Global Glance: July 11, 2016
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
Perhaps because the United States is the world’s foremost car culture, our pedestrian etiquette mirrors our driving laws. If you’re walking on a sidewalk and someone is approaching you, you keep to the right, just as you would while driving. Similarly, you stand to the right on an escalator so that people may pass you on the left, just as on a US highway the far left lane is always the designated passing lane. As someone noted in a New York Times article on sidewalk etiquette, “’Stay to the right’ is the golden, No. 1 rule.”
A couple of weeks ago I was in the UK for the first time in nearly twenty years, staying in London. While walking on the sidewalks (or “pavements”) and on subway walkways, I kept the premise in mind that pedestrian etiquette follows local driving laws. I therefore kept to the left-hand side of whatever walkway was on. I didn’t as far as I know elicit any howls or even looks of frustration during my many miles of walking in London, but I was never sure — particularly during rush hour — if I was actually following local custom.
One London practice in this area struck me as odd. On subway escalators, pedestrian etiquette is clear and well-marked: You stand on the right so walkers can pass on the left. (I took the picture that appears below for skeptical non-UK Global Glancers.) Standing on the right is consistent with US etiquette, but it flies in the face of UK driving laws. Here’s Rule 137 of the UK’s Highway Code: “On a two-lane dual carriageway you should stay in the left-hand lane. Use the right-hand lane for overtaking or turning right. After overtaking, move back to the left-hand lane.” Given this, why wouldn’t UK escalator etiquette call for standing on the left and overtaking on the right? Had I been following the wrong walking protocols in London? Do locals not in fact customarily keep to the left-hand side of walking paths?
The UK Highway Code’s “Rules for Pedestrians” is of zero help here, not indicating which side of a walkway you should keep to. (And I suppose it’s a blessing you can’t be cited for walking on the wrong side of a UK sidewalk, especially in a country that attracts so many tourists.) The most reliable source I could discover on this subject is the BBC.com piece, “Advice for Foreigners on How Britons Walk.” According to its author, Mark Easton, there really isn’t any established UK pedestrian etiquette. He writes that Brits are “ambulatory anarchists” who take “a slalom approach to pedestrian progress.”
While this laissez-faire attitude to pedestrian etiquette sounds appealing in some ways, Easton notes that the chaos it can bring to urban areas has led to “pavement rage” and a Fast Lane Campaign in 2000 that “proposed designated colored lanes for pedestrians walking along Oxford Street in London — a fast lane for those rushing to get from A to B and a slow lane for window-shoppers and dawdlers.” The campaign fizzled in a country that mostly shuns jaywalking laws and is “bemused by [other] countries which police pedestrians.” Easton concludes, with a touch of self-satisfaction: “We are British and wander where we will.”
The Importance of Food in India
BBC.com published a story last month on the importance of food in India, the first in a series called “India on a Plate.” The author of the piece, journalist Ritu Agarwal, emphasizes the importance many Indian families place on meals, and the fact that Indian meals are “always meant to be shared. Everyone eats a bit of everything.”
I got a glimpse of this cultural assumption in April, when a member of Radius’ crack India-based marketing team paid us a visit in Boston. He worked for a few days in our office, and I may have been misreading the situation but I thought he assumed that each day we — that is he and the rest of the Boston-based marketing department — would (or should) gather and eat lunch together. Like most office workers in the US, our group tends to eat together only occasionally, such as after the completion of a project or around the holidays, and usually at a restaurant. Typically, we’ll each eat lunch as the mood strikes us, usually at our desks, and some of us may take a walk or even a run or visit the gym afterwards.
But back to my colleague from India: One afternoon some of us took him for a walk through Beacon Hill to get burritos. He told us that he and his team in India eat lunch together every day at work. Each person contributes a dish and, just as Agarwal mentions in her BBC.com article, everyone shares. Importantly, the contributions are always homemade and brought or delivered to work.
I go into this because I found it an interesting cultural difference, the kind of thing we often bring to our clients’ attentions before they expand into a new country. That is, not only do countries have different employer obligations by law, they also have different workplace customs that multinationals would do well to understand before establishing operations. After a few minutes talking with my coworker from India, I could easily envision that an expat worker in some parts of India who didn’t participate in daily team lunches might be considered aloof or strange (or worse). Anyway, he or she might be regarded as not really fit for working with the team.
I mentioned that our India-based group brings homemade food for lunch, and Agarwal emphasizes in her article that India is not traditionally a restaurant culture, particularly for those who grew up (as she did) in small towns, where “social eating only took place at weddings and other celebrations.” In her childhood community, she says, even traditional fasting periods were marked by food that was deemed permissible. She explains that “’permissible’ ingredients would differ from household to household, which meant that all in all, the fasting would end up becoming one long party which ended at night with some more amazing food for the entire family to sit down to.” (That’s my kind of fasting.)
Agarwal also says that there are regional differences in India that may in some cases be as strong as the differences across national borders. She explains that, as a person from north India, she had always assumed that south Indian food was exclusively vegetarian. When she moved south, however, she “was shocked to discover that every region and every community from the four southern states had very diverse cuisines, robust with meats, including pork and beef.”
The second part of BBC.com’s series is called “Cooking the World's Oldest Known Curry.” It describes how in 2010 two archeologists working in north India extracted starch molecules from earthenware pots and other sources from 4,000 years ago to “trace the world's first-known or ‘oldest’ proto-curry.” The article includes a recipe based on the discovery so you can try cooking a modified version of the ancient dish.