Atlanta Stories 2

One morning, we woke up to loud knocking. The knocking was consistent and loud, the type that means all business. Since apartment walls are usually drywall and have no sound-proofing, I thought someone was knocking at our door. I got out of bed quickly and looked through the key hole and saw the police waiting outside. But they were facing our neighbour’s door and continued knocking.

Now that was interesting! There were 4 policemen outside. What was our neighbour up to? We had seen this neighbour before. She seemed like a polite woman and always smiled when we met her on the stairs. She had a kid and we had met some of the other people who lived with her.

I had to leave for work so I had to stop spying and get ready. It took me a few minutes to get ready and when I stepped out, our neighbor was sitting by the staircase. I tried to act cool and make my way down the stairs without inconveniencing them but the flurry of activities made it awkward. I found my way down the stairs somehow and didn’t look back.

A few men had been arrested. We inferred later that they were involved in gangs and drug deals. I don’t think they stayed there every night but would stop by sometimes.

When I came back from work, the action scene had concluded. Our neighbour had been evicted and the apartment was being cleaned out.

The apartment complex we lived in was a gated community but the gate was almost always broken. The apartment administration would fix it sometimes and add more security options but it would be get broken again.

The smells of Atlanta

Did you know that marijuana smells sweetish and unpleasant? We had a few neighbours who smoked it all the time and we could smell it all the way up to our apartment. I wonder if it’s possible to get high through passive smoking. I didn’t feel any different.

The part of Atlanta that we lived in had several stinky streets with problems of open defecation. Homelessness exists in the US and you can find people living on the streets in warmer cities like Atlanta. The homeless would often beg for money and make temporary shelters under flyovers and street corners. I don’t think I ever saw children who were homeless.

Walking downtown was always fun. The stadium was right there. The streets were busy with tourists, soccer fans and people wearing costumes.

Roadtrips

Road trips are a popular way for intercity travel in the US. The first road trip we took was from Atlanta to Nashville. It was less than four hours away but I was so restless throughout the trip. Now I don’t mind road trips as much and sometimes road trips are a much better option than being in tiny planes getting tossed in the wind.

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Atlanta Stories

Atlanta is a vibrant city, full of life, very diverse and  and we lived there nearly four years. We recently moved and I wanted to record a few of our unique Atlanta experiences before we forget all about them 🙂

Atlanta summers can get as high as 38 degree Celsius with humidity. That heat is familiar since I am from Kolkata. What’s different is that some of our neighbors just sit in their cars during hot summer afternoons even though all apartments have air conditioning. Sometimes they turn music on but sometimes, they just sit in the parking lot for hours, doing nothing else.

For a few months last year, someone would play loud music around 3 AM every night while sitting in his car. The music would often wake us up and it turned into quite a tradition. In fact, a few days after the music stopped waking us up, we wondered if the neighbor had left. Around the same time, we had a neighbor who would practice his drum lessons late at night. Since everything else is “hear a pin drop” quiet, those drums were loud.

Our apartment was right next to railway tracks for cargo trains. These trains run through the day and night and their weight would make our furniture rattle.  I don’t think we will miss that part about living there.

For a few nights I stayed by myself while my husband worked night shifts. One night while trying to sleep and trying to ignore those creaks and sounds that are creepier and louder at night, I heard a loud scream, ‘they’re gonna kill me!”

At first I was frozen to the bed in fear, unable to move. When the shouting was accompanied by more commotion, I realized that the noise was coming from right below our apartment. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

There were police cars everywhere. The railway tracks were lit up and people’s porch lights were on which made the night look brighter than it was. A man was struggling to escape the clutches of two policemen.  He had managed to make it halfway over the fence.

The fences are almost 6 feet high and he was trying very hard to slide across to the other side. The police seemed to have caught him just as he was about to reach the top. So when I looked out of the window, I saw the man almost on the tips of the fence with two policemen trying to prevent him from making it to the other side. My heart was still racing as the man continued screaming, “they’re gonna kill me. Help! Help me, momma! Momma!”

It was during the same year when the media and public were misrepresenting police actions and making police appear to be villains all over the US. You might have read some of the bad publicity city police offices were getting and most of the stories were falsified. That night I prayed that the officers would do the right thing because clearly the man was trying everything he could to get injured in order to escape arrest.

Soon an elderly lady ran out of one of the apartments on the ground floor. I was shocked to realize that the man was in fact calling out to his mother. She lived right there, in our apartment complex and perhaps so did he! There was a crime suspect living so close to our apartment!

The elderly lady ran out shouting words of comfort to her son and abuses at the officers. In that moment, the man managed to break free from the police and ran towards our building. More police cars had arrived by then. It was like a scene from the movies. Sirens blaring, officers hurried out of their cars chasing him on foot. He was surrounded in seconds. They were now on the other side of the building and I couldn’t follow the rest of the action. The commotion continued till the man was finally arrested and the mother calmed down.

Over the next few minutes the police cars departed, apartment porch lights went out and the outside was dark again. I was too excited to sleep. I had just witnessed something exciting – a crime bust right below our apartment!

When my husband returned home from work later that night, I learned that the man had been involved in regular theft from the cargo trains that parked on the tracks at night. The police had finally caught on to his tricks and had arrested him.

Deciphering Indian Courtesies

Slide1The last time I visited my Kolkata home, there was a large crowd of people bidding goodbye to one person at the airport. Goodbyes are significant events and often extended families and even neighbours will come to see people off at airports and railway stations.

I thought of writing this post about deciphering Indian courtesies because of several recent conversations on Cultural Intelligence that I have had with colleagues. It will be interesting to learn which other cultures around the world follow similar practices. Since India is so culturally diverse, its amazing to see how some courtesies and traditions are the same across India.

For example, guests are highly valued in all Indian contexts. “Athithi devo bhava” meaning guest is god is accepted seriously across all people groups in India. As a result, guests are often not allowed to do anything that could count as a chore. Hosts will insist on serving something to everyone who visits their home, even if it’s just water. If you’re the guest, be polite and take a few sips even if you are not thirsty.

Guests can show up unannounced, sometimes during mid afternoon nap hours (nap times exist in several Indian cities) or even late at night. Hosts will demonstrate warm hospitality and serve snacks and beverages. Indian homes will keep sweets and snacks available for such surprise visits. If a guest ever showed up unannounced and our fridge wasn’t well stocked, it would cause some serious stress at home. But as an unannounced guest, your job is to convince your host not to worry about serving anything. “Just water is fine. I just ate”, is a well accepted excuse.

It is good manners to take something for your host – whether you were invited or showing up unannounced. Something simple like a box of good quality sweets or a bag of fruits is a good gift.

It is considered polite to arrive a little late when you are invited to a meal. Being late by 5 or 10 minutes is a good idea but try to keep it less than 15 minutes. Being a little late implies that although you are excited about the invitation, you are not desperate to eat and have some self-esteem.

Most Indian hosts will wait till all guests have eaten before they sit down to eat. Sometimes, hosts will wait till after the guests have left. This can feel uncomfortable if you’re unfamiliar with having a host wait on you and serve you multiple portions without themselves sitting down to eat. As a guest you can try convincing them to eat with you but it’s hard for people to change this belief.

Slide3After a meal, the host may pack some of the leftovers for guests. Its important that any reusable container is returned to the host as soon as possible. It is impolite to return an empty container. People will typically add some special sweets before returning it. I love this tradition – you never what delicacy you will find.

Some of my family members are left handed but since it’s improper to use your left hand to eat, they eat using their right hand, at least in public. The left hand is considered unclean and is therefore not used to give or accept anything. I have had vendors decline payment if I mistakenly extended it with my left hand.

This one applies not just to guests: Most Indians will offer the last leftovers from a delicacy to someone else. It’s a strange mindset but if there’s only one sweet left, families will split it or they will offer it to a visitor. I guess we have all heard this and believe it to be true that“the last bite carries the most blessing”. 

Unless you invite someone in person or over the phone (if you live in different cities), an invitation card has no meaning. In fact, mailing an invitation without following it up with a phone call is considered as rude as not inviting someone at all. Personal connections are highly valued and emphasized.

Slide2This is almost the funniest thing about Indian families but goodbyes can be a lengthy affair…even when you will meet the person again the very next day. You can spend hours at someone’s house but when it’s time to leave, it’s natural to stand at the door and talk for a looong time! Some goodbye conversations at our house have lasted 45 minutes. Maybe it is our way of saying. I enjoy your company so much that it’s hard to leave. 

 

What are some other Indian courtesies that I missed highlighting? Do you know if any of these are practiced in other world cultures?

Leave a comment below or write to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com. We would love to hear from you!

 

Learning to Network in a New City

The last time I had a sales job, I had regular nightmares about failing at achieving ‘targets’. That was almost nine years ago but I still remember the exhausting feeling. I hated networking. I hated going to work and trying to sell insurance to customers. But it was my first job after college while I tried to figure out which career to pursue and the job paid handsomely. Thankfully, I had a good boss who helped me realize that sales was not my calling. So after six grueling months of meeting clients and growing a sales network, I decided that the stress was not worth the money and quit.

After quitting I did some freelance work and then started my professional journey with IJM. In my Business Admin and Human Resources role, most of my responsibilities were office internal. When I was assigned the responsibility of being a recruiter, I enjoyed networking with organization leaders, colleges and individuals. This networking often took less selling skills because most people wanted to work at IJM.

I was getting quite comfortable in my role when one year our Director assigned an additional networking responsibility to me. I was to serve as a liaison to the German Consulate in Kolkata. This would involve staying in touch with some officials and attending social events hosted by the German Consulate. It wasn’t complicated really but I tried to wiggle out of it and failed.

The first social event I went to alone, I felt out of place and awkward at the beginning but I ended up meeting some cool people. Over time I learned to attend social events on my own, which meant that I actually had to meet strangers, start conversations, eliminate awkward silences and get to know people that I had no real interest in getting to know. The exposure was amazing! I grew more confident, comfortable and appeared more extroverted. My favorite part of the events remained unchanged – I loved when it was time to leave 🙂 But I became less apprehensive about intentional networking.

Learning to network is a key skill that leads to opportunities. Networking doesn’t have to be phony and selfish. It can be a great tool in building connections, advancing knowledge and greater success.

When I moved to Atlanta these networking lessons were put to good use. We knew only a couple of people here. While I waited for my US work authorization, I was able to use that tiny Atlanta network to connect with several business leaders. These leaders then introduced me to other business leaders in the city. Not all of them led to substantial outcomes but the city began to feel more familiar as my professional network grew.

Read related: Living Overseas: Community

You need to be proactive in making these meetings happen. Don’t hesitate to follow up with your contacts when you are waiting to hear about potential networking opportunities – reminders work wonders. But there is fine line between being proactive and being annoying and that line depends on the kind of contacts that you have. Use the appropriate time of day to reach out, always give people a lot of time to respond and don’t hold grudges when they don’t respond. 

Most of the time people were more available to speak over the phone instead of meeting in person. Either way the conversations included introductions, ideas about top things to do in Atlanta and some career advice. I had prepared a brief about myself and a list of questions about the person’s career choices and I would try to keep the pace and sequence as natural as possible. I didn’t ask any of them for a job but simply shared what I was looking for and sought their advice about next steps.

The other networking tool that I used was LinkedIn. I first spent a few hours creating a strong LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allowed me to find and reach out to company leaders and recruiters in Atlanta. About 75% of those I contacted responded back kindly. The rest didn’t respond at all. I would find the people listed on job boards or leaders listed on company websites and simply reach out via email. It was awkward at first but with every positive response I received, the more natural the approach became.

Read related: What do people who thrive overseas have in common?

Of course not all of the 75% who responded led to substantial outcomes in terms of job searches but each of those conversations helped me improve the next email and conversation. I also enjoyed the exposure that I got to company processes and cultures and that was just priceless. When I emailed someone, irrespective of whether I knew them or not, I would ask them for one favor and that was to allow me to learn about their career trajectory, choices and lessons they had learned along the way as it would help me maneuver my new career path in Atlanta. I am very grateful to those who responded and shared invaluable lessons with me.

The key to this approach was not to get too attached to the opportunities and networks that I was pursuing. This attitude eliminated any feeling of insult when people didn’t respond because quite practically, not everyone has the time or interest to respond to strangers. However, if someone didn’t respond at first, I would send them a follow up email and keep it brief. Most leaders responded to the second email and agreed to schedule a time to connect over the phone and some of them even invited me to meet them at their offices and explore career opportunities with their companies.

Some of these networking sessions led to job opportunities in Atlanta. Some of them led to new friends. I almost enjoy networking meetings now.

You can learn more about networking through these articles:


You can share your professional lessons with readers. Email your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

“Wrong” party attires make better stories

This is just a lighthearted post but do you remember showing up to a party dressed in the ‘wrong’ dress code? It shouldn’t be hard to recall. It’s one of those memories that remain pretty fresh in our minds.

If you know anything about India, you know that Indians are known for their colorful and often OTT dress sense.

When I moved to Atlanta, I was invited to a party at a friend’s house. At that time, they were ‘new’ friends and whenever I had been over to their house, they were very casually dressed. In fact I would feel overdressed whenever we met. So when they invited me to the new year’s eve party at their house and said it was a casual party, I decided to show up dressed casually.

My husband had to work that evening and I decided to try to connect with my new community. I put on my new ninja hoodie and jeans and showed up. You guessed right if you are thinking that was the wrong dress code for the evening.

Everyone at the party was dressed up. Since it was a house party, there weren’t many options of hiding this one out. Most of the people at the party were complete strangers that night but I knew I would meet most of them again. They also had a lot of questions about India. I tried to stay at the top of my conversation game to compensate for the incorrect attire. It is funny to look back on it now but it was an awkward evening.

When my husband lived in India, he had a similar incident (made for each other you see), except that he was overdressed in Indian attire at a wedding lunch party. Everyone else at the party, including the groom had shown up in a casual day suit or just a formal shirt and jeans and my husband showed up in an Indian kurta. Needless to say, every one at the wedding commented on his attire which made for a really funny story.

So when you live in a new culture, how do you decide what the right party attire is, especially, when you aren’t surrounded by friends who can advice you? I guess you can just make the best assumption. Next time I am planning to take the middle road – nothing too casual and not overly dressy. If it still makes for a funny story, just remember it for the laughs.


Share your stories with The Overseas Magazine. Email editor@theoverseasmagazine.com

For the love of Bollywood music!

I have intentionally listened to more Bollywood songs during my two and a half years living in Atlanta than ever before. I have actually searched for Bollywood hits on YouTube and looked up a few fun songs that are commonly heard during every puja festival in Kolkata. I have even watched Bollywood movies on Netflix.

I know many of you enjoy Bollywood music. I have a few favorites too and I obviously listened to a few of them while writing this post. Some of them even got my husband dancing.

Omshantiom

In India, you can hear Bollywood songs playing all the time. That’s one reason why I didn’t need to search for them on YouTube. You can hear them on TV, during auto rides homes, even at some tea stalls over their small radios while you sipped tea. I could hear them playing in the neighbor’s house in the evenings and of course during the many local festivals.

Somehow the scandalous clothing in the song videos do not draw many protests from families as long as the music is catchy. But when the music is slow with less scandalous outfits and dance steps – you can’t really watch those with your family without feeling slightly uncomfortable. I believe that the upbeat music and often hilarious dance steps blinds us to everything else.

Years ago my family and I had visited Mumbai (or Bombay as it called then). We visited Film City and watched the shooting of a Bollywood movie scene. That was an exciting trip! We were star struck even though we didn’t really meet any of the popular stars. We also hoped to run into superstar Shahrukh Khan during that trip but all we managed to see was the boundary walls of his house.

yadoon ki baratBollywood music has evolved through the decades. I read recently that the first Hindi sound film, Alam Ara released in 1931 featured seven songs. One movie from those earlier times had 42 song sequences! Some songs that were produced during the times of our grandparents are still cherished today. You may have watched the 5 minute video about the evolution of Bollywood music but watch it again. It’s worth your time: Evolution of Bollywood Music – Penn Masala. I bet you know all the songs that Penn Masala captures in this video. zoobi doobi

I don’t quite have the patience to watch some Bollywood movies because of the movie length and number of songs but there are definitely movies that are worth spending 3 hours over. Thanks to Netflix for featuring a few good ones these days. Hopefully better ones will be added to the list.

In case you’re wondering, these are some of the songs that I listened to while writing this: Chammak Challo (Ra One), Zoobi-Doobi (3 Idiots), Dhoom Tana (Om Shanti Om), Aaj ki raat (SRK’s Don). The featured photo on this post is SRK’s Chammak Challo – the movie wasn’t that great but the song is super catchy! You must have heard them all and some of you even played them in your head as you read the titles.

I think this post calls for a Bollywood movie weekend!


Send your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com. We would love to hear from you!

Our World – June 2017

Here’s how June 2017 wrapped up in a few countries around the world:

USA

A doctor went on a shooting spree yesterday killing another doctor and injuring several at a New York hospital. Read more…

Canada

Canada is celebrating 150 years! Thousands of people gathered at an intersection in the Canadian city of Winnipeg to create the country’s “largest living maple leaf”. Read more…

maple leaf
Image credit: BBC News

Read about: Eat: Canada (Restaurant recommendations – Cambridge Ontario)

India

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced that the goods and services tax (GST) is yet another measure after demonetisation that was aimed at cleansing the country’s economy. Read more…

Read about: Eat: India (Restaurant recommendations – Calcutta)

Read about: Eat: India (Restaurant recommendations – Delhi)

Niger

Bombers killed two people and wounded 11 others at a U.N.-managed camp in Niger housing thousands of people who have fled Boko Haram violence in the first suicide attack in the region in a year, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday. Read more…

Romania

Romania’s new Government plans to drop the current 16% tax on company profits and replace it with a tax on turnover starting January 1, 2018, according to the new governing program presented by the PSD-ALDE coalition. Read more…

Syria

The Syrian government on Saturday dismissed a report by the international chemical weapons watchdog that said the banned nerve agent sarin was used in an April attack in northern Syria, saying it lacked “any credibility”. Read more… 


Our World – June 2017