor is only one consideration when it comes to companies picking out which call center they are going to use. Most companies no longer consider the call center a cost so much as they consider is a business opportunity. The big corporations largely make money off of tech support, not lose. Virtually every agent is held to a standard of RPC, or revenue per call. That is, revenue generated from the call, be it for customer service or tech support. If I had an agent who had a 30% customer satisfaction rating, mediocre attendance, poor quality scores and a $15.00 RPC they would never get fired. Conversely the agent with 95% customer sat, perfect attendance, 95% quality scores and $2.00 RPC that agent would be the first to get laid off.

Company X knows that the agent based in India is going to have an overall cost around 30-50% of that of a US agent, taking into account all of the overhead: wages, international lines and trunks, location build-out, transportation, etc. Also, because of the language and cultural difficulties, an Indian agent is expected to do worse than the US agent for sales. The RPC expected in the contractual agreements will vary accordingly. An Indian agent may only have an RPC expected on a tech support contract of $4.00/call where an American/Canadian agent would have $7.00-8.00/call.

The other factor is in overall call satisfaction. Despite all of the people that bitch repeatedly about how they don't get help from the off-shore agents, numbers don't lie: Indian and Filipino agents consistently get higher customer satisfaction ratings. Why? They've been trained to do it. I worked with senior-level agents at a Manila call center who came over to train US agents. The Filipino agents had gone through a standard education, and then spent four years at a university to learn more English and call center skills. The four years spent at university would probably equate to the last two years of high school plus community college in the US, or grades 11-13 in Canada. My US agents? Most barely made it through high school or dropped out and got a GED. Most had ugly criminal records (thank you internet).

So what does this all mean for the western world end user? If you get a US agent, you get an agent who speaks conversational English as a first language, and will make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, and not get your computer/printer/whatever fixed. Also, the US agent needs to sell twice as much as the offshore agent just to keep their job. I'm sure the extended warranty you got suckered into purchased will be worth it. If you get an offshore agent, you'll get someone who won't give you the warm and fuzzies, but will know what they are doing inside and out. If they don't know what they are doing, odds are they have a Tier 2 agent who does.

As for the companies, they mix and match the onshore and offshore accordingly. The positions that need warm and fuzzy feelings get US agents (think executive level customer support or escalation departments). Dell will sell you US tech support, even though they know ultimately that you won't necessarily get better service, just to make an extra $100 on a sale. That $100 doesn't go to the wage of the call center agent. The agents pay for themselves. The $100 goes to a VP's bonus.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2011 [21 favorites]


Well, a lot of jobs will be in the service industry for rich people, and those aren't necessarily low wage. Chef, masseuse, auto mechanic, interior designer. Hands-on expertise that can't be outsourced, that's your new middle class. The 'intellectual' jobs will continue to go to where they educate children better than we do. Matt Yglesias talks about this kind of thing a lot.

That's the basic argument that Pink makes in A Whole New Mind. I don't know if I buy it - and if it is true, then I don't see how it's a good thing.

Also, I don't know that it's necessarily about education in itself. You hear all of the hype around the Chinese and Indian education systems (the typical joke being from the Simpsons, where Apu was a brilliant computer programmer and came to America to be a convenience store clerk, while Homer Simpson is a dolt, and somehow in control of the computerized safety system at a Nuclear Plant), but I think the reality of it is that we don't often see the poor and uneducated of developing nations because they aren't visible populations. Outside of poverty tourism, and the occasional special interest piece, we only see the bright and highly educated.
posted by codacorolla at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Almost everyone had worked in a process doing "hardcore sales," which made me imagine a porno starring Willy Loman.

This made me lol.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:49 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, a lot of jobs will be in the service industry for rich people, and those aren't necessarily low wage. Chef, masseuse, auto mechanic, interior designer. Hands-on expertise that can't be outsourced, that's your new middle class.

Not really. Most of those jobs will exist for only so long as a middle class exists because those industries rose along with the middle class. There will be a few people serving on the high end, but probably not enough to sustain the entire service industry. If the middle class collapses, the service industries will go with it.
posted by Hylas at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the article. It gave me a better insight to why I was the only American in my masters program amongst mostly Indians and Nepalese. Why else would someone from India or Nepal want to move to Minnesota of all places? (Don't get me wrong, I love my state. I just am very surprised on how anyone even hears about it sometimes.)

(The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent my employer.)
I'm an American who works for a software company owned by a Western European company. Our software is increasingly being used in this company's sites. Are *we* the outsourced $2/hour workers compared to the Western European company's Euro-paid workers? Absolutely. I am paid a fair middle-class wage for my work. Compared to a similar programmer in, say, London or Paris, I make half of what they make. But, as it is now summer and my limited view of European cultures includes seeing how many holidays and vacation days my Western European cohorts receive - especially in the summer - that we in the USA don't necessarily receive, it could be ballpark comparable to 50 hour weeks in Dehli and 40 hour weeks in the USA.

The only issue we really have is support. Which is why I specified Western European for the company I work for. For their support, instead they outsourced it to Eastern European people whose currency is significantly lower valued than the Euro. Yet it is still considered a fair middle-class wage for their work in their country.

It makes business sense.
posted by jillithd at 11:57 AM on July 6, 2011


A colleague of mine wrote her dissertation on call centers after working in one for quite a long time. Some of her work and thoughts can be found here: I highly recommend her work; she takes what could be an infinitely boring subject and explores its twists and turns in very unexpected ways.
posted by Polyhymnia at 12:04 PM on July 6, 2011


Sorry, messed up that link!
posted by Polyhymnia at 12:05 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being rich has rarely, if ever, gone hand-in-hand with being moral.

Being poor doesn't go hand-in-hand with being moral either.
posted by storybored at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Read the article after commenting above. Paying other people less than what you would accept is still not exploitation, but damn if there isn't something sad about the attempt to re-educate the workforce. Imagine if the people trying to do that were more effective than they are.
posted by subdee at 12:49 PM on July 6, 2011


Also, I don't know that it's necessarily about education in itself. You hear all of the hype around the Chinese and Indian education systems

The outcomes from the Indian education system are very bi-modal. Sure India produces a lot of PhDs, but there are also more illiterates in India than there are people in the United States.
posted by atrazine at 1:20 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


TFA: "once people move out of poverty, increasing wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness"
Lars: Some things are more important than money, Ernie.
Ernie: Notice it's always the financially challenged who say that. [Mousehunt]
Well, not "always", but I can't think of a single rich person who gave up his wealth to the point of being considered merely "out of poverty" or even just "upper middle class".
posted by vidur at 1:32 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


On Australia: "Technologically speaking, they're somewhat backward, as well. The average person's mobile would be no better than, say, a Nokia 3110 classic."

A more nuanced perspective is available here, written by Matt Wade, an Australian journalist who lived in India for several years before returning to Sydney, where he was "stunned at the cost of telecommunications".
posted by vidur at 1:36 PM on July 6, 2011


America will always have tons of stupid to export and let someone else deal with it.
posted by Ardiril at 1:53 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, not "always", but I can't think of a single rich person who gave up his wealth to the point of being considered merely "out of poverty" or even just "upper middle class".
posted by vidur
I recently watched The One Percent by Jamie Johnson of Johnson & Johnson heritage and there was one fellow he interviewed is Chuck Collins who was the heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune and "gave away every penny of his inheritance". He now also lobbies for the inheritance tax.
posted by jillithd at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still trying to take it in, because it does seem that outsourcing has provided a better standard of living for some people in the developing world, while dramatically reducing the standard of living for the working class in the first world.

It sucks to have your job outsourced but as long as the increase in the standard of living in the developing world exceeds the decrease in the first world, we are collectively better off. The Indians are being lifted out of dismal poverty into middle class incomes. The affected North Americans are suffering but they are not falling back into Indian-level poverty. The calculus works itself out brutally on the ground but the long-term trajectory is upward.
posted by storybored at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2011


Being poor doesn't go hand-in-hand with being moral either.

Immorality bred by desperation is a more forgivable sin than immorality bred by avarice.
posted by absalom at 2:37 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've worked for a company that outsources a huge chunk of its functions, minus the call center (although I'm still waiting for that day to come). Many of my co-workers have been told that while they won't be laid off, their positions are being eliminated because India now handles so much of our work. If someone quits, she won't be replaced.

Each day, my time consists of answering questions that our colleagues in India have asked about specific transactions. Day in and day out, I try to explain to them how to perform these job functions properly. If they still can't figure it out by my second or third question, I handle the transaction myself.

As I reply to these e-mails, I ask myself: is it truly so much more efficient and cost-effective to have us zing e-mails back and forth from America to India in order for something that would have been simple for one of my previous co-workers to handle internally? Then I read articles like this, and I remember that money is the operative here, not customer satisfaction. Efficiencies be damned: employing me means that I need a "competitive salary and benefits package". Who cares how long it takes to get something done, when you're paying your worker bees less than $2 per day?
posted by Maya Cecile at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2011


I worked tech support. I had fantastic first-call resolution (95%) and went 30 seconds over (that'd be 7%) on average call time, after two weeks on the job, and so was continually harassed by management. These jobs are miserable and only tangentially related to actually helping customers solve their problems. So, so glad I had a legitimate reason to quit that job. I would have done it even if they'd paid me twice what they did.
posted by SMPA at 4:16 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, one day I showed up to my call center job and there was a dead dude being loaded into an ambulance (probably heart attack), but no-one said anything about the poor bastard the rest of the week--not a memorial note on the big communication screen, not a card on a bulletin board, nothing.

I knew it was time to leave before I died at my desk unnoticed too.
posted by emjaybee at 4:46 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, jillithd.
posted by vidur at 4:51 PM on July 6, 2011


Yeah, everyone eventually fighting each other to provide as much energy to an employer for as little as possible to exist on. Wonder where that'll end up?
posted by Redhush at 6:20 PM on July 6, 2011


"[Marx] took the (wholly orthodox) notion that 'In a competitive market, the price of a commodity is equal to its marginal cost of production' combined that with the (also wholly orthodox) idea of 'labor as commodity', and drew the unpleasant conclusion that 'in a competitive market, the price of labor will be equal to the cost of bare subsistence for the laborer'."
posted by weston at 6:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, not "always", but I can't think of a single rich person who gave up his wealth to the point of being considered merely "out of poverty" or even just "upper middle class".

I know a few actually. They exist.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:18 PM on July 6, 2011


I quite enjoyed this article, but I particularly enjoyed the section on Australian 'facts'.

"Just stating facts, guys," Lekha began, as we scribbled notes, "Australia is known as the dumbest continent. Literally, college was unknown there until recently. So speak slowly." Next to me, a young man in a turban wrote No college in his notebook.

I like this one just because of the sheer number of Indians that come to Australia to study - somewhere in the range of 50,000 in about 2009.

"Technologically speaking, they're somewhat backward, as well. The average person's mobile would be no better than, say, a Nokia 3110 classic." This drew scoffs from around the room.

I love this one particularly. My parent's villages in India (Goa) only got fixed line telephones in 1987. They were so rare that all my relatives had phone numbers in which the first 5 digits were identical, so they didn't bother quoting them;

ME: "What's your phone number?"

THEM: "23!"

"Australians drink constantly," Lekha continued. "If you call on a Friday night, they'll be smashed—every time."

Well, can't argue with that.

"Oh, and don't attempt to make small talk with them about their pets, okay? They can be quite touchy about animals."

I think this is about being asked whether you have a pet kangaroo, rather than anything else.

"What kind of people are there in Australia?" a trainee asked. "What are their traits?"

"Well, for one thing," Lekha said, "let's admit: They are quite racist. They do not like Indians. Their preferred term for us is—please don't mind, ladies—'brown bastards.' So if you hear that kind of language, you can just hang up the call."


Hmmm... I thought the nom du jour was 'curry munching bastards', but maybe that's just between me and my Sri Lankan friend. I'm ethically Indian, and I've experienced statistically negligible racism here in the last 12 years. The only person who calls me 'brown' is me. It seems to be entertaining to my Caucasian friends.

Although, given that there were a few high profile racial attacks a while back, coupled with an insane over reaction by the media in both India and Australia, it's unsurprising that they think Australia is super racist toward Indians (IMO, it's not).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:21 PM on July 6, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts, most Indian students in Australia are studying at vocational institutes (courses in hair-dressing, cooking etc. have been very popular as an immigration route). Such institutes are not considered "proper" colleges in the Indian context. Also, the public perception in India is that good/competent Indian students emigrate to study in USA and UK, and those who can't make it there (plus are from moneyed families), go to Australian universities which are only interested in knowing whether you can pay the fees.

On the mobile phone bit, I have to agree with the Indian instructor in general (not specifically on the handset model). Mobile telephony in Australia sucks big time on every count: high prices for poor quality signal and even poorer service (regardless of where your call gets transferred). See the Matt Wade article I linked upthread.

PS: Your family was among the lucky ones in getting fixed line telephones. My family only got it in 1992. But India now adds some 20 million new mobile subscribers every month.
posted by vidur at 9:49 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


most Indian students in Australia are studying at vocational institutes (courses in hair-dressing, cooking etc. have been very popular as an immigration route). Such institutes are not considered "proper" colleges in the Indian context.

I know, I was just being glib. And they're not proper colleges by anyone's definition, they're a total scam.

But 'the dumbest continent'? Harsh, bro.

Also, the public perception in India is that good/competent Indian students emigrate to study in USA and UK, and those who can't make it there (plus are from moneyed families), go to Australian universities which are only interested in knowing whether you can pay the fees.

I wasn't specifically aware of this phenomenon, but I'm not shocked by it. I'm not entirely sure as to the cause, since Australian universities actually rank comparatively well and are generally regarded to punch above their weight.

But India now adds some 20 million new mobile subscribers every month.

Ho-leee craaaaaap.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:03 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Such institutes are not considered "proper" colleges in the Indian context

That whole "no colleges in Australia" thing is particularly amusing, because from what I heard from a friend who worked in university admissions here in Australia, apparently there isn't one single university in India which is internationally recognised as a valid issuer of educational credentials.

People would be applying for courses, citing their dual Masters degrees from Mofussil College, Bihar, and they'd be counted as lower value than a $5 degree advertised by spam.

Thus, doing a degree a second time over in a western university is a way to formalise the degree - not only an immigration foot-in-the-door. Unfortunately, this requires the students to learn critical thinking & research skills for the first time, instead of rote learning oodles of useless factoids - a criticism of Indian education well documented in the press over there.

As for being technologically backward, I have only two words: Hindustan Ambassador.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:07 PM on July 6, 2011


Hindustan Ambassador

If it ain't broke...etc.

I'm only alive today because the Ambassador is an indestructible tank.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:15 PM on July 6, 2011


I've often wanted to import one.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:18 PM on July 6, 2011


I'm not entirely sure as to the cause, since Australian universities actually rank comparatively well and are generally regarded to punch above their weight.

The generous financial assistance available to qualified students in the US is a huge factor. Not sure about the factors for UK (historically, UK was independent India's "West", so perhaps that).

But India now adds some 20 million new mobile subscribers every month.

Ho-leee craaaaaap.


Yup. Found the numbers (PDF). Not 20, but a bit over 15 million new wireless subscribers in the month of April this year.
posted by vidur at 10:20 PM on July 6, 2011


I wasn't specifically aware of this phenomenon, but I'm not shocked by it. I'm not entirely sure as to the cause, since Australian universities actually rank comparatively well and are generally regarded to punch above their weight.

I think it's less about the quality of education, and more a factor of the USA simply being such a shining beacon for people in the developing world: get a Green Card and you've Made It TM, whereas places with arguably better standards of living for most of the population - say, Scandinavia or New Zealand or Holland or Australia - are seen as the fallback option for those unlucky enough not to make it to America. Canada seems to get lumped in as a slightly second-rate version of America, but close enough to the real thing to be acceptable.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:30 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


from what I heard from a friend who worked in university admissions here in Australia, apparently there isn't one single university in India which is internationally recognised as a valid issuer of educational credentials.

Your friend is smoking some exotic stuff, because the Australian immigration system has had no difficulty in accepting the educational degrees that any of my Indian-origin friends have (some came to study at the Masters/PhD level; some are working in the corporate sector).

I also happen to work quite closely with several faculty and administration folks from UNSW, UTS, MQU and USyd and none of them have even brought up this sort of thing with me.

As for being technologically backward, I have only two words: Hindustan Ambassador

Uh.. well.. you see.. okay fine, there is no explaining that. You win.
posted by vidur at 10:31 PM on July 6, 2011


As for being technologically backward, I have only two words: Hindustan Ambassador

Uh.. well.. you see.. okay fine, there is no explaining that. You win


No, don't back down. The explanation is this: Indian are so technologically advanced, that they recognise when a product has reached perfection, and they don't mess with it.

You hear me, BMW, with your so-called 'mini cooper'? Pah, I say to you! Pah!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:38 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indians. Damn it. All that outrage wasted on a typo.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:39 PM on July 6, 2011


Your friend is smoking some exotic stuff

She may have been speaking generally, and was specifically involved only in applications for postgrad degrees. This was more than a few years ago, so my memory could easily be hazy because of that permanent drinking thing.

Trying to think back more carefully, it may have been a kind of triage:

- Top notch Indian universities = degree accepted at same value
- Second tier = degree bumped down a notch (eg Masters treated as Bachelors)
- Others = not recognised

There was definitely a sense of frustration over the volume of applicants with fancy-sounding degrees from the third tier, and having to respond "Sorry, your application cannot be accepted. If you'd like to pursue this course of study, please find enclosed an application form for our B.Whatever course which is the entry point into this stream..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:47 PM on July 6, 2011


Trying to think back more carefully, it may have been a kind of triage:

- Top notch Indian universities = degree accepted at same value
- Second tier = degree bumped down a notch (eg Masters treated as Bachelors)
- Others = not recognised


That sounds quite reasonable.

There was definitely a sense of frustration over the volume of applicants with fancy-sounding degrees from the third tier

I guess these are the folks enrolled in vocational courses now.
posted by vidur at 10:57 PM on July 6, 2011


Canada seems to get lumped in as a slightly second-rate version of America, but close enough to the real thing to be acceptable.

Australia seemed to be angling for that niche as well. When I worked at RMIT (a mostly technical university in Melbourne, a large proportion of whose students come from abroad), the recorded messages in the lifts, announcing which floor one was on, were in American accents. (They weren't default recordings from the lift company; they mentioned the street at street level.) I suspect this may have been to subtly underscore to the fee-paying students that, while they may not be at MIT or Caltech, they're getting something similar for their money.
posted by acb at 4:14 AM on July 7, 2011


Frowner: "I always wonder about this "bighearted Americans" trope. Not that I haven't met generous Americans...but 1. generosity everywhere is situational; 2. we do not actually have one of those peasanty, being-a-host-is-an-ethical-responsibility cultures, we have a "hard work and virtue will get you ahead; if you're poor it's because you're lazy" culture; and 3. we have one of the most punitive and unequal legal systems possible in the developed world, plus no social safety net. If that's "big-hearted", I'd hate to see our scrooges."

Bullshit.
posted by falameufilho at 5:22 AM on July 7, 2011


Great post from Mr. Fabulous upthread...

I work for a company who makes, among other things, some fairly advanced call center software and telephony gear. One of the things we've been able to do in the past few years is reduce a hell of a lot of the cost of a call center by putting the agent at home. A lot of people are willing to work for less money when they don't have to commute and can stay home with their kids. This typically works out in areas where there is relatively inexpensive 'net bandwidth to the agent's home. Also, we've found better productivity and retention out of the agents - operations like this can typically handle more calls with fewer agents who experience a lot less stress than they do in the cubicle farm.

It's a relatively new trend, but an upward trend nonetheless.
posted by Thistledown at 5:37 AM on July 7, 2011


My friend from New Delhi was calling tech support for her computer and heard people speaking Hindi in the background. The tech support person refused to speak Hindi with her and kept insisting his name was Chris.

So? Maybe he doesn't speak Hindi. Maybe he's from New York, like the guy who wrote the article.
posted by sour cream at 6:11 AM on July 7, 2011


...the recorded messages in the lifts, announcing which floor one was on, were in American accents.
This is hilarious to me because the lady's voice who says the time and whatnot at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in Minnesota is decidedly British.
posted by jillithd at 6:29 AM on July 7, 2011


Apu was a brilliant computer programmer and came to America to be a convenience store clerk

Anecdotal data point. A good family friend was from Russia where he had a PhD in psychology, and spoke five languages fluently. (He also had a very nice operatic singing voice.) In America, he was a waiter in a Mexican restaurant for 20 years.

He was a very good waiter in a Mexican restaurant who entertained by singing "Hava Nagila" with the Mariachi band, but still, a waiter. (Also responsible for me growing up thinking Hava Nagila was a traditional Mexican song...)
posted by threeturtles at 10:14 AM on July 7, 2011


apparently there isn't one single university in India which is internationally recognised as a valid issuer of educational credentials.

then, Trying to think back more carefully, it may have been a kind of triage:

Sorry, but that was a hell of a thing to have to take back. Indians have more than enough trouble in richer countries finding recognition, respect and appropriate uses for their hard-earned educational achievements without people dismissing their entire system of tertiary education categorically and before thinking. As someone from a semi-developed country I can tell you that there are enough people already who assume that anyone who isn't from Canada, the US, Western Europe and perhaps Australia and NZ goes around all day scratching themselves, swinging from palm trees and buying post graduate degrees in goat-catching for 15 dollars apiece. We really don't need any more.

My mother has been involved for years in organising a programme for American university students, who visit Trinidad to learn about and participate in its culture while taking classes and doing cool internships related to their areas of interest. The students are mostly reasonably clueful, but every semester at least one dolt shows up and is shocked that there are like, houses and cars (let alone skyscrapers and cineplexes) here. My least favourite was the one who asked me "Wow, you guys have PIANOS?" when I told him I took lessons, and went on to ask for reassurance that our national orchestra was "not very good though, right?" Last year there was a girl who asked my little sister (who goes to the well-regarded small American liberal arts college involved in the programme) if there were restaurants here or if her group would have to like, "eat only berries from the rainforest" the whole time. Even people who know how to use Wikipedia, and people who recognise that we can't possibly spend all day drinking rum on the beach can still kind of assume they don't really teach us, or people like us, anything in our schools. It's annoying at best for me, and probably much worse for people who speak English as a second-language, or with an accent that's hard to understand or just generally held in contempt.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:53 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


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