For those that follow The Apprentice, you can’t have missed the recent outburst by contestant Dillon St Paul in Episode 6, entitled ‘Discount Buying’.
Sticking to the traditional programme format, contestants were required to spend the night identifying the whereabouts of 9 items in and around London and then negotiate the best possible price for their purchase.
One of these items was an Indian ‘lengha’ (also known as the lehenga, lacha or langa depending on geography).
For those not in the know, this is a long, pleated skirt which originates from the Indian Sub-Continent and is often beautifully embroidered and embellished.
To purchase this item, it was necessary to scour Indian clothing shops which are typically run by staff of Indian origin.
"Indian Chit Chat" - Racist?
Being of Indian origin himself, contestant Karthik Nagesan managed the negotiation with the shop owners. His negotiation technique was to engage in what Dillon termed ‘Indian Chit Chat’ whereby he proceeded to complain that Karthik had wasted time and should have got straight to the point and asked to see the lengha.
Is this really an example of ‘horrendous’ racism as shouted on some media outlets or merely a case of cultural ignorance?
Surely it’s the latter. It’s very easy to shout people down as ‘racist’ and publicly demonise them rather than recognise that such statements are borne of lack of understanding.
Racism, in its true definition, centres on beliefs of racial superiority. At no point did Dillon infer racial superiority. It’s a strong word and it’s rather cruel to bandy it about in such a random and unsubstantiated way. As interculturalists, such statements provide a great opportunity to educate people as to why people of particular cultures behave as they do. This is a pure and simple case of perceiving things through the norms of one’s own cultural lense.
Had a Westerner approached the Indian clothing outlet with an immediate, “Where are your lenghas and how much are they?” then it’s likely the shop owner would have happily fulfilled this individual’s needs without taking offense. However, had Karthik taken the same tone, then it’s very likely that offense would have been caused as the people working in their shop would not expect these behaviours from someone of Indian origin.
Relationships Matter in Indian Culture
Clearly, this region is vast and the way in which people behave will vary greatly. However, on the whole, people usually engage in pleasantries before getting down to business and it is often considered impolite to jump straight in to the business topic. If, for example, you travel to India to try and negotiate a deal, you will probably find it necessary to engage in lengthy talk which has very little to do with the matter in hand.
This is because individuals from this cultural background typically like to develop personal relationships and hence trust before progressing further.
It’s also worth noting that Indians are highly family oriented. As such, they may engage customers in family related small talk before moving onto business matters. Small talk (or ‘Indian Chit Chat’ as termed by Dillon) is seen as the respectful and cultured approach to business and it’s a common cultural etiquette which is mirrored in other parts of the world too. Dismissing it as a ‘waste of time’ and biting at the bit to get to business would not necessarily be perceived positively.
So, our advice for Dillon St Paul, should he be reading this blog is that cultural differences are the reason for Karthik spending time on small talk. Had he not, then the negotiation may not have gone so well. Do we think your comments were ‘horrendously’ racist? No. You have expressed a typical lack of cultural awareness, something of which most of us are guilty of.
Our advice to future Apprentice contestants is that, understanding the cultural position of others and taking the time to find out why they behave as they do can only benefit your transactions. These transactions are less likely to become difficult or spur misunderstanding as you will fully appreciate that not everyone operates from the same cultural norm. Indeed, if we all engaged with others with such understanding then the world would undoubtedly be a far more harmonious place.