Life Skills: Learning in a Restaurant

IMG_0923I had to kill some time between my workout and meeting someone last weekend and so I headed to satiate my hunger at an Indian Restaurant. I was alone and had the option of keeping busy and to myself by playing with my mobile phone and pretending to be busy or generally snooping around. I did both with the first activity ending soon as my patience with playacting is very thin and I had nothing much to do with cleaning up my data on the phone or being up to date with my messages. I’m doing it every two minutes of my existence anyway. The second activity got interesting as my eyes and ears roved around and picked up some interesting stuff and I’m sharing two specific observations that tie into each other.

IMG_0925Life Skills:

Right next to my table were an Indian (South Asian) father and teenage son seated enjoying their buffet meal. It was very obvious that the father was an early settler in the US and the son was struggling with the identity clash of two cultures. The father enjoyed a full meal while the son was struggling with a dosa that was stiff and clearly a very difficult object for the son to negotiate with his fork and knife. To make things worse, he dropped it on the floor and apologized for it rather meekly. The typical American cultured Indian father thought nothing of it and asked for a replacement. The Indian manager obliged. While all this happened and in-between looking through messages and mails, the father opened a conversation about the son’s school marks card that the son and read thru the document that was apparently on the agenda for the lunch session. The son seemed to have done very well in all subjects including math where he seemed to have scored a 100 but apparently there was one area of concern; which was pertaining to listening skills. The father joked about it to the son that “I now have proof that you don’t listen enough” and the son defended that he didn’t think it was a great trait to be evaluated upon and most of his class had scored low on it anyway. All this polite conversation soon ended and the son went back to his struggle to complete his newly arrived dosa and the father went back to paying attention to his mobile phone. And my attention got drawn to another drama that unfolded before me.

IMG_0926Table for two?

If you were the manager on the floor of the restaurant, is that the question you would ask the couple pictured here along with their son? Well, that is what was asked of this charming couple with their gurgling bundle of joy as they entered the restaurant. Clearly, the guy was confounded and he retorted in mock meekness under his breath that “two would be good” and then went on to politely point to his child and request for a child seat. The manager of course brought out a child seat and the family continued to enjoy their meal. I went across to them after I had finished my meal (clearly over eaten) and paid my bill and related my observation before requesting their permission to take a picture. There was instant rapport and the guy who said was a lawyer by profession seemed to have a great sense of humor and timing and even related how he had when cross examining during a deposition from Crossfit the previous day asked his witness “whether he had to cross-dress to attend crossfit”.

And now to my observations starting from the first case:

Why are Indian Children so awkward and lack in life skills when they are brought up in the US? It is another matter that most US children also are awkward and lack in life skills. Has this got to do with the way they learn about life and matters in their school and society? What inhibits their confidence and ability to counter culturally; both the good and bad aspects of life? Are they cushioned and smothered too much to not realize the realities of life and be conscious of their response? On the other hand, children from lesser worlds seem to be more alert and confident despite their veritable social disadvantages. This is a very important question for society to answer as this Gen Y or Z is going to become centric to shaping the polity of this universe in the next 15 – 20 years. Is it safe to pass on and entrust these self-doubters this boiling cauldron of a universe?

It is very typical in the Indian society not to consider a child as an entity. But in the western world a child is an equal entity. Every life is precious and everyone needs to be treated with respect. Yes, even a child cannot and should not be ignored. The manager meant no harm and he would have provided a child seat only if requested; however the question is that the western society expects him to not ask “table for three instead of table for two”. It is a deep cultural assimilation that is required in order to be successful for businesses. Indian software companies despite their presence in the US and other global locations for more than 25 years have failed to assimilate with the local cultures and have done little to educate and train their employees in this process of assimilation. Given the circumstance, can they be truly global and succeed in deeply competitive times?

Don’t you think that both the above point instances point to how we develop our life skills which are so important to succeed in life; at a personal, organizational and societal level. Where life skills must be understood in the context of the adaptability and assimilation of Cultures which is defined as the Values, Beliefs & Assumptions.

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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