change comes from within

Gandhi’s famously exhorts his followers to “be the change you want to see.” I see these words in action every day as vegetable sellers and pharmacy employees dig into their wallets to find the 30 rupees change their company owes me.

It happens everywhere—in the café where I buy my morning coffee, in the “Australian cookies” store in the mall, at the housewares store where I get my forks. The employee will search the till for change and then, not finding any, pull it out of his own pocket.

They don’t write it down. They don’t make it official. My money goes in the till, theirs goes into my wallet, and everyone is happy—except for the change giver, who is now 30 rupees short.

I don’t doubt that the employee gets his money back. What shocks me is the tremendous level of trust that must exist between employee and employer for the employee to take this action. Either the boss doesn’t blink when the employee pockets the next 30 rupees to cross the counter, or the employee knows that he can go up to his boss at the end of the day and, without proof, ask for his 30 rupees back.

I don’t think Indians are unusually trusting in any other regard. My neighbor locks his maid on the balcony when he leaves the house; my company’s old accountant once implemented a policy to search every employee as he left for the evening after some paper towels were allegedly taken from the men’s room for personal use at home. I can’t understand why things are so different when it comes to making change… unless Gandhi’s words have been universally accepted and slightly misunderstood.

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9 responses to “change comes from within

  1. Thats quite a racist comment to make! Indians are not trusting, you might as well as say americans are suspicious of outsiders, both of which are GENERALIZATIONS. So SOME indian are suspicious as are europeans, americans, german etc. but not all of them are. You can do better than this!

  2. When the counter person takes over s/he logs in to the system using a different name. Transactions from then till logout is debited to his/her name and the account is settled at a convenient time. As your 30 bucks went in and did not come out, at end of day the employee will have x+30 bucks in the drawer. So there (-:

  3. Sam — I reread what I wrote; I think my meaning wasn’t properly communicated. I made an edit. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. This is really a interesting cultural contrast with regard to the handling of money. I do wonder what the maid does while she’s out on the balcony though!

  5. I think you got confused with the vendor/shopkeeper’s employee who give their own change. They usually will take back that change later in any next transaction. It is basically they would not have been working there if the boss was not trusting them enough! 🙂

    Also I agree that in India people have to watch their backs all the times. There is a huge populations and everyone has their own personality. It is hard to judge if someone has bad intentions or not even if you have known them for long. So it is best to be cautious all the time and it is not considered offensive or rude in India to do that.

  6. Get a grip Sam, it wasn’t a racist comment, it was just a general human observation, overly broad yes, but what humans do when observing and commenting on their environment.

    For heaven’s sake.

  7. Nice post as always.
    Indians are not overly trusting because of huge financial disparity. Poverty is too big a problem in India, which in turn enables almost everyone to hire a maid and a driver. We are not short on trust but on resources and hence have to watch guard every little thing. I really liked the pun you used in the last lines about “change”!!

  8. adding you to my blogroll 🙂

  9. Pingback: Five foreign bloggers discuss their Indian servants | Scroll CMS

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