For those of you who don’t know, FOB means “fresh off the boat”. Its an old slang term used to describe people who just landed from India to North America (or any other country). Yes, its a bit crass and rude, but the same can be said about someone who has just landed from North America to India. It’s the same situation; people stare at you, and sometimes laugh. Overall there is a sense of being out of place and not understanding rules, naunces, and language.
I felt this way for the first time at the airport, flying to Bangalore. I didn’t have a print out of my ticket and so I wasn’t allowed into the airport building. It’s apparently a new rule that came into effect in June. I had to then go to the ticketing office and pay 50 rupees to get a printout. Once inside, I didn’t realize that IndiGo and GoAir were two different airlines..eek. Finally, at security, my checkin bags didn’t have a tag, which required a stamp…oops. My excuse is that no one told me I needed it. I realized that a lot of what I thought was weird: Why do I need a printout when I have an e-ticket? Why do I need a tag if its already through security? Etc.. was all fairly straight forward. Once I arrived at the gate, I was so frazzled and it was so early in the morning, I must have spaced out because I almost missed my flight. They had to call my name: “Jasjit Kaur!” and so I had to run down the stairs and through a crowd of people to get to a waiting bus. How embarrassing! I can’t explain how I could have almost missed my flight when I was near the gate and the announcements were in English. That’s when I had my FOB moment.
The whole experience got me thinking about the appalling differences between North America and India. There is nothing that is familiar here, everything is different right down to the psychology of the way things are.
The greatest difference in India that no amount of research could tell you is the huge dichotomy between the people which is all based on money and education. If you are educated and get a respectable vocation, than you will only be associated with people in that category as well. You will only hang out, date, marry in that “class of people”. It’s just how it is. This is who I call the classy people. As an outsider, with a few friends in this classy department, I am only exposed to their way of life. They make up 10% of the population who spend 90% of the money.
Those that are not in this “class” are more or less the “masses”. The ones that are not so fortunate to have money or education, but may still own mobile phones and have access to the internet. They aspire to be like the classy lot, and so will try to mimic what they do, yet will never be a part of that world. Perhaps this is why Bollywood does so well in India – its an aspiration and fairy tale that doesn’t exist in real life.
Moreover, the psychology of why people use the internet also varies widely. The masses, who may not have been taught about social interaction (especially with the opposite sex) crave human interaction desperately which obviously scares off people who are exposed and educated. Meanwhile, this activity leads to a lot of spam and a booming sex related industry which thrives online.
This leaves me questioning, can a company that is thriving in North America actually do well in India? Yes, of course, anything is possible but with quite a lot of challenges to overcome and perhaps a drastic rebuild of the existing product. Overall, the truth is, understanding the dichotomy and how your product/service fits into that is one of the first things to do when launching a foreign product in India.