Wednesday, September 23, 2009

View on some official Indian languages ...













Saturday, September 19, 2009

A riot at Ivy bar in Delhi: a clash of cultures


We Belgians are very proud on our beer culture. While there only exist around 10 million Belgians, the total number of various kinds of beers produced in Belgium must be somewhere over thousand. Personally I know 2 or 3 guys brewing beer in their Belgian living rooms.
And in Belgium you can easily find pubs where you can have a couple of beers for 1.5 euro (100 rupees) a glass.

So ... what initiative can be better to bring Belgians together in a city like Delhi, having three times as many inhabitants than in the whole of Belgium ?
Right: a beer party sponsored by Inbev, the beer multinational which started in Louvain were my wife and I have (or had) our base. It's a Brasil company by now, but we still feel very proud, just like we still feel proud on Electrabel and the fact that we could manage in Belgium to keep SO MANY people living together with only 5 governments !

All 20 or something Belgians residing in India were present at the beer-gathering. Many many consultants among them. I felt especially proud that our lively Belgian economy has evoluated to such high levels that we all became Consultants to the World, a profession I myself however link spontaneously with our neighbours from the Netherlands. And guess what? I can be wrong, but I had the impression that quite some Netherlands-accents crawled in our Belgian Flemish-Dutch.

Anyway, let me stay focused on the beerparty.

We had to pay 600rs and then we could drink as much beer as we liked between 7 and 9:30pm. Great. Even according to Belgian criteria a good deal.

The evening went on in a good pace, everybody was trying to swallow as much beer as possible in that short timespan. So the moods were very good and under influence of the alcohol, here and there people started to loose their natural Flemish shyness (including myself).

But then came the time of no return: 9:30pm. Because I was feeling really really thirsty still, I thought by myself: "Let's order another glass... the last one before the road."
Unfortunately the bartender told me: "Sir it will cost you 500rs" (= 7 euro).
"Then for that money I can drink till what time?", I asked.
"What do you mean?", was the question.
"Well", I said, "I payed 600rs to drink 2,5 hrs as much as I wanted. So now I pay 500rs to drink whatever I want, till what hour?"
I found it very fair from them that they realised that even a Belgian cannot keep up the same drinking pace whole night. So I welcomed the idea of a 100rs discount.
Unfortunately the answer was: "No Sir, it's for ONE glass of Stella".

For one glass? I quickly calculated that also 30% various taxes should be added, resulting in the cost of 1 glass of Stella beer of somewhere between 9 and 10 euro.

Well, after the Belgians came to know about the kind of money they had to pull out to keep on drinking, hard words started to be said. The sentiments went extremely high a few moments later and I think I even heard our esteemed Embassador calling names to the Indian bar manager, even insisting that he would get a Hoegaarden for 50 rupees. Well, I myself judged this a little bit exagerated from his side and after having brought him to reason (which would be only possible to do BEFORE he would actually drink that extra pint ... I admit it was a little bit a tricky moment), we could come to a fair price of 100rs. We had to explain him that even in a low cost country you may not take advantage of the situation. We told him that if he could bring the cost of a pint of beer in India down to the level in Belgium, that this would be a very esteemed achievement for his position and function.

At the same time however, while we were convincing our Embassador, in another corner of the establishment, glasses were thrown on the floor and chairs flew through the air. I have not seen who did it, but I have a slight suspicion that even the Chairman, nevertheless an Indian, showed his loyalty to the Belgian cause in a very expressive way. Well ... he's not to blame, it's in his culture to be so enthusiastic! Probably he was thinking he was at an American party!
Anyway, being a little bit a chairman myself I can very well understand the endless frustrations he has to deal with when trying to get along with other cultures. And yes ... every now and then you really feel an urge to throw and destroy some small things here and there. All my sympathy for his difficult position.

One hour later the bar's shape was resembling the Gurgaon roads, including the potholes, the water up to the knees, ... I started to really feel comfortable from then on.

The waiters, probably foreseeing that the scenery went out of hand, had wisely chosen to go safely back to their family before 11pm, like they are used to do.
We locked up the manager in the kitchen though for possible administrative complications later on.
At 11:23 one of us found him pinched in the small window of the restroom (the female one - they always are so much cleaner!) trying to escape from the place.
We Belgians we never eat snacks when drinking so the kitchen seemed to us the best place to safeguard him. Having him locked there was a wise decision as to keep at least one responsible person in the establishment.

By democratic voting among the Belgians in the bar, and after having convinced our esteemed Embassador, we lowered the price of a Stella to the levels we are used to.
But only after every one agreed with it - I repeat it: 100rs INcluding service tax, VAT, TDS, service charge, education cess, wealth tax, fringe benefit tax, capital gain tax, customs duties, securities transaction tax and excise duty.

A form, form 32, was created by the Embassador himself and was duly stamped by the bar manager in the kitchen to make it offical.

Someone proposed to knot the Belgian national flag to some lightspots, a proposal we happily and proudly accepted. And so three trials took place to hang our national flag on the light bulbs. In fact every time that a power cut occured.
Unfortunately the guy got electrocuted when suddenly and unexpectedly the power came back. We are still glad that the proposal of the Belgian flag being raised came from one of the Indian maintenance employees.
This accident was thoroughly discussed among us and we agreed with unanimity that this was a freaky accident that could have happened anywhere.

After this small disturbance we didn't bother too much anymore about our national flag though, as we focused completely on the Inbev products.

Completely in accordance to Indian law and to guard the entrance to make sure that no minors of -25yrs age would enter the place, we expelled all 4 Minor-Belgians from the place, first those with a slight Netherlands-accent. They were given the important job of guarding the entrance, a job which they happily accepted against a few packs of sigarettes and some bottles of mineral water. That is to say ... completely in accordance with Indian food culture we filled some empty bottles with water from the tab. We couldn't do otherwise, because our agreement about the selling prices was only applicable to the beers.
These young people ... they just want to have a few smokes anyway...

With the money we saved on each Stella we did drink from then on, we could easily bribe the police officers who gathered at the entrance and wanted to enter to reclaim the bar as Indian territory. And still we got some extra dimes to give a few bucks to the small Indian kids still begging just outside our new Belgian territory.

We didn't understand how the police was so quickly aware about the riot at Ivy bar though.
I think now that we forgot to take the mobile from the manager who was locked up in the kitchen.

We closed the bar at 5:42am but released the bar manager first at 4:12am from his kitchen. In only half an hour he was able to clean up the whole place.

By 6am it was like no Belgian ever entered that bar!

(For a good understanding of the reader: everything mentioned here is fake and nothing of it comes even close to reality.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's easy to choose but it's difficult to know what you have chosen

Sometimes very simple things can become suddenly very complex.

I have a Belgian client here who wanted to have an Indian SIM-card with STD-functionality, so that he's able to phone internationally.
So we went to the Airtel shop in Gurgaon to make him "internationally phoneworthy". A clear choice was given to him by the Airtel salesman:
"Or you take a prepaid scheme, or you go for a postpaid scheme."

The question was refreshing simple. We did choose the postpaid scheme. So at the end of every month the invoice would be payed by the company.

Sounds easy, right?
Not in India!

After 3 weeks suddenly the client is not able to phone anymore. He dials Airtel to complain and the gentle young man in the callcenter tells him:
"But Sir, of course you cannot phone anymore."

-- "And why is that?"
"According to our pc, you have an amount which is NOT payed yet!"

-- "Exactly, my friend, I have chosen for a POSTpaid scheme. And I did not receive an invoice yet".
"Yes Sir, but the amount which is due by you is so very high!", the boy says.

-- "Really? That high?". The Belgian now begins to sweat and being scared for the information he's about to receive, mumbles: "How much is it?"
"Sir, your due amount is now over 1200rs!" (= 18 euro)

-- "1200 rupees?", the Belgian asks, "And you cut me off? How can this problem be solved now?"
"Yes sir, 1246 rupees to be very precise. It's almost half of my salary! The only way we can activate your SIM again, is if you come here to DEPOSIT enough money with us. Only then you'll be able to phone again."

-- "So you mean actually exactly what you are telling me?", the Belgian unbelievingly asks, "You really want me to PREPAY 2000 rupees so that I am able to make use of my POSTPAID scheme?".

"Exactly, Sir, you understand it right. You must be a damn clever white guy !"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The manager and the engineer ...

A man in a balloon did loose his way. He lowers his balloon a bit and sees on the groundlevel a woman walking. He shouts at her, she looks up. "Well", he says, "I have promised some friends to join them in about an hour, but now I lost my way. I have not the slightest idea where I am."

The woman shouts back: "You are in a balloon, situated more or less 10 meter above the groundlevel. U are currently between 40 and 41 degrees North and between 59 and 60 degrees West."

"Right", shouts the man back, "You are an engineer, isn't it ?"

"Yes", is the answer of the woman, "How do you know ?"

"Well", the man says, "U gave me a technically perfect explanation, but still I don't know what I have to do with that information. I still haven't the slightest idea where I am myself. If I'm honest to you, then you did not help me a lot and on top of that you even took valuable time from me."

"Oh", the woman sighted, "And you are a manager, I presume ?"

"That's right", the man answers, "How could you make up ?"

"It's very clear". The woman shouts really loud to him now,
"You don't have ANY idea at all where you are.
You don't even know in which direction you need to go.
You have been brought here by a very big mass of air.
You have made a promise about something and you didn't realise at all how to fullfil that promise.
And you expect people who are lower placed as you to solve all your problems.
The reality is that you are still exactly in the same position as you were 5 minutes back, only ... now you have ME to blame."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The most egalitarian path to inequality

Here's a story about two Indian men.

One Dalit-born guy M. Das, has been able to release himself from the chains of his caste. It is noteworthy that he could do that because his father was insisting on a proper education for him.
A second man, Saravanan, was born in the Reddiar caste, a caste of landowners. His father lacked to see the importance of a good education. The result? Saravanan is now a teashop keeper somewhere and cannot visit the town he was born anymore.

Read In the New India, Everyone Is Free to Flourish or Fail.

It always strikes me how much Indian parents value a good education for their kids. Even after people have joined the labourmarket they keep on studying.
What a contrast with the current situation in the western world, were most kids leave school at 18 and never even think about going back for additional courses.

You can easily predict which part of the world will produce the new leaders, as the quality of Indian education will improve over the coming 20 years.
Education is the key ...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The best soup in the world !

We recently discovered TAMATAR KA SHORBA, a thin (their words!) tomato based Indian soup. Like all of the Indian dishes brought to taste with a delightful variety of spices.

If you are a souplover like me, you should try this soup sometime if you can get it. It's absolutely the best soup I've ever tasted ! I especially like the one served in the Gurgaon restaurant "Place Solitaire", Old-Delhi Road.
Well, I have to say that sometimes it seems like they don't have enough soup available anymore. Then they add water to the remains. At least in our case, they don't charge for it then. But most often the soup is like it should be there.

I looked up a recipe on the net for the ones who like to cook themselves: you can find it here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A matter of trust ...

Going to the barber is one of the pleasures in India. I only made use of such a service in Belgium 30 years back, but now it would cost you at least 40 euro to have a hair cut and a clean shave there. Even with the amount of hair I carry around.
At my Indian barber the same costs me only 40-50rs (0.8 euro) or so.
There's one thing however which I don't like. In India people prefer to have a light skincolor. So after shaving they usually put some cream on you. But on a white skin it just makes you look like a ghost or a very unhealthy person at least. So I had to stop them using it every time.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Longing for rain ...

For my Indian friends, longing for more rain in Northern India: Rain Performance.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Inducting the deduction

Still I'm wrestling a lot with how my Indian employees execute jobs. I still can find that they are having problems with independency, decision-taking and the purposefull design of a "plan-to-act".

Lately I had to think about the old induction-deduction pair of concepts which is used to describe types of (logical) thinking. As always I try to understand the differences between Western and Indian way of thinking.
You can read more about deductive and inductive reasoning in Wikipedia.

So here's another hypothese:

- In Western culture, people are forced to train their DEDUCTIVE thinking. Not only in education itself (where Math is one of the most threatened subjects for almost everyone). But also because of the relative absense of very specific rules of conduct in the broader society. This forces young men and women to first create themselves a mental framework from which they can DEDUCT specific rules about how to behave now and here. In these youth a lot of "testing" and "experimenting" of various behaviour is there.
In other words: they are trained to think from the general (mental framework) towards the practical (specific behaviour). Or: for Westerners, it's the "general mental picture" which is important and the results follow logically out of that general knowledge.

- In India however, young people are trained to use their INDUCTIVE thinking. In a wonderfully complex society like India, many hidden "rules" of conduct are embedded. It's impossible to understand for a Westerner, and as far as I can judge, neither Indians themselves completely understand all the variations, habits and valuesystems that exist in their society.
I've always thought that growing up in the Indian society must take lots of energy from kids, just learning what is "acceptable" behaviour and what is "unacceptable" ... because both are completely situation-bound.
Their memory also must be very well trained. The clever guys and girls will be able to come to a deeper understanding of what they memorise through INDUCTION. They have to reason from the specific (behaviour here and now) to a general framework. Even then the general framework is still only partially valid. I often see Indians themselves be very surprised about some situations and behaviour.

As Westerners we expect Indians to understand our mental picture of what we want, just by "explaining" it to them. This procedure often does not work. Indians are not trained to go from the general to the specific (result).
In one or another way a Westerner needs to use inductive techniques to teach Indians to come to the results he needs.

Failing to understand this difference in thinking will lead both Westerners and Indians to frustration.

In support of my hypothesis I can give this experience:

- In India businessmeetings usually begin with exchanging info about one's background, family, habits, personal interests. This enables Indians to define one's position in society. Sometimes this phase can take quite long. However, having a white face is already a feature that gives Indians the possibility to catalogue you in a specific position very quickly (at least that is what they THINK).

- In the West businessmeetings are very much to the point right from the beginning. Only if this part of the communication is straightforward and results can be reached quickly, only then partners are interested to know more particulars from eachother.

In India the movement is from particulars (personal situation) towards a (business-)framework where both parties can feel comfortable with. In some way you can say that the framework on itself doesn't make sense without a good understanding and matching of the particulars.

In the West the movement is from the ("logical" business-)framework towards the particulars. The particulars only make sense if the framework (mental picture of the businessagreement) is installed and accepted first.

If you think further about this difference in reasoning (induction-deduction) ... then a lot becomes more clear to the Western mind willing to understand "Indians".

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Living the life of a chairman ...

Some time ago somebody told me that Indians don't like to walk.

Well, few days ago my wife and I went for a dinner and we decided to take a riksha to go to the place because it was quite far of.
Like usual we had compassion with the riksha having to bicycle in that high temperature of 39°C. He was sweating like anything.

My wife proposed to let him stop and do the rest of the road walking.

I looked at her and asked: "What's on my business card ?". "Your name", she answered.
"No no, my function", I told her. "Chairman" she said. I looked at her and asked her:
"And what do you think a chairman does ?"

However, we payed the riksha guy double of what we were supposed to pay.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

An much underestimated technique in business ...


I'm always surprised when I hear business people talking about 'their' business.
In most of the cases they never talk about what is in reality the most exercised and valuable technique in starting a business: Trial and Error.

Mostly they pretend that their whole business was organised and executed following a preliminary well-thought business-plan. While reality often is quite the opposite: business are not created and expanded by following strictly a predefined route. There's no GPS for businesses available!
Mostly I lack the contradictions, irony, emotions, humour, personal components, challenges, difficulties in the business-stories and the honesty of businesspeople in how they found solutions to these challenges.

Success is on the contrary rather an effect of the ability to make errors and learn from them. It is also dependent from the readiness to LEAVE the business plan for what it was and explore a new route.

I came across this blog which describes an startup publishing house in the US. It will be interesting to follow this adventure.
See Glitch du Jour.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Variating the Indian formula for Birth Control ...

Much to do lately about the advise of Union Minister of Health, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who advised rural people to marry late and watch more television. That would lead to an important decrease of births in the country.

In the Times of India of 19th of July, the picture above was published:
Indian man + Indian woman – Television = Indian child

Following simple counting rules, one can derive however also the next equation.
Indian man + Indian woman = Indian child + Television

Especially the modern kind of late music shows and Bollywood films on the telly, filled with undeniably erotically very suggestive scenes, will produce quite an opposite effect I'm afraid.
I can speak from experience ... my own sexual life hasn't suffered a bit from moving to India. Quite on the contrary. However I'm glad my wife and I have passed the getting-baby's-phase in our marriage ;-)

Indian guards protect against the police !

In India everything of some value must be guarded. Be it an office, a residential area, an expensive individual house, your daughters and dogs. Fences are not enough, a guard must also be present.

For long I refused to accept the need for a guard for my office. I couldn't understand how the usual guards could ever defend the posessions of the company. Most of the guards seem simply to be taken out of their rural villages and placed before a fence. The uniforms are impeccable, but they usually feel very unsure about everything.

Unfortunately we were victim of a burglary early January this year.
Of course police came and as usual caused a lot of unrest among my employees. All employees were very scared for the harassments which would be their part if the investigation continued. At last I stopped the investigation, because I felt it would do more bad than wrong to the guys.

But of course the pressure on me to take a guard was increased also by my directors.
I came up with the old objections: it costs money and it serves nothing. Yet the pressure continued and even increased.
So did our discussions.

Finally someone said: "But sir, we really need a guard. The reason for it is not guarding your property. The reason is that IF something happens like a burglary, then the guard is responsible and not us. The police will then harass the guard, and we ourselves will be more at ease."

We now have a guard every night for 12 hours. He must be 19yrs old, unarmed, drinks every night a bottle of mineral water, tells me lengthy Hindi stories about his hometown (of which I don't understand anything).

I really hope nothing happens so that he doesn't have to fear the police.

Indian traffic ...

See the video. This could be a shot taken from our office.

The rules are quite simple on itself, only the diversity of different entities taking part in traffic is making it confusing.

Rule 1:
Blow your horn to let them know you exist. Keep it blowing as long as you feel unsure about getting noticed.

Rule 2:
Never ever really stop your vehicle. Feet, wheels and roads are made to move on, not to stand still !

Rule 3:
If you come across an accident, don't help the victim.
a) he/she is a cow;
b) he/she is a relative;
c) he/she still owes you money;
d) he/she has a high position in the administration;
e) he/she is white (well, I'm still not sure about e));

Rule 4 defines the importance you have on the road
a) A kid-pedestrian has a lower status than the adult pedestrian;
b) A pedestrian has lesser rights than the regular bicycle-driver;
c) The bicycle has to slow down for a unmotorised riksha;
d) A regular riksha has to make way for a bike;
e) The autoriksha has power over the bikedriver;
f) The bikedriver comes second to a small car;
g) A small car has to make way for a big car, and certainly if the big car is a jeep;
h) All previous types of vehicles make sure that a truck can pass;
i) A truck has to stop for a bus;
j) A bus doesn't stop for anyone, even not for it's passengers;

Rule 5:
Rules 1-4 are in all situations applicable, EXCEPT if a COW crosses the street ... then the cow does whatever she wants, forcing Rule 4 to be applied in reverse order. Rule 3 of course still applies if the cow causes an accident.
Obviously rule 1 and 2 are cancelled then.

Horning to a cow would be a bit rude, don't you think ?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A powerful combination for these times !

Combinations like this can lead to a very optimistic approach of starting a business. Indians are legendary optimists:

But sometimes this leads to contradictory images like this (the board reads: "Real Estate Consultants"):

Sunday, July 5, 2009


This article from The Times of India, Friday 3th July, speaks for itself.
What a relief gay and lesbian people must feel in this country now.
What a relief also for their parents !
The first step to remove this stupid colonial heritage is set now.
It's a strange thing to see that ex-colonies need more time to remove inhumane colonial law from their society than the ex-colonist countries themselves.

For all Indians: in Belgium gay and lesbian people are by law allowed to marry and to get children.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Simplicity, Western thinking and Autism

During my university years at the Catholic University of Louvain, I studied philosophy. Though I did not maintain or upgraded any of the knowledge since the 30 years that passed since then, some of the concepts and ideas learned in those days have firmly influenced my spontaneous thinking about things.
My confrontation with Indian culture makes me become very aware now of the relativity but at the same time also the strengths of that thinking.
By meeting Indians, I discovered how deeply my own individual relationships and communication is based on certain philosophical assumptions.

From what I remember to be general principles - (how typical Western is this expression !) - some popped up lately.

- The general advice embedded in all education of young people in Europe is: "Build yourself a theory with few concepts. Try to interprete everything that happens in your life (= reality) with these concepts. If reality is unexpected or doesn't fit into the simple mental schemes, then first try to change reality so that it fits into the concepts (see Hegels concept of reality, who went so far in this that reading him can drive you utterly insane). If you don't succeed in changing that reality, then change your concepts, but please, keep them simple ("God does not play dice" - Einstein and f.i. this blogmessage."
Hegel was one of the great thinkers who attempted to build up a complete worldview on the basis of the simple scheme "these/anthithese/synthese". He tried to include all aspects of reality in his philosophical thinking. As an answer to his critics telling him that a lot of observations in reality did not fit entirely in his theory and could not be explained by his simple these/antithese/synthese-scheme, Hegel answered: "That's a pity for reality".

- "Reduction of complexity into simplicity" is the main technique of Western thinking. It's been the uncritisized assumption in Catholic teached philosophy (the only one that I think I can really understand) and in general of Western thinking. You just have to think about any of the great philosophies produced in the West to realise that all tried to explain complex reality by reducing the complex reality into simple concepts.

- "Truth lays in simple concepts". According to me this is the leading conviction in European culture. It's the basis of science itself. This idea is even the basis of Western economical thinking.

- "Simplicity is beautiful" (Einstein). The idea that even esthetics is connected to simplicity is a logical consequence of the techique applied in thinking.

- "Morality is the application of correct rules". Rules must be simple to apply and to be spontaneously felt/accepted as "valid". In Europe nobody is interested anymore in people who doubt.

- In society itself "Success" is the proof of Truth, Beauty and Morality. In Western thinking there's no doubt that by correct applying the technique of Reductionism, everyone can be successfull.

Success can be economical, financial, artistic, interpersonal or whatever. It is my impression that in Western society, more and more the concept of "Success" itself is being reduced to measurable data, like money and even mentioning simple digits leads to a spontaneous appreciation.
I give an example. If you ask a Westerner to describe his holiday-experience (= complex experience), then you typically get answers like "Hotel had 3 stars", "Walked 50 miles", "Expenses were high", "Visited X number of cities", "Bus drove yyy kilometer", "Bought this and that at xxx euro", "This or that trip was very well (= a 6 and above filled-out on the obliged quality-form) or very badly organised (= a 0 on the form)"
A good holiday for a Westerner is a holiday during which not too much unexpected happened. The perfect holiday-experience for a Westerner is one during which he doesn't have to change any of his habits and in which the organising companies on which he had to rely were able to create and maintain an illusion of a simple reality. Sometimes I wonder why Westerners are travelling that much ...

- Since Enlightment all these basic assumptions are again simplified by connecting them only to the individual sphere: “What can I know? What ought I do? For what may I hope?” (Kant). The questions are not what WE can know, what WE have to do, what WE may hope for.
This has led to an extreme feeling of individual responsability in the Western world.


Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
The number of people known to have autism has increased dramatically since the 1980s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice; the question of whether actual prevalence has increased is unresolved.
An autistic culture has developed, with some individuals seeking a cure and others believing autism should be tolerated as a difference and not treated as a disorder.


In my opinion, Western culture's basic assumptions are essentially of autistic nature in the sense that it easily leads to communication disorders in individual lifes. In other words: the technique of simplification can easily lead to a very restrictive and poor individual thinking.

In one of the next blogmessages I will try to show how Indian culture is essentially different (which doesn't mean necessarily: better).


As a westerner, I will try to find many examples in Western society to proof my point and if necessary I will even be ready to cutout many of the observations/experiences in reality which don't fit in my reductionist view on Western society.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Expecting the impossible in outsourcing ...

One of the main problems which pop up when Westerners think about outsourcing services to India is the overestimation of costcutting through decreasing the salary costs.

Because of the high level of labour cost in the West-European countries, most Western businessmen almost only take into account the salarycosts when making an offer.

Suppose one has to make an offer for doing an IT-job which will take an estimated 60 hours of labour.
In West-Europe, salary cost will be let's say around 25 euro per hour and typically one will add to that cost some euro's for investments and other costs. Total would come to around 30 euro. So 20% of the salarycost is added, and even for important new projects or tests, this investment/fixed costs are overlooked then.

Now, in low-labourcost countries, the situation is very different and the spontaneous calculation a Western businessman does, is not applicable here.
Let's say that the salarycost for a good employee is here 600 euro cost-to-company. This results in 3.5 euro an hour.

All the other costs however, fixed -, running - and investmentcosts, are at least the same and often a lot more in these countries. Among the reasons for this are: bad or at least unreliable power supply, lower quality in education, complexity of administration, traffic problems ... Often this results in a typical overhead cost of 4-7 euro an hour, depending on the size of the company.
So for overhead costs one must add 200% to the salarycost in case of a small company.
The total cost for an hour approaches as a result 10 euro an hour, which is a multiple of the salary cost.

This is the reason why so many outsourcing trials fail. At one side you have the overestimated costcutting at the Western side. At the other side often you find the underestimation of extra costs by the supplier in terms of reliability, quality, knowledge and overheadcosts in general ...

The same fact is also thriving f.i. Indian companies to grow as quickly as possible, because only companies with a big-enough number of employees can be profitable in India. In prepress this has f.i. led to companies having several thousands of employees.

The only way for a company in India to survive is to grow so that overhead costs decrease ...

Let's hope that the Indian government will work hard to meet companies in reducing all these overhead costs. Providing a reliable infrastructure in terms of energy and transport for employees, and the simplification of all administration, are the topmost requirements.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Through Indian eyes ...

At times one can become really lyrical in India ...
I could shoot these photographs in Periyar, Kerala.

For me it symbolized the main strengths of India on the personal level: strong familyties, not-discussed religious tradition and rituals, pride. All combined with a wonderful optimism and curiosity towards the future.
These strong pillars, in combination with the very lively democracy on the society level, which I witnessed during the last election fever, will make India one of the great nations in the globalised world.

In the everlasting competition with the other tiger in this area - China - some values (like democracy and openess of society) which may have not lead to the same massive and immediate success however will become crucial factors on medium long term.
Read U.S. Media See a Path to India in China's Snub.

India doesn't need to be looked at with foreign eyes.
It's rather the rest of the world that needs to be judged ...
with Indian eyes !

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The War between Religions ...

or ... Why Hinduism is a superior religion.

I am complaining already long time about the number of free days my directors installed in our company.

India is a Hindu-country, so of course the big Hindu-festivals are free days. No problem with that.
But essential to Hinduism is the great openess to other religions. One can find strange mixtures of Hinduism and Christianity or other religions. Hinduism is like a spunge, sucking all religious symbols and "gurus" from other religions.

Apart from Eid, the Muslim festival (= free day) and even God doesn't know what other divine reasons there are for having free days if you are a Hindu, I was very surprised to be informed that even tomorrow, 10th April, is a free day.

I asked: "Why ?"

The obvious answer was: "But Sir, it's Good Friday". Now, being a non-believing-Christian (whatever that may mean), I had forgotten myself about it. And because at the moment we suffer from heavy workload, I was not very amused with the free day that apparently goes with it.

So when we were making a planning for a specific job which we had to send to Belgium, I told an employee that Tuesday morning would be OK, because on Monday there would be a free day in Catholic Belgium.

The Hindu-guy enthusiastly asked ... "Why ?".

I did not even think about giving him a reason !!!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Ivory Tower

The following can be observed very often when one resides in India and talks with employees here:
- Indian employees having to take care of their family members;
- Indian employees having to move 2000km to get a job which is payed 200$;
- Indian employees having a family back home and only be able to visit them every 3 months;
- Indian employees being pressurized by all means and from all sides;
- Indian employees lacking all support from their State;
- Indian employees having fear: of loosing their jobs, of not fullfilling their many duties, of being impolite, of causing problems, of doing something wrong towards their bosses;

The psychology of enormous stress this results in is impossible to understand by Westerners. It's easy talking when you are sitting on your Ivory Tower and only have to judge ... because you know that you are safe up there.
The only thing you have to do is to work your 8 hours while knowing that Law supports your situation, income, illness, family ...
Easy to become a "professional" then ...
We really are arrogant bastards at times!

From my experiences here in India I can notice the enormous motivation of Indian employees and I really belief that India will work his way out of its situation. I see a very dynamic country with a great culture. I also observe Indians struggling to combine new influences with tradition. And they are doing it in their own way ... as it should be.

Have confidence in your work. The progress being made in your society is as quick and professional as can be at this moment.

Cheers to India !

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Relationship paradigms ...

Indian salesmen keep surprising me.
Apart from the (unnecessary and annoying) phones I receive every day, some typical phonecalls are always coming after a first contact by mail has been made with Indian companies with whom there never was any other contact before.

Mainly the prompt and immediate expression of their desire to build "a long-term relationship" is felt as hilarious.
I think Indians don't understand really that Europeans are not going into a long-term relationship without having satisfying sex first!
Without having sufficient and satisfying small job results, there will be no co-operation on long term.

Such a phonecall could sound like this:

Ring Ring

With Tony.

— Hi Sir, how are you?

Hi Sir, I’m XXXX from YYYY. We have send you an offer two days back and we did not hear from you yet. And I phone to hear when the project will be assigned to us.
Assigned to you? Well, we don’t even know if that job will be assigned to us. So how can you ask me to tell you when it will be assigned to you?

— OK Sir, but we need to plan our projects in. Could you please tell me when you plan to send that job to us?
My friend, I really cannot say anything about it, but if you really insist I propose second half of 2014. Is that OK with you?

Yes Sir. But … can’t this be scheduled for 2012? This would definitely work better for the both of us!
I can even give you a good discount by then …
That’s OK for me, you can plan it in.

— Thanks Sir. May I ask you when we can have our meeting then?
What meeting?

— Well Sir, I would like to meet you and discuss a longterm relationship with you.
Oh, euh … but … you know … I’m already married for 30 years.

— Oh really Sir? That is so nice. Do you have kids?
Yes … even 4 of them …

— Very nice Sir. Then when could we see eachother? To start our longterm relationship, Sir.
Why do you think I would be interested in a longterm relationship with your company?

— Oh, but Sir, for the mutual benefits and the embetterment of our companies.


Monday, March 30, 2009

No Man's Land

I've seen those big machines come rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice
Now we're gonna get the big business
Now we're gonna get the real thing
Everybody's all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
Before they passed the master plan
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

There ain't much work out here in our consumer power base
No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space
This morning's paper says our neighbor's in a cocaine bust
Lots more to read about Lolita and suburban lust
Now we're gonna get the whole story
Now we're gonna be in prime time
Everybody's all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
We've just begun to understand
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

I see these children with their boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we're to blame for their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night, this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there's cable now in Zombietown
Now we're gonna get the closed circuit
Now we're gonna get the Top 40
Now we're gonna get the sports franchise
Now we're gonna get the major attractions

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man's land
Before the whole world was in our hands
Out here in no man's land
Before the banners and the marching bands
Out here in no man's land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man's land

Lyrics and music of a song "No Man's Land" by Billy Joel
on his album "River of Dreams".

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What's happening to India ?

I observe many Indians becoming slaves (again) !

After you threw out the British in 47, in a way so unique that the whole world admires you for it, you let your minds become enslaved by a criticless admiration of your non-real fantasies about Western society, culture and economy.

You threw the British out through your backdoor.

You become so blinded by success, money, material status, power ... and forget completely about the basic teachings of your own culture and religion.

I have many problems convincing employees that:
- the Western societies are not only the big corporates. It is like many Indians even refuse to see reality ... chasing dreams about a reality that does not exist except in their own mind;
- professionality is not so much linked to the height of your paycheck, but more to the incremental development of your own personality and in-depth understanding and know-how about the services/product you are selling;
- the best way to achieve enduring success in your life is to constantly focus on the product/services itself, instead of be blinded by power and status. The reason is that all know-how you build up over the years, is connected to yourself and it will not leave you ever again. However, elbowing yourself a way through everchanging social or commercial structures will only last till the next crisis;
- every personal development takes time. Every "learning how to" is a lifetime challenge. I would expect that especially Indians would subscribe to this thought. However ... I find many Indians nowadays to be so blinded that they completely lost the time-aspect in their lifes. Sometimes I feel that people get confused because they earn already at 28 twice or trice as much as their father at 55;
- the promotions in the so-admired big corporates are reducing you to the status of a donkey chasing the carrot it runs after from year to year.

Ambitious is the young guy or girl focusing on the increase of his paycheck next year or on status-driven signs.
Stupid is the ambitious young guy/girl ONLY focusing on that. Crises come and go every 5-10 years. The lifespan of such stupid ambition is 10 years only !
Only fools are looking at short-term and take their wildest fantasies for reality.

Wise are those developing their own personalities and knowledge in a quiet and focused way, without paying too much attention to the everchanging external conditions.

What is happening to these Indian cultural and religious teachings:
- the importance of time and patience;
- the prevalence of truth above anything else;
- the importance of self-development over time;
- minimizing the importance of your ego.

I hardly find it here !
More and more India is evoluating into some sort of a Disneyland-for-the-few and a No-Mansland-for-the most.
More and more this fantasy is promoted to the younger generations.
However, 99% of a normal population will never reach Disneyland but has to reside in No-Mansland!
Parents should be careful promoting this. I read daily in the newspapers about suicides of young boys and girls (even 12 year old kids !) because of fear that their marks in school are not high enough! Believe me ... I know what I'm talking about ... I have four kids myself. And you can bet I've failed in making the right judgments and choices myself!

This is good for the British perhaps, because they can sell !
I doubt it is good for India !

Thursday, March 12, 2009

They just don't like my white face !

Last Wednesday we were planning to shoot nice photographs from the Holi Festival. Holi is the Festival of Colours. On this day, people put coloured powder on eachothers face.
I refer to for more background information about this second most important Festival for Hindu people (the most important one is Diwali in October every year).

So we took our camera and went to the market place. Everyone we saw had a coloured face.

Unfortunately we had not taken into account the enthusiasm of Indians. The result?

I think they were surprised to see a white babu taking part in the festival. To our surprise we were invited to a family's home where we were offered Tchai (tea) and sweets. We met the whole family and had a really good time.

Thank you India, for a wonderful and colourful day !

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A bikeshop ?

No, not at all, an Indian prepress- and typesetting company !

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The story of Willy Claes ...

... or: What Indians and Belgians share

1. The story of Willy Claes

Willy Claes making his statement to the international press.
(NATO Photo 785Kb Ref. no.: 15167/34)

This is a story of a Belgian politician who had made it to Secretary-General of the NATO. Within the first year investigations took place in Belgium about the bribes given by Agusta (an Italian helicopter manufacturer)to the SP (Socialist Party) he belonged to.
Despite nobody was asking for his resigning on the international scene (see:, he was victimised under local Belgian pressure (see:
Finally, he resigned on October, 20th 1995. This lead to a new search for a successor (see
The man later was convicted in Belgium for "passive corruption", something which sounds to me like having the same value as "visual pollution".

2) What Indians and Belgians share ...

the feeling that they are UNDERDOGS ...

Waste Management !

One thing Indians can learn from Europe: Waste Management.

I know how they do it in Europe and am ready to consult you.
Here are some of my advises, for free:

- Organise your economy in such a way that consumption is the only value which counts. Then, tell other countries very clearly that this is definitely not the way to go !
- Make yourself as quickly as rich as possible at the cost of other countries and once you cannot handle the waste anymore, let them become independent. But don't forget to keep the ties alive - you may still be able to sell something there in the future;
- Organise your society in such a way that soon 50% of the population is or overstressed or not fit to take part in regular economy. To the overstressed ones you can sell pills. The 25% waste you can hand over to the State to manage;
- Leave your wife and your kids behind whenever you have the chance to start a new family with a more beautiful wife and smarter kids. Pay some alimentation so that your ex-wife handles the waste-management for you;
- If you can afford it, do the same thing twice or trice.
- Whenever you face an economical crisis: try to outsource it !
- Lock up your physically and mentally disabled family members in state-organised institutions: waste management when officially organised is clean, cheap and you will not be bothered by the visual pollution anymore;
- Send away your parents when they become too old to be placed at the right side of your personal economical balance sheet;
- If you still suffer from remaining waste, there's an out-of-the-box solution which solves everything: Social Mobility.

Of course, all this management costs money.
No worries: if you find you are paying too many taxes, then you can always move to a country where they manage their waste in a lesser professional way ...

"Les enfants du Borinage. Lettres à Henri Storck."

In 1933 the Belgian filmmaker Henri Storck created a documentary about the "Borinage", the area in Belgium where coal mining was going on. In those times this part of Belgium was well-doing and attracted lots of workers from the Dutch speaking part of the country.
In 1999 again a documentary was made about Charleroi, a city in Belgium in the center of the same "Borinage".

Indians very often are shocked to see that Slumdog Millionaire is showing poverty in India. They don't like it that the world sees again the cliche of the "poor India".
Well, I myself also don't like to be seen as a "walking wallet" in India.
It is reducing someones identity to the amount of money he has or not has. And as always every stereotype is a generalisation ... it stands as long as you are not confronted with reality ...

So I invite both Belgians and Indians to watch the following movie about Belgium:

I refer the Belgians also to the yearly report published by Acco Publishers: Armoede en Sociale Uitsluiting - Jaarboek 2008, which follows up the evolution of poverty in Belgium. No literature to become very optimistic of !

Saturday, March 7, 2009

From India, with love ...

I present you a few clips taken from the Sunday Times of March 8th, 2009.
They are related to Indian marriages, which are completely different from the habits we have in Europe regarding relationships. I think these clips speak for themselves.
You can read the ads by clicking on the images.
Don't be mistaken. Despite the tenths of pages in the daily papers these ads occupy, there's a clear evolution of the growing middle class to combine and accept both typese of marriages: arranged and love-marriages. Very often now boy meets and chooses girl and have a relation for some time before the relationship enters the "arrangement" phase. However, mainstream India is still not "middle class".
Coming weekend we have to attend an employee's wedding. I hope I'll be able to shoot some video's which I will upload.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Financial crisis

Well, I feel after the previous post, I should now give some ammunition to my fellow-Indian residents.

My wife and I have got a new salary account with ICICI bank.
So previous week we went to the ATM hoping to withdraw some money, but in one or another way we did not succeed in using our bankcard.
Now, believe me or not, but we are doing this already 20 years in Belgium, so our spontaneous reaction was to curse the Indian ATM's that "were broken once again, probably due to the lack in stable electricity provision".
Our temper became bad.

So, this afternoon, after we visited a friend in Delhi, we decided to go to the ICICI bankoffice nearby our office once again.
Like often happens in India, just showing our blank faces was enough to get attention and immediately a bankemployee came with us to "show us how to use the ATM". There were of course 68 waiting Indians before us, but we learned to accept these situations. After all, a white man coming in a bank is only seen as a "walking wallet".

Well, we went to the ATM and inserted our bankcard, sure as we were about ourselves.
The bankguy frowned and said "Nono, Sir, you have to flip your card when inserting it, just like it is shown on that picture here ..."

Now that I think about it, I even didn't dare to have a good look at his face, because I felt so stupid.

I am quite sure that this guy will tell the story to his wife this evening with the words: "Those white babu's don't understand anything" ...

I included some photographs taken on a local market, in the neighbourhood of our office and at a marriage of one of our employees.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

An interesting article about outsourcing ... not for the faint-of-heart-Indians though ...

I myself don't know anything about cars, but I can agree fully to this article where it talks about outsourcing to India.
Though in general the US and European attitude of practical managers towards Indian outsourcing is not very positive, one can hardly find literature which explicitly states the problems.
This article describes exactly what I observed here in India in the past years.

Let me explain my situation ...
As a small typesetting company mainly composing scientific books and doing prepress related tasks I have been establishing relations with Indian companies from 2000 onwards. I tried to outsource part of my processes and never got any (profitable) success until I decided to jump deeper into offshore outsourcing end of 2004. For me and my wife the time was right: our youngest kid was almost 18 and the others were independently living. Another big investment I did in Belgium early 2000 was reaching its technical, financial and commercial endphase. I was in the right mood do start something new and making offshore outsourcing work for us sounded like a lifetime challenge to me.

So I left Belgium and went to India. I had some contacts there and got an arrangement with an existing company to slowly startup my business in their offices.
We were only a small typesetting company, so we had not much to do with legal contracts. All agreements were done in a informal way and on the basis of trust. Nevertheless after two months already I decided to stop the co-operation with that company. Some of the observations were:
- the hierarchy in the company was so important that most of the employees forgot what they actually had to do: producing value for their customers;
- attrition was more than 30%;
- functions and jobs were created for everything - from bringing coffee to polishing the boss's shoes;
- internal company politics where more important than the value created for the customer;
- my contactperson had changed companies just before I arrived, without informing me and this new company didn't know anything about my kind of business;
- the business was essentially: "buying labour at 200$ a month and selling at at 30% less as what it would have costed in the US". This often resulted in a multiply factor of 1000% (!). I pity all the big corporates having accepted these deals ... just for the sake of - often only virtual - cost savings;
- I was 45, having worked 20 years in my field, I considered myself being a senior only 4-5 years. In this company however, young guys below 30 were already considered as seniors ...
- I got a lousy upload/download Internet speed of 3 kB (!), while I was transferring Gigabytes of data to and from Belgium. It took me 6 weeks and several online conferences with the American manager to get finally a "good" speed (their words !) of 6kB (!).
This list contains only a few issues of course ...

I quickly realised that I would never feel happy in such an organisation. Neither I could understand that such companies are able to face the high-performance, low-cost, highly automated Belgian companies in our sector on the long run.

So I decided to take the long route.
I've set up a company myself and have stayed in India very often and for longer times to learn the culture and mindsets. I thought that to achieve long term results, one has to begin with understanding the mindsets and have your own mindset understood by them.

Nevertheless, these early observings still stand.
Now I am 3 years older and a little bit wiser and managed to build a company with 25 people here. Productivity of my people here in India is still lower compared to Belgium, but already very often I get the quality I want. And in 3 years only 1 employee deliberately has left my company (when I am in a bad mood, I tend to think that I'm paying too much). In other words, I could bring attrition down to zero.

I find my main task here is still "empowering" my employees so that they learn to trust their own thinking and judgments instead of blindly executing orders from me. This is a new experience for most of the young girls and guys entering the labour market in India.
I'm afraid one cannot do this if one suffers from a big ego because you can only reach this by keeping a low profile yourself.

I still often feel that Indian companies - especially now with the slowdown - are taking their own wishes for reality. Presenting yourself as the best is more important than actually trying to become the best by improving the workprocesses and making the employees responsable for their jobs. Admitting errors is still not done here. And the lower the employee is placed in the hierarchy, the harder he has to work (and the lower the salary) to please and contribute to the status of his boss.

I now stay permanently with my wife in India, even sold largest part of my business in Belgium to be able to focus completely on the organisation, quality and efficiency of my company here.
It is a constant fight ...

I would like to add here also about the wonderful experience it is for us to work with Indian people and being able to meet their culture. But that is not what that article points to ...

Wiggling and Wobbling

Indians wiggle their head.
Belgians wobble the Indian ways.

That describes more or less the experiences of a Belgian expat in India.

Cut from the daily communication in one's mothertongue, an expat - at least if he doesn't mingle only with other expats - gets a lot of strange experiences. Especially in a confusing country like India.

This blog is dedicated to my Indian colleagues.
With some of them communication is easy, with others it's like you never come to a mutual understanding.
These are the wiggling people.
I hope they understand that we Belgians are only wobbling a bit around here to find a way to perfect co-operation and mutual understanding ...

This blog is also dedicated to my Belgian colleagues.
I hope that they'll learn to understand the wiggling and wobbling ones.

There's so much more under the sun than doing business ...
I hope this blog - in which I plan to tell every now and then about my experiences as a Belgian expat in India - will contribute to a good co-operation between all my colleagues.

Tony Vangelabbeek
Genesis Textware pvt. ltd.
Gurgaon, India