Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

July 8, 2011

The destruction of ‘authentic’ culture

Filed under: Authenticity,Culture,Identity — Razib Khan @ 9:29 pm

My Summer at an Indian Call Center:

Next is “culture training,” in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture”—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. “The most marketable skill in India today,” the Guardian wrote in 2003, “is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.”

The writer’s background is interesting:

“You’ve completed a four-year university?” the recruiter asked, pen poised above my résumé.

“Yes,” I said.

“And your stream?”


She sighed. “What did you study?”

“Religion,” I said. “Well—liberal arts.”

She made a face, scribbling something.

“What does your father do?” she asked.

“He’s a doctor.”

“And your mother is a housewife?”

“No, a doctor also.”

“A doctor also! Why didn’t you go in for that line?”

“I…I didn’t want to,” I said.

“You didn’t want to?” She could no longer hide her exasperation.

“These things are different in America,” I said feebly.

There’s an implicit subtext here that a modern global economy and affluence come at the cost of Indian culture and familial closeness. And yet I wonder if this child of two doctors laments his parents’ professional prestige and his no doubt comfortable childhood lacking in want?

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