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21 May 2006

Bollywood, call centres and the 35/10 rule

The Observer story "Hi, it's Bollywood calling" gave me a rich vein to explore to get back to my blogging. There is such an overwhelming number of call centre jobs (and so few better ones) that a vast majority of India's young, highly educated men and women are now employed thus, and so of course, it has become a major cultural reference, giving rise to soap opera plots, hit movies and novels. What I found especially fascinating is that a recurrent theme in these works, and therefore presumably in the interior lives of the hapless call centre workers, is the idea that they are structuring their lives around the customers mainly in the US, working night shifts to coincide with the American clock and tutoring their excellent and educated speech to be more American-friendly, all in the service of a people whom they find to be vastly inferior to themselves in intelligence (if not in other ways). This has given rise to the 35-10 rule, which call centres teach their workers, which is expanded to explain that the language, understanding and world-view of the average 35 year-old American help desk customer is about equal to the average 10 year-old Indian. So just think about that the next time you find you can't program your microwave and when you get India on the phone, try to be a better national example, OK?

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