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Why Do Some Indians Scream and Cause a Scene to Get What They Want?

Today I was at my neighbourhood Airtel office, queuing to pay my bill because I still don’t have the online payment system sorted.  There was a sweet lady in her 50s in front of me who I had exchanged a few words with…woo hoo, only one person left in front of me.  She walked up to the counter when it was finally her turn and the mild-mannered guy behind the counter looked over and saw that she had a credit card in her hand and informed her that the credit card machine wasn’t working at the moment.  According to him it had just stopped working a few moments ago.  Okay, not a tragedy, right?  There is always a plan B.  Nooo…wrong!!!

In less than a flash of a second, the sweet little lady in front of me suddenly morphed into some strange alter-ego of herself and started to terrorize the village – well, the Airtel Village that is.  My gosh, the sweet voice that the woman had only 30 seconds before suddenly changed into a deep and LOUD voice as she started yelling and telling them exactly how she felt about the credit card machine being out of service (ehem, she wasn’t happy).  She caused such a ruckus that not a single employee could work nor could a single customer concentrate on anything else but her rant.  She repeated herself a few times, was completely insulting, and basically just abused the poor guy behind the counter.

I know that she wasn’t physically abusing the guy but in my book verbal abuse is still a form of viciousness that is unnecessary most of the time.

What the hell happened?  Okay, their machine wasn’t working at the moment.  Yes, that was inconvenient and it sucked.  I think we can all agree with that.  Where I disagree is with Ms. Airtel turning into a creature that bit the heads off of poor shop workers who had NO CONTROL personally over the credit card machine and if it linked to the bank or not.  Man, it was a sight to see.  Did she really think that her behaviour would fix the machine?

Obviously, not right or wrong but I have a pretty different communication style in these types of situations.  My Step-Dad always said, “Angie, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with dog shit.”  Not exactly eloquent but neither is Dad really and it’s certainly a visual enough statement that anyone can grasp the meaning of it quickly.  Basically Dad was trying to say that being nice and charming gets the job done far quicker than being insulting or going off on someone and pissing them off!  Plus, in my opinion, any half intelligent person can easily access a situation and figure out the easiest way to get what they want…so being nice seems like the quickest ‘means to an end’ to me in most any situation.

In the case of Ms. Airtel, I saw clearly that this lady was probably pitching a fit out of habit.  In my opinion, had she just leaned in and smiled and suggested to give her card details to the manager with her mobile number that they would have happily just run her credit card through the machine later when it was working again so she could continue to enjoy her afternoon.  In the end, that’s exactly what the manager suggested…eventually.  But in the meantime, the entire shop looked on in fascination and had to endure her rath.

Well, now that’s what I thought anyway.  But since I’ve been writing this post I sort of have to wonder…was EVERYONE fascinated by this attention-grabbing display of perceived power or was it just me?  Is this type of behaviour so commonplace that everyone just looks away, takes a breath and waits for it to pass without a second thought?  Kind of like when the lights go off in Bangalore for a few seconds and then magically come right back on?

I’ve seen it here time and again, with both men and women.  There was a woman I worked with when I first moved here who used the same techniques as Ms. Airtel with her own staff throughout the day, every day.  From what I saw, none of her team respected her, nor any of us on the management team except the person who hired her, because she would berate her staff and yell at people in front of others for the smallest thing.  Hell, she even tried it with me but I called her on it.  I don’t tolerate that management style.  In the U.S. or Spain, I have never personally seen any manager do this…EVER!  And as for me, I would never yell at anyone nor do I allow anyone to speak to me that way…but she used the same antics as Ms. Airtel to try to generate results from her team because (I assume) she didn’t know proper management techniques or wasn’t able to generate the desired results through motivation and positive management.  I think this is also what Ms. Airtel was thinking…that this was her only recourse to achieve the result she wanted – to pay her bill with her credit card.

It’s funny how different cultures operate so differently and yet they likely still achieve the same results.  I do things with a smile typically, so for me it always shocks the hell out of me when I see someone turn from – for example – a sweet middle-aged lady to a scary “Shopzilla”.  I was born and grew up in southern California until I was 21 years old and my parents taught me that:

  • It’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say it (yes, thanks for grinding that one into me, Mom!)
  • Yelling and public displays of anger are unacceptable
  • There is always a non-violent and diplomatic solution for every problem

So it’s interesting to me that Ms. Airtel resorts to pitching a fit to get her way when there are so many other peaceful approaches available.  Did she see her parents or her husband use this technique time and again so she’s adopted it over the years?  I have no idea.  But I do know that I am the product of my upbringing and I am passing my ways on to my daughter.  So is Ms. Airtel doing the same?  Is she right and I’m wrong?  I am right and she’s wrong?  Who knows???

I adore the cultural differences that I discover daily here in India.  With respect to the topic at hand, if I had to guess I would say that this “heated” approach to problem solving has been adopted by such a large percentage of the population because historically it’s worked.  And who doesn’t “go with what you know” to get a job done quicker?

XOXO Angela

© Angela Carson 2011

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 38 Comments

  1. The Meatologist

    Great article first off! I have to say born and brought up in Bangalore but having lived in Singapore, Denmark and now Australia, I have to admit that every time I am back in Bangalore or travelling through India on visits back home there is usually a “need” for me to morph into my inner Shopzilla. Usually it is because the system is too slow, too inefficient or the lack of a service that should have been provided etc, I can’t say I have or have witnessed someone I know crack it about a credit card machine not working!

    It is no secret that India is a patriarchal society and that the apparent class and social system reign supreme. As a Indian woman going about her business more often than not it is good enough to smile, be polite and go about your business. But in the event that things take an unexpected turn and you are trying to “negotiate” something it is considerably “the done thing” for an Indian woman in the know to alter her tone of voice to harden and her attitude to sharpen considerably so she can get the job done quicker.

    Thus, I have to agree with your closing statement “this “heated” approach to problem solving has been adopted by such a large percentage of the population because historically it’s worked. And who doesn’t “go with what you know” to get a job done quicker?” simply because it is true.

    Growing up I have seen my mother, aunts and even grandmother NEVER take NO for an answer and always walk out of a store or situation winning the “battle” because they can all be both louder and more eloquent than the guy they are dealing with. Unfortunately this is a “mean” streak that has come the norm for many Indian women and has become a passable offense that is part of daily life every now and again just to straighten out the “irregularities”!

    1. angela_carson

      haha, I adore your comments, thanks so much for taking the time to jot that down. So have you adopted your mother, aunt or grandmother’s ways?? –angela

  2. Sarang

    Hi Angela,

    This kind of behaviour can be seen at most places. Blame it on the geography, culture, and social behavioral traits. India is a tropical country, hot and humid. This leads to aggression in genes. In India, categories do exist, rich and poor, upper and lower etc. and people are fascinated by power, or rather, the abuse of power. Power and responsibilities are inversely proportional here :).

    All in all, a good learning experience for you.

    1. angela_carson

      Hi 🙂 The idea that the climate affects the mood of the people is interesting. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard that so there must be something to it… angela

  3. Anamika

    Hi Angela…
    I have gone through a couple of posts of yours but I don’t know why I was compelled to leave a comment after I read this post of yours…
    First of all, being an Indian myself, I am quite a bit of ashamed that you had to witness such an incident… But, you are absolutely right when you mention that we Indians most often resort to heated arguments.. In fact, this brick-batting is so common in India that it has become a part and parcel of our lives…
    I know some of the Indian readers of this blog might not totally concur with my comment but there’s no doubt that we Indians do have a low-tolerance level and that’s maybe due to our low self-esteem…
    And by the way, you are lucky that you are residing in southern part of the country, since north India is even worse (if am allowed to say so!)… This is because South Indians are amongst the most literate and intelligent people this country has… And no, this is not to put the North Indians to shame!!
    Oh! and before I forget, I hope the rest of your stay here does not get sprinkled with any of such bizarre conveniences…

    1. angela_carson

      Yeah, it’s a strange thing to witness for me, that I promise you. I’ve just never really seen this type of thing “live” more than a couple times in my life elsewhere but here I’ve seen it a bunch in just five short months. I love it here in India and this is just another spicy side dish that makes the country unique 🙂

  4. Anamika

    P.S. A misspelling in my comment above…
    Oh! and before I forget, I hope the rest of your stay here does not get sprinkled with any of such bizarre inconveniences…

  5. Rhonald Moses

    Hi Angie,

    You should be thankful that you are in India and not in Middle East 🙂 I live and work in middle east and people literally scream even if it’s not an emergency.

    Well, it’s wrong in any culture and does not always get things done. But those are the methods inferior, hurt people adapt.

    You can’t see those among the people knows how to get things done without becoming a Godzilla.

    Anyways, nice to read your blogs, have become a perm reader 🙂


    1. angela_carson

      Wooo hooo, a permanent reader 🙂 That’s amazing, thanks!

  6. nikhil ck

    Very interesting post. Poor people are often at the receiving end of such behavior. I have heard about some places where they beat employees for the smallest mistakes. Sad, there is no humanity and respect for the poor. But I wonder if motivation and “positive management” works, especially for low wage workers. They are unhappy with their salary, and they know it can’t increase much, so they slack, and some of them don’t respond to civlized requests to work properly, so I think this forces employers to get harsh. I know one business owner who shouts the worst abuses to employees for the slightest error, but I can’t tell him anything since I have never run a business myself, and I am not sure if being “good” works.

    Would love to read others opinion on this.

    1. angela_carson

      Hmmmm interesting. I don’t know either, but I can tell you I always led my teams with kindness and respect and open communication and they produced amazing results… but everyone is different and perhaps the low wage issue is a factor as you say. I’m sure airtel doesn’t pay massive salaries. —angela

  7. anonymous

    Heh heh. Welcome back.

    True. People like to scream for no reason. Does’nt always work.

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks…so happy to be home in Bangalore again. –angela

  8. clivejd

    Not happening…. Just not happening…

    “It’s funny how different cultures operate so differently and yet they likely still achieve the same results.”

    Let me tell you it’s not in Indian culture to be pissed off ! We are “culturally” more chilled out than any other country for that matter. Look at the amount of crap we go through everyday and still take it in our stride.

    People are different. I did have a psycho boss some time back who sounds very similar to your Indian colleague. But then, he was just an ass. Even the earlier comment. The chap speaking about the middle east. I grew up in the middle east. Spent 16 yrs there. And from what i saw, those guys were just straight forward. I found Indians living here to be more unstable for that matter.

    1. angela_carson

      Great points, thanks for taking the time to comment. Obviously one crazy lady doesn’t define a nation but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it so there has to be something to it…now the big question to still be answered is WHY 🙂

  9. PencilGirl

    Hmmm.. Interesting post.. And pretty interesting comments as well.. 🙂
    I agree with Clive JD when he says that it is the people who are different, and that there are all sorts of people here. For example, I’m quite capable of a shouting match with my Dad or my brother at home, but I would never create a similar scene in public. I have come across people who shout and scream like lunatics outside of their home, but somehow morph into the most amicable and soft-spoken fellows when they get home. There are all kinds of people here.
    But the fact also exists that the people here are quite impatient sometimes. I have come across a lot of people who tend to snap and bark over trivialities, and don’t think it’s a big deal if they scream a bit as well. In terms of number, I have seen a number of such people in Chennai, a few in Bangalore, and hardly any in Goa. So I’m guessing the place does affect the attitude of the people. Big cities seem to see more of such behaviour. :

    1. angela_carson

      Hey sweetie, I wonder if the people are more calm in Goa cuz there is more of a hippie vibe there and people smoke a bit more?? 😉 😉

  10. Abdullah K.

    I have met nasty and irritable people everywhere in the world. This is more of an individual behaviour problem, it doesn’t warrant a judgement against a nationality.

    1. angela_carson

      Hi Abdullah, I re-read my post trying to see where I pointed a finger at all of India but can’t find it…though it always bothers me when someone interprets my writing that way (when it is not my intention). I don’t believe much in blanket statements and generalizing a whole nation. But this particular behviour is one that I have seen a bunch of times so far that truly does shock the hell out of me everytime I see it. Kind of like the shock I feel when I see a live goat tied up to and around a moped as I pass the goat market each morning on my way to work. Not something I’ve really witnessed before and I just sort of stare like a deer in headlights 🙂 Hope you’ll keep reading, or read a few more posts. Cheers, angela

  11. angela_carson

    Hi Anil, I am going to try and keep my “big smile + diplomacy + sweet talk” ways as long as possible, fingers crossed 🙂 …and I plan to be here at least two years, until my daughter finished up her IB program and heads of to uni. After that I am hoping that I will have a book deal and can go live on an island or someplace new. But you never know…..

  12. Abdullah K.

    Of course, you didn’t point a finger, but the tone of the article gives the impression that getting heated up and pissed off is an Indian cultural trait. You could for example, have tried, “Why Do I Find People Easily Irritated or Pissed Off in India?”. It would give a personal perspective, rather than sounding judgmental.
    I used to make these kind of mistakes when I started off in India in 2003, at Goa. There was this time when I had this private trance party and some drunken Indians turned up, trying to get entry. On being denied and told that it was a private party, they created a scene so things got a little rough. A few days later, the incident was a story in a news magazine, with allegations of racism against Indians by foreigners. A journo asked me about the matter and I told her that while I had nothing against Indians, these guys looked like one of those “ugly Indians” that were there to create problems. She took it to mean that I called all Indians ugly and made a big issue out of it in the papers. Over the years, my English got more ‘refined’ and I eventually learnt how to talk more eloquently. Now that I look back, what I should have said was, “These guys didn’t look like they belonged to the trance scene and were probably here to harass the women”.
    India is a country with a hell lot of people and a very diverse ethno-cultural make-up. Hence, when you write something about “Indians” you always run the risk of offending Indians who don’t fit the mould you speak of. An example would be the statement that “Indians don’t eat beef”. It would be more tactful and wiser to say, “I have observed that Indians don’t eat beef” so that you don’t risk offending those Indians who eat beef, like North Easterns or Goans.

    1. angela_carson

      Hi Abdullah, I really try not to make blanket generalizations but I think you might be right and a couple slipped into the last article. I see a couple of “Indians” instead of “some Indians” etc so good call 🙂 appreciate the comment very much! Cheers, angela

  13. sunith

    Perhaps,she must have hated standing in a queue. I simply cant tolerate them! 😀 I believe irate customers are universal in nature. I have been in the client servicing industry for around 7-8 years and dealt with people from across the world and seen my share of obnoxious pricks who doesn’t care whether it is your fault or not. They just want to vent out their frustrations at someone, and it can be illogical at most times. Talk to the people who work in the BPO industry in Bangalore and deal with US and UK clients. Most of them deal with irrational and abusive customer on a daily basis.

    You are right about the authoritarian nature of management and the lack of politeness while dealing with bureaucracy. It is a culture thing. A response to the red tape and snail paced bureaucracy in this country is to assert your power or create an illusion that you have power and powerful contacts. Its the ” do you know whose son I am? ” attitude which usually gets things done at most places, unfortunate yes, but it is a reality. This mentality seems to cross over into situations which actually doesn’t require it and that is when it appears out of place. It might be a generalization but Indians are in general more docile and polite in nature as compared to a straight talking American or a Brit. Indians change colors and put on the alter ego when they feel the situation warrants it.

    1. angela_carson

      It really is a funny topic because here in India people are so kind, polite and typically always share such large smiles…even with strangers. That I swear it just shocks the hell out of me whenever I experience the flip side 🙂 To me, it’s really embarrassing to witness — I feel pity for the poor person on the receiving end who is being disrespected in this way. And as far as the person who flipped out, I can’t pin it down to one word or feeling but being a bully or resorting to bullying tactics just isn’t a positive personality trait on anyone…. –angela

      1. sunith

        Chef Ramsey has made it into an art form. 🙂

        1. angela_carson

          Hi, OMG I’m not sure I should say this but I have no idea who that is… 🙁

  14. Khurshid

    Hi Angela,
    I have been reading your blog occasionally and I like your style and humour in your writing. As for todays blog, yes, you do come across such incidents when a person just goes beserk for lesser issues. There could be so many reasons for such an act. It could be that the sweet old lady as you have described her was tired of standing in the queue, had a headache/backache, or just plain frustrated. There could be so many reasons of her losing her cool. I understand, having to experience such an event must have been shocking to you, especially, when the same old lady had exchanged a polite and civil conversation with you.
    People are losing their cool often than before because things move so slowly out here. The person behind the counter in most of the places take their own sweet time to perform their duties. They actually take us customers for granted. They make you wait for hours at times for work which could be completed in few minutes.
    They very well know that we will tolerate and take their inefficiency in our stride since our work needs to be done. Go to any bank or government office and you will get to experience such behaviour at large.
    Take our traffic for instance, it can make the sanest person go mad. The jams and the continuous honking just gets at you after a point. Let’s not take a persons behaviour at its face value. There could be so many hidden reasons behind it. Other than ofcourse, if the person is a born bully.
    Generally, we Indians are a peace loving, greatly accomodating and forgiving bunch of people. I hope that your stay in India is going to be a pleasant experience and you take back with you sweet and loving memories when you do so.

    I do not agree with one of your readers who has commented that ‘Indians have low seft-esteem, and that is why we behave in this manner’. That’s generlaising the entire Indian population. No, not correct. There maybe some who do experience low self-esteem, and if they did they would not behave or act out in public. They would not have the courage to do so.

    1. angela_carson

      Hi Khurshid, I loved your comment…and appreciate that you took the time to address a few things in the blog, as well as other comments. I don’t know the reasons behind the behaviour so I won’t comment on that aspect but I will say that Indians are generally so sweet and peaceful, certainly the opposite to people where I was living previously. I do love it here and things like Ms. Airtel are just great content for the blog…it doesn’t detract from my experience in India at all. cheers, angela

  15. Prashant

    Hi Angela, I really liked your article..the thing is very simple and we see around us but if noticed then makes a real sense.. what I believe is in India especially in Metro/urban culture people are really tired of various things, for an example being a Bangaloren, ppl suffer from work pressure, heavy traffic, pollution, lack of proper infrastructure, these days regular power cuts, water shortage and every one has so many complaints on the administration/govt and on that they can not pull of their legs on authorities so finally they take off their bucket of Angers. and losing temper is obvious I feel.. till recent times even I was not lucky enough to get out of this situation 🙁 and became harsh many times but now after applying some anger mgmt tactics, feeling quite good.. 🙂 but I really appreciate you for sharing such experience which really helps ppl like us..thx once again


    1. angela_carson

      Wow, hey Prashant, that was a really thing you said at the end… glad people aren’t taking offense to the post. I agree with you and the reasons for frustration levels rising. Still a funny thing to see someone morph though…not used to it yet. –angela

      1. Prashant

        yes..definitely funny things are around us and instead of frustrating just take an opportunity to laugh/smile on that moment 😛

  16. dapperdolly

    It’s not just Indians – I know you didn’t say that – I’ve seen quite a few cultural groups do this as a norm and it’s usually dependent on class or who is the customer and who is the server. ‘Treat others how you would like to be treated’ – that’s all we had to really live by and wouldn’t you know, epic fail. I only really get pissed off when people don’t obey that rule.

    1. angela_carson

      I’m with you! My Mom said “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” …same thing. She also drilled into me her number one lesson in communication that I have carried with me, whcih is “it’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say it” and that’s what was lacking with Ms Airtel 😉

  17. Praveen

    An old article, but it was very inspiring to read it. I had a mild level outburst at times but not to an extent of creating a scene. However, the honey attracts more bees was a thoughtful one. Sometimes, write-up like these help us in understanding the feeling of people around us and the importance of keeping cool.

  18. Joseph

    I have had experiences with Indians living in Western countries, they act like this everywhere. Larger numbers of them have come to the US, when they initially came, I used to views Indian immigrants as polite, humble, hard working people. When larger numbers of Indians came to the US, I began to realize the true nature of so many Indians and South Asians. I am not racist, but have had numerous unpleasant encounters dealing with people from the Subcontinent.
    The worst have to be their children, saw an Indian mother with three small children at a restaurant, two of the kids were running around the place as if it were a playground, one got on top of the table and started jumping on it. The mother seemed not to care about her kid’s offensive behavior.
    I have met people of other ethnic backgrounds who tend to have far better manners than Indians. Particularly I prefer East Asians, never had an East Asian yell at me, or witness their children behaving in blatantly boorish ways.
    Also many African American children are very well behaved, its sad there is so much discrimination against them. By the way Indians here in the US are extremely prejudiced to African Americans.

  19. Ester Favreau

    I know these posts are crom a few years ago, but boy it is exactly what I was looking for.
    I started working for an Indian physician a few months ago. My, it has been a rollercoaster. She screams her head off, to nurses, hospital staff, lawyers, her employees, and anyone who does not do things “her way”. At first it stunned me, then I thought she might be emotionally unstable, now I know she nust screams. That’s the way she communicates, like she’s having a tantrum.
    I like her, I respect her, and I think she is an awesome surgeon.
    Now, at least, I understand her.
    Thank you

    1. Angela Carson

      hahaha yeah they go bat-shit crazy for effect, it’s the wildest thing to watch in real-time, right? I was shocked in India, some of the ladies looked quite respectable and like they should know better. Glad it helped (and I am curious what you were googling to find it hehe). -Angela

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