Funky First Jobs: Indians Miss Out On Tons ‘O Fun

Funky First Jobs: Indians Miss Out On Tons ‘O Fun

In middle class America, most teenage kids look forward to starting our first “real jobs” when we turn 16 (the legal age for employment in the U.S.). For me, it meant a huge jump in pocket-money over the small babysitting jobs I had up until then… We didn’t have a lot of money and my Mom struggled to make ends meet every month, so a part-time ‘after school’ job for me would make all the difference in the world. It was 1985 and I lived in southern California, where big permed hair, bright makeup, shoulder pads and neon Madonna style clothes and accessories reigned king. Working meant I could buy whatever I wanted with my own money because Mom said I could keep everything I earned – and I wanted clothes and shoes!

This is me in 1989! If i didn’t have a job in high school, I would have never had my cool Jeep Renegade CJ7! I helped to pay for it and loved that thing. From the beach to the mountains to the desert … we went everywhere together in style 🙂

Those first funky jobs in high school and uni are something of a rite of passage for American kids. In fact, I had so many jobs I can’t even remember them all! From working in an ice cream shop, to being a waitress or hostess in a restaurant, to a shop girl at Mountain High, a ski resort in SoCal – which I worked so I could ski for free all season. I worked as a cashier at a fast food restaurant, in the teens section of a department store and later as a bartender when I first moved to Spain in 2003. That bartending job in Spain, at 22 years old, was my last job before I started my career. It was my last job without responsibility and deadlines, where I could chatter and laugh and goof off during my entire shift – and even drink shooters while on the clock. Not a bad way to earn a paycheck. 

Those years spent in odd jobs are something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Don’t get me wrong, I have zero desire to go back to minimum wage and waiting on other people. I love my career, love my salary (which I’ve worked hard for 16 years to earn) and I think I have the best job on the planet. But there is something fun about being a kid and learning about customer service and team work before entering the corporate world. It truly helps to train us to be better employees once we start our careers.

Yet from everything I know, most Indian kids looking at going to university will never have the opportunity to work in funky jobs like we do in western cultures. I’ve asked around a bit after an engaging conversation I had with a friend a few days back that peaked my interest on this topic and learned some very interesting things.

The main thing that I’m struggling to understand is the fact that if a kid decided to work in a funky job to earn extra money (either for oneself or to help out the family as a whole) that it would result in the status of the family in the community being slightly demoted and brought down. Family is everything here so that reason alone means that 99.9% of kids in India won’t enjoy the fun of goofing off at a crappy, low paying summer job ever in their life. It’s certainly not the end of the world but I guarantee you that Indian teens are missing out on a rare opportunity to learn some valuable life lessons and have tons of fun outside the home (well, unless the funky job is truly awful and no fun at all).

Me in 1988: I loved my weekend job at Mountain High! I only worked 6 hours a day but could ski for free whenever I wanted. The drive up the mountain in my Jeep was really fun. It was a great winter!!

Another thing I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around is the H.R. practices that are related to this topic. You see, changing jobs and/or companies in western cultures typically means a nice big spike in the pay check, especially when you jump from assistant to coordinator, manager to director, etc… but in India the only way this salary jump would happen would be when the company really wants you and they are happy to pay what you’re worth. Otherwise, general H.R. practices make it almost impossible. It really gets my goat the way companies in India deal with salary and past employment because I personally find it very unfair and discriminatory. Here, when you apply for a new job you have to show your pay slip from your old job. Then the salary for the new job is typically based on a % increase over the old job. This means that if you accepted a low paying job in a time of need or took a junior role with a big company to get your foot in the door but are really earning less than what you are worth – you’re screwed! For years to come, your salary will increase at a snail’s pace because of a decision you made – perhaps – year ago. I’ve personally never seen this before moving here and it can be quite frustrating, rending managers virtually powerless to do much about the salary of their team members.

My driver Shiva says that in the past families were much more numerous than they are now, a reality which changed in recent decades because Indian parents want to provide 100% for their children until their education is complete. Nowadays, it would be impossible for one couple to provide a good education and home life for each child if they had six or eight children…but it is possible with only two. Shiva also told me that if his son or daughter asked permission to take on a job during school breaks that he would definitely say no. In part because he wants to maintain his place within the community and if his children went to work there would be negative judgment from neighbours. But also – which I find very interesting – is because he doesn’t want his son to have so much pocket change and become accustomed to dining in restaurants or going out to socialise because that is not the lifestyle he wants for his future. Shiva hopes that his children will follow in the traditional values and lifestyle they are living now, when they are older and starting their own families.

Still, it’s interesting to compare what is no big deal in one country with something that is a very big deal in another. I can remember back to when I was just a little girl when my sister and I setup a lemonade stand in front of our house one summer just for fun. 10 cents bought 2 Bazooka bubble gum packets at the 7-Eleven mini mart around the corner so we thought we were rich if we sold just a few glasses at 10 cents each. Although I didn’t know it then, we were little entrepreneurs out there having a jolly good time! But if two little girls did that here, their family would be the talk of the village – and I doubt the chit-chat would be “oh, did you see how cute Priya and Ruchika look out there selling their lemonade? I bet they’ll grow up to run their own businesses some day!”

///18-July UPDATE!! My daughter is on her way home from landing a month-long internship with the video department of the world’s leading advertising & communication agency at their main Bangalore office. She’s so excited to have this to add to her college applications in the fall. I’m so proud of her!!// ORIGINAL TEXT: I’m sure that if we were still living in Spain or California that my daughter would have wanted to work at a part-time job this summer now that she’s 16. I wouldn’t have thought twice about saying yes because for me it seems like the most natural, normal thing in the world for a teenager to do. It would be great to see her making money and fine-tuning her people skills and communication style.

So often I feel like the black sheep when it comes to these little comparisons of cultural differences that I do on the blog…but not today. I’m really proud of the experience I garnered in all my little odd jobs before I started my career. From being a waitress in a themed restaurant where we all dressed in costume and played a character while waiting on people (I was Jackie Daniels – an old west saloon girl who talked with an accent and wore a feather in my hair and a can-can dress), to being the only white girl in a Mexican fast food restaurant one summer … they all taught me something. And I know my mom was happy I was making my own money because it took a lot of pressure off her. Trust me, I dream about the day my daughter is financially independent and I can reinvest the money I spend on her on shoes again!

XOXO Angela

© 2012 Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore

Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 37 countries on 4 continents, residing in 8 of them (currently Indonesia's Riau Islands is my home). I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Desi Aussie

    Good one Angela.

    India still has child labor and when someone sees a kid working they assume that the parents couldn’t support the family on their own and are dependent on the kids wages. Another point, In a society where your social status is dependent on the work you do, the more manual your work is, the lower your status……its hard to expect kids to appreciate the dignity of labor.

    But, I’m sure things are changing. Atleast in cities like Bangalore where I see kids working on Redbull campaigns etc at malls.

    1. angela_carson

      Hi 🙂 I’m sure you’re right about the child labour situation factoring in to this mentality. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. xoxo

  2. Swa

    Hi Angela, Thank you for taking a passionate stance on odd jobs, which is really just the tip of an enormous iceberg. I went to college here in Bangalore and I attend job interviews with Bangalore Times, who couldn’t offer me a job per se, but did publish my article. I treasure that little paycheck for Rs 500 to this day. I did work out of Brigade rd and I really can’t remember what I did, but I think it was distributing promos to Rex theatre goers. in those days the malls hadn’t been built yet. Mum is an entrepreneur and always believed in hard work, losing your ego for the hard sell made us humble, all that jazz. My parents were supportive and didn’t think it was insulting, so long as my studies didn’t suffer for it. Eventually I went to Melbourne, Australia and there in my undergraduate days, I did wait at tables, did do the shop girl thing and worked night shifts at the local nursing home. I agree with you that this sort of thing not only helps you with your pocket, it also adds confidence, a sort of worldliness and smartness that most Indian kids don’t have the advantage of. And I don’t think this situation will change, because people like my parents are rare here. Thank you again for the wonderful observation, and the opportunity for me to recount some of the best years of my life.

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks for sharing, yours is indeed a different tale. Soooo cool about your parents. To me, they seen “normal” because of my upbringing — an encouraging spirit to push kids to be independent and have that entrepreneur spark. I understand why things are how they are here but I find it to be such a pity. Tell your parents I say “rock on” 🙂 -angela

  3. I can relate this blog to my life till now.
    I never earned a single penny till i turned 22 and i use to bug my parents for money and if they dont give i will goto my grandparents. 🙂
    I agree that generally middle and upper class parents never like their sons/daughters to work as a part timer for little money.
    Also there is more than enough job seekers in india to take up any job which makes harder to get part time jobs.

    And about salary structures in indian companies ( esp in IT ) , its quite unfair sometimes.
    For the same work , skillset and experince there will be a huge difference between salary drawn by two different employees and
    thatss one of the reaosns indians tend to switch companies quite regularly.When some employee joins a new company there will be a good hike in his pay.
    And if some junior person joins a low paying job initially , there will be a way to normalize his/her salary , its by switching
    more companies.


    1. angela_carson

      Hi velu, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share. The asking for money thing is so frustrating both for kids and for parents. For kids because you have no way to make it yourself and for parents who are struggling and it is an added level of stress (being reminded that money is not flowing freely). Maybe things will change one day 🙂 –ange

  4. Ravi

    Loved the last line – I dream about the day my daughter is financially independent and I can reinvest the money I spend on her on shoes again! 🙂

    1. angela_carson

      hehe thanks! I know it’s superficial but it’s true. I wannna go SHOPPING 🙂 -ange

  5. dee

    Not sure I agree on the HR practice stuff. India, in my industry, is a war zone for top talent.

    Great insight on early jobs and I completely agree with your take: great learning experience and fun, but not what I would want to be doing sans undergrad.

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks, Dee. With respect to the HR stuff, I’ve seen it in both companies I’ve worked for now. Maybe it depends on the company and industry… Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂 -angela

  6. debjani mitra

    OH MY GOD I couldn’t agree more Angela. In high school we never even thought of a job – and I remember that the first job I had wanted to join was in a telemarketing company right after college (as a stop gap while I took an extra year to apply for my post grad) – and I was not at all encouraged for wanting to do so. My parents were okay to let me work – but can you imagine – there was someone who knew my dad at the place I interviewed – and he called my dad to say – I should not join the place because it will not suit the “pedigree” of the college I went to !!! So there it went – my hope of earning some extra pocket money.. I spent the year doing a computer course – which never came in handy later in my career – but that was considered better than getting some hands on job experience ! I used to tutor school students when I was in college as I did not want to be dependent on parents completely.. but that was it !

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks, D. I hadn’t really thought about this topic or realised that Indians can’t work like we do until 4 days ago and now I just find it so fascinating. Even kids in the US with wealthy parents take summer jobs working at the golf club or country club or something like that for experience, something to do and extra cash to socialise or shop 🙂 Bummer about the computer class, maybe it will come in use one day and surprise you 🙂 xoxo

  7. Vivek Jain (VJ)

    Dear Angela,

    Greetings! Came to know about this article via one of my friends and found it really amazing. It is always wonderful to see our own world from the eyes of another person and the questions you have raised are truly worth a thought. No doubt that ours is a much more restrictive society than yours but things are changing slowly but steadily. I belong to a small town in India and the changes I have noticed in the mentality of people in last few years are immense and I guess you will also agree with me when I say that the next generation will bring with it a lot many changes.

    Just read this article of yours for now and will be reading the others very soon as well but for now gotta get back to some work so leaving this comment halfway only.
    Will be looking forward to debate on certain thoughts you have regarding our culture, our community, our systems and also to see our nation from your perspective.

    Vivek Jain

  8. PencilGirl

    You have a huge point here.
    The logic is quite simple. Manual labour of any kind is associated with the lower classes. There isn’t really much dignity of labour out here. No respect at all for a lot of different jobs. I guess a lot of kids these days don’t feel the same way, but their parents do. And no matter what else has changed, the power our parents weild over almost every aspect of our lives is really one of the most distinguishing things about our country.
    I remember my brother wanted to do some part-time job ever so badly last summer. But neither my dad, nor my grandmom would agree. Even my neighbour entered the discussion and explained to my brother why he shouldn’t do it. My brother didn’t get particularly convinced, so my dad sent him to work with one of his friends in some real estate company which my bro had no interest in. It didn’t work out at all- because the friend tried to overwork my brother for pittance, and eventually my bro just gave up on the very idea- which was an absolute pity according to me.
    But I guess things will change eventually. Even now- internships and apprenticeships are slowly becoming common. Maybe someday even the more random jobs will find the respect they deserve. 🙂 I think it’ll be good for us when that happens. It’s very important to respect work of all kinds. Something we’d do well to learn. 🙂

    1. angela_carson

      Hey M, thanks for chiming in. Pity about your brother, I wonder what would have happened if he had taken the job he actually wanted himself instead of the one your parents thought was best?? Funny you mention the internships, it’s 8:30am and my daughter is on her way to a huge ad/communication agency in hopes of landing a summer internship with the video department. Let’s see, fingers crossed 🙂 xoxo

  9. Av

    very interesting synergy !

  10. Revathi

    I do think population size makes a difference. Here, a job that may fetch you pocket money could be someone else’s (read: uneducated, lower class) livelihood! Experiences like your’s won’t be so funky here, because you’d have no co-worker you could relate to: they’re probably older, and not as literate as you.

    1. angela_carson

      Hmmm interesting…. if I were a teenage Indian girl and wanted a summer job I would try to work for a posh brand in a retail shop, in a 5 star hotel, telemarketing (I actually did that for a few months when I was 16 for a photography studio who sold family portrait packages) … I admit the list is not as fun as the endless possibilities in western cultures but it is a pity that it’s just not an option for most kids because of stereotype and perceptions 🙁

  11. Sam Brook

    I think you got this all wrong. Besides sounding stupid, you come across as a crass woman. Indians, 99% of them need jobs to survive, and most importantly, pay for themselves and for their families – kids’ educations and stuff. There’s no time for playing around like a fool as seem to be doing in India; and having a life. An education is always followed with a full-time job. Why don’t you get a full-time job yourself someplace and settle down, instead of fooling around like an idiot and writing useless blog posts about this country. Aren’t you tired yourself playing the fool? Or is it that – you’re not good enough in your own country? Respect, Sam

    1. angela_carson

      WOW… I think you could have left out the work “respect” at the end 🙂

  12. Swa

    And Sam the rigidly bigoted and lawlessly rude, the socio-economic under-development of the Indian middle class most assuredly owes its problems to you and people like you. You seem to have made up your mind, quite dangerously, about the way things are, when that is farthest from the truth in what is an evolving developing sphere of economic activity. Sam, your idea that people in India are slaves to the material life, with allusions to a proletarian society can only be described as ignorant, and I wouldn’t put vested interest in hoping it will be so, out of the equation. If you thought your concern about bread on the table would earn sympathies, again, you are wrong. Any self-respecting Indian, and indeed any human, would want more and people do climb all sorts of ladders to the top. They don’t just sit there declaring it a day ( what you call settling down) You probably won’t absorb all this anyway, since you don’t believe in respecting people in a public forum, or anywhere else, since you don’t acknowledge their right to choose the way they live their lives. What a pompous fool you turned out to be, huh?
    Suggested Further reading to enlighten you:
    India Unbound by Gurcharan Das,
    The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy
    Any random article lately on Time, Forbes 100

  13. par

    On the other side, a son will be blamed if his parents go to work in their old age, usually around 60-65. He is expected to look after them. I guess, in west you won’t find that either.

  14. Pavithra Rathinavel

    Interesting read.
    I totally agree with the Indian mentality projected in your blog.
    Even today my parents would be very happy , if i opt for a higher education[say Masters] rather than working for an MNC [Yes, as guessed – they are more than happy to sponser my higher education whole heartedly even though I can do it on my own 🙂 , well that’s India].
    I think it would take a whole century for Indians to become as liberal as the west.

  15. Rakesh

    I did break the indian mind set  and went for a part time job at Ecommerce company during my semester holidays, My parents were happy on one side that i am doign something useful in my free time and getting some  corporate experience, also they were worried that i will get used to the fancies a  pocket full of money wil get me , what if i get into drugs, or any other bad habits . I finally gave up when they lured me to go on a  vacation tour instead of working part time . 

    They would cut down on their likes and desires and made sure we neve felt the need of working to earn money for ourselves until we reached a responsible stage .  Thtas what i  respect and love about being brought up the Indian way .. there is common saying now days that ,,,, by the time you are 50 , your eldest kid  should have started earning 🙂 

  16. Teresa Snowball

    I must have missed this one!! As I do not remember seeing you in a ski suit ever!!!! WITH a perm!!

    I know you want to go shopping but I did have a giggle just!!!! 😉

    Shoes come to those who wait and wait and wait!!




    1. AngelaCarson

      hahahaa omg you know the best part?  I think my ski jacket had shoulder pads 🙂 hahahaha xoxo  love n miss you xo

  17. Prem

    I'm not sure how I got to your blog when I was searching for recycling bins! Anyhow, going over your very interesting posts, I note how different your approach is from mine. I'm a bit critical and tend to focus on what could be changed and improved, while you focus on things that are interesting as they are! I guess that comes from different perspectives, mine being that of an Indian with long-term foreign exposure. Nonetheless, I find your posts very entertaining and interesting! 🙂


    I'm especially impressed by how you've discovered new opportunities, like Sharon, and I wish you luck in your entrepreneurial ventures here in Bangalore.

  18. Salam

    Indiaaaaa incredible Indiaaaa 🙂

  19. sandesh

    a bit late in d day, but a topic which i had experienced first hand, my dad owned a mom n pop store, he was ok with me working there as a teenager but not somewhere else, i couldn’t understand it at that point because i thought it would be a better experience to work elsewhere

    i figured it out later that like most Indian parents he didn’t want me to get independent, indian parents are very over protective and insecure about their children, the fear that they might fall in bad company, they might get financially independent, take their own decisions, select a partner for themselves.

    but indian parents want to try their best to impose their agenda on kids, decide lot of things for them irrespective of what kids have in mind

    i guess things will change with time specially in todays time where information is so freely accessible.

  20. Alisha

    I dont get any good part time jobs :(..!! Suggest me a few sites please Angela…

    1. AngelaCarson

      I have no idea 🙁  Good luck though 🙂

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