Sunday, May 29, 2016

Goals - what is the point?

Like my previous comments on Performance Reviews, I also dislike the goal setting that follows. Not because I am an underachiever, if anything I have always been an overachiever. But I dislike the artificial nature of the process. Ultimately, I see goal setting, at least in the context of work, as a manager deciding what he/she wants you to achieve, then manipulating you into thinking these are your goals and holding your feet to the fire until they are achieved. So why not just cut out the time wasting and let the manager set the goals? That is what will happen.

Certainly if we select goals that suit us, but do not suit our manager, those will not be the goals we eventually work towards, or if we do, we won't actually get much credit for reaching or surpassing them.

I am a planner, I am probably a little OCD, see this blog entry, I write lists, I write lists of lists, So why do I dislike writing goals? I don't, as I said I dislike the process in the workplace. I already have goals. I have had the same set of goals throughout my life, and they apply equally to all areas of my life.

  1. Learn from my mistakes
  2. Do better - keep improving ( similar to 1. but extending it )
  3. Look for the silver lining
  4. Do unto others...
  5. Win the lottery 
Number 5. is probably more a team goal and irrelevant to work - except that if I were to win the lottery I would most definitely retire from work. Goal # 6 achieved! Of course, achieving these goals is not going to do anything to help me climb the ladder at work, however with # 6 I would be dismounting the ladder anyway.

Each year, having been subjected to the aforementioned dreaded annual review, where our artificial goals from last year are dragged out to either applaud or denigrate us - either way we get graded on those goals.

Then there are SMART goals. Of course, I would argue that my goals are very smart, but the purpose of goals in a work environment are to hold you accountable, and to keep you focused and going in the right direction. I would like to say we are dealing with adults here, surely we can be trusted to hold ourselves accountable and stay focused, but sadly I know that this is not necessarily true. I have worked with many people who not only need goals, they need constant supervision - in fact some should never have been hired in the first place.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-bound) goals are described well on this website.

What exactly do you expect to accomplish?
How will you know when it has been achieved?
Is it consistent with the department / company goals?
Is it possible and affordable?
How long will it take?

One of the many issues I have with goal setting is that in my experience, the company direction changes and what might have been a relevant goal no longer applies and is never revisited, or, the department leadership changes and a goals that were agreed upon by one manager will not necessarily impress the successor, then any effort to achieve them is also wasted. I have yet to see how any goal has actually improved the performance of those employees who might be considered to need them, in my opinion, if they are not already performing to standard, they never will, at least not without a lot of supervision and constant driving. Cynical maybe, but remember, I have been around for some time (see this blog entry). Employees who are self driven really don't need external goals.

Perhaps companies would be better off checking on the Zodiac Signs before hiring and while doing performance reviews? If you look at the description of a Virgo's (me) characteristics, you would probably conclude that I don't need much goal setting to get the job done right, or at least to the best of my ability. Also I am a communicator, probably to a fault, but I can guarantee that my manager is in no doubt as to what I am doing and how I feel about it and is given plenty of opportunity to correct my course should it be needed.
"Virgo exists in the mind, everything is inside. To the world, Virgo presents a calm and collected exterior but on the inside, nervous uncontrolled intensity in the mind, trying to figure things out, how to improve everything, analyzing and thinking. Virgo can tire itself out without even moving! Virgo has a constant drive to improve and perfect, this can lead to extreme pickiness and finickiest. They are pure, their motives are honest never malicious and they want to accomplish something."

On the other hand, perhaps not, if my performance, remuneration and possible advancement where decided by a cards or astrology, while the process might be more enjoyable, the outcome might not.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Aging gracefully

Growing up I was more likely to be referred to as disgraceful, or I would have been had anyone been aware of the things I got up to, but I almost always got away with it, whatever 'it' was, I guess I was so quite and reserved, my rebellious nature was hidden and I either went totally unnoticed or no one expected me to do anything at all, let alone some of the things I did (a few of which are mentioned in my book).

 'Doing orchards', as it was referred to when I was a child, which was a euphemism for stealing fruit from the trees of our neighbors. Skipping school - not just occasionally, for almost an entire year. Making pipe bombs, for no other reason than to see if they really worked, and they did, and surprisingly I was never injured. I am glad to say that I was never a bully. In fact then, as now, I was cursed with an overdose of empathy and compassion - a fact that was confirmed in later years, by my therapist (also explained in my book).

As I believe growing old is the opposite of growing up, I decided I should do that gracefully - not exactly the opposite of disgracefully (no wonder English is so hard to master). Though, to be honest, I am still waiting to feel grown up, but I truly believe that is an illusion. All we ever do is grow old, from the moment we are born. I was disgraceful, now as I finally reached 'old', I will accept it gracefully. That is not to say I will become boring, heaven forbid! However, to the casual observer, just as I appeared totally harmless and well behaved as a child, I appear aged and boring as an old woman. Because, no mistake, in years I am old, however boring? Never!
"The great secret that all old people share, your body changes, but you don’t change at all." - Doris Lessing
And so, in my 70th year I came to the conclusion that I would always feel like that bold and rebellious child inside, that I would never feel grown up, that grown up is an illusion created by children. Time to become graceful.
"Acting our age is something that requires an enormous suspension of disbelief." -
 Will Self
In the past 8 months, since my 69th birthday, I have lost 25 pounds - for health reasons and because you cannot be graceful if you are 35 pounds overweight, yes, 10 more to go - I have stopped getting manicures and pedicures. I now keep my nails short. I stopped coloring my hair, though I have been somewhat surprised to discover that it only has a few flecks of grey ... yet.
This I have done in order to accept the advance of time. I have never, ever considered having 'work' done to me. That is, cosmetic surgery, other than having teeth straightened or replaced (which I seriously do consider to be a health aid rather than a vanity), I don't agree with liposuction or botox, but I kind of feel that the whole painted nails and artificial hair color really does come under the same heading - trying to appear to be something I am not. I want to be me, to be who I really am. And I want to stop spending money and precious time, most of all time, on the stupidity of trying to avoid the inevitable and the obvious.

I am embracing not only who I am, but also the advantages that come with old age. It is like being camouflaged. I am still the same person I was when I was young, but I am hidden inside this old body looking out, and once again I have become invisible to most people. I am no longer part of the dance, so I get to enjoy it so much more. I never did like performing. I am an observer.

Last year we took care of planning for the inevitable (see this blog entry) and so all of our 'affairs' are in order and our final curtain has been arranged. Perhaps that helped to make me accept the advance of time.

I have been very lucky, my life is good; oh I most definitely went through some bad patches, and a few very bad patches, but I came through having learnt the lesson and gained some wisdom (again, all in my book). Of course I have some regrets, but you cannot honestly regret anything that is an integral part of the journey you chose to follow, after all that is what it comes down to - it is a choice. You may argue that some people are stuck in situations they have no control over, I argue that somewhere along the line, they make choices that led them to be in that situation. You have got to be the change.
" the change you want to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi
I did write a blog on the advice I would give my younger self, but I am not sure I would have taken that advice then, I didn't have the wisdom gained from making the mistakes - and learning from them.

As always, I searching the Internet for information on what aging gracefully really means. I found a lot of discussion, but very little conclusion. It means different things to different people, just like happiness. (Remember that song? )

If this is middle age, perhaps old age is not hearing the phone ring, 
or not bothering to answer it?
My current definition, because I fully accept I may change my opinion as I continue to gain wisdom from experience, is to stop fighting the inevitable and live for the moment, however many moments are left to us, make the most of them. I don't want to spend a precious 45 minutes every 5 weeks waiting for the color to process in order to hide reality - for what?, or over an hour every three weeks having my nails done - for what?. Those are moments I will never get back, and from which I gain nothing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Terms of endearment?

A lack of intent may reduce a charge of manslaughter to a finding of reckless homicide or other lesser crime, but does this also apply to insults? And what is the definition of an insult? I frequently call myself a 'Silly bitch', when I do something that I consider foolish, clumsy or occasionally just plain stupid. I think I got into that habit in order to get it said before someone else did.

I honestly do not think that I am a silly bitch in the true sense of the term, I do know that I am human and humans are not perfect (no matter what my less than smart ex boss told me in my one bad review - see this blog entry). I also know that when I say that, I am not instantly destroying my self esteem, despite popular belief. So why do I get so irritated when my husband calls me a knucklehead? I know that he doesn't believe I am stupid, no more than I believe it. I know that he considers it a term of endearment - but I also know that he gets very irritated with me when I call myself a silly bitch, a term I consider to be much less insulting than knucklehead.

So no, I don't think it is the intent that is the issue, it is the perception. Somewhat like the very tenuous (in my opinion) description of sexual harassment. "Harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks" - and it does go to a more granular level, but only after the fact can it be established whether or not the behavior or remark is unwanted. Intention is not a factor, it is all about perception.

I grew up in an country and an era where the term silly bitch had to said with incredible anger and accompanied by much snarling and gritting of teeth before it would ever be considered an insult, but I don't ever remember hearing the term knucklehead until I met my husband. Therefore my perception is very different to his.

Of course we could go beyond perception into the realms of culture. Where knocking a man's hat off his head in Texas is quite possibly a shootable offense and most definitely highly insulting, whereas doing the same in Ireland could be taken as being playful. Even that is dependent on whether or not the parties involved know each other, and once again, on intention, because in both England and in the US, in law, knocking someones hat off is considered battery, that is - a physical assault. I watched my husband choose to ignore a particularly ignorant French person who found it amusing to knock his hat off his head on their first meeting. However, that initial meeting formed their future relationship, or lack thereof. And the very accurate gut feelings (see my blog entry here regarding gut feelings) that my husband formed regarding that particularly unsavory character.

I think I have talked myself into choosing to ignore minor insults particularly when the deliverer is someone I know and believe no insult is intended. And, even where an insult is intended it is up to me how I deal with it.

And here is an article by Neel Burton M.D.  that recommends exactly that reaction. While I had never heard of him before researching this article, I am now a fan. Check out his facebook page here.
"In conclusion, we need never take offense at an insult. Offense exists not in the insult but in our reaction to it, and our reactions are completely within our control. It is unreasonable to expect a boor to be anything but a boor; if we take offense at his bad behaviour, we have only ourselves to blame."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Gut Feelings

To read the article, click here

My husband is frequently reading body language, I think he took a course - or maybe just read up on it, but whichever, he does tend to believe the more common interpretations, however my research has turned up many conflicting descriptions. Take for instances, templing or steepling - his interpretation is that the speaking is not telling the truth, however in this detailed description, it means thoughtfulness or being engaged.

But what got me thinking about this subject was recently, when in a meeting at work, I was responding to a question and caught myself looking to the right and down. I wondered what my husband would say about that, so I had to look it up. Apparently it means I was accessing my feelings. And actually, that sounds about right.

According to this really good article on Forbes:
"You have 3 brains; 2 of them are good at reading body language. Your conscious mind is poor at reading body language, because evolution pushed that chore down to your unconscious mind, which is much larger and faster and can handle the job in nanoseconds, reacting to danger long before your conscious mind could. But you have a third “mind,” literally in your gut.  In fact, your gut has more neurons in it than a cat does in its head.  And that brain in your gut is wired to the unconscious mind in your head, so that when you become aware that you’re nervous, for example, that’s the end of a long process of your unconscious mind and your gut exchanging signals about that nervousness. You get butterflies in your stomach. Your stomach is good at telling you if there’s danger or opportunity because it’s part of a complex sensing system with your unconscious mind (the one in your head) that is constantly scanning your surroundings and especially other people"
That sounds a lot more logical to me. Whenever I have gone with my gut feeling, I have proved to be correct, and when I ignore my gut, I am usually reminded what a mistake that is.

There are a lot of websites dealing with body language, but a great many are actually just trying to sell you something. It really is not necessary to buy a book, or CD or whatever it is, with all the free information there for the searching. Here is one good site. But I do believe that almost every body language indicator can have more than one explanation. pursed lips could mean a tooth ache. I know when I was very overweight I frequently crossed my arms in front of me, to try to hide the spare tire. Equally, crossed legs could mean you need to pee, and crossing legs towards or away from someone may just be that your legs are going to sleep so you have to swap the direction they are crossed, doesn't mean you keep changing your mind about whether or not you like someone.

I like the idea that we can control how we feel by our own body language. In this Ted Talk, Amy Cuddy expands on that idea.
"Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” - standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident - can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success."
I believe if you keep complaining, you will feel miserable. But if you put on a happy, or just contented front, you will feel that way. Of course, not only does constant complaining make you feel miserable, it will push others away - it is just flat unpleasant to be around someone who is constantly whining about themselves. On the other hand, we feel so much happier around happy people. Not rocket science.

I learnt this lesson from a song from The King and I, Whistle a Happy Tune. Here are some of the words that impart that idea:
"While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows I'm afraid 
The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well"
And here is an interesting fact (taken from a LinkedIn article by Dr Travis Bradberry)
"UCLA research has shown that only 7% of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38% comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% comes from body language"
I suspect this is the main reason that I do not like having meaningful conversations on the telephone, because they are no meaningful without the body language, and more specifically facial expressions. I believe I mentioned my dislike of speaking on the phone in this blog entry. 

I will always prefer face to face communication, where I can trust my gut to help me to understand.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Annual Performance Reviews

I have always disliked Annual Performance Reviews. Doesn't matter if they are spectacular, I do not enjoy sitting in a face to face meeting with another person listening to them talk about me. Being the center of attention was something that always made me uncomfortable as far back as I can remember. If the review is good, I get embarrassed and hear my mother's voice in the back of my mind saying "stop showing off dear", or "don't boast dear" and I have to bite my tongue to prevent myself denying that I am worthy of praise. And, if the review is not so good, I have to bite my tongue to not go on the defensive, but also get equally embarrassed and either way my tongue gets bitten.

I might add that in my working life I have only had one bad review, and that was a complete farce, a result of, I am certain - no excuses intended - personality clash, multiple clashes in a short period of time. What is particularly odd about that occasion was the fact that I consider myself to be very easy to get along with, and I had then, as I do now, a very precise work ethic. But for some reason this particular manager did not like me and he was not a good enough manager to prevent that from clouding his judgment, I got a very strong impression that he wanted nothing more than to put me down. That opinion was supported by my colleagues in the same department. And of course because I knew that, I frequently tripped over myself trying to satisfy the bar he kept raising just out of my reach.

Perhaps he didn't like me because my transfer to his department caused difficulties for him. It was the 80s and I was working as a secretary in an investment bank in Dublin. I had managed to introduce word processors into the bank, to replace the electric typewriters we had been using up to then. Because I was the first to acquire one I became the 'go to' support person when the other secretaries had issues with their machines. I found that I loved working with computers and started to learn to program. I enrolled in a 4 year Computer Science degree course, which required me to attend college 4 nights a week, and all day every Saturday. Slowly I managed to convince the less than computer literate accountants in power in the bank that moving me to the computer department was a good idea, after all I was already doing much of the support for the secretaries and I could take over all of that releasing the programmers from the task, and I was already manually preparing many reports that were in the process of being computerized.

My reviews up to this point had been exemplary, and I had been promoted with each review. My first review in this new role was not so good. I had continued to support the secretaries, taken over other hardware support tasks such as upgrading memory in computers, troubleshooting printer problems, and at the same time computerized some of the manual reports required by the Treasury department.

Up to the time I applied for the transfer, I got along very well with my boss, the head of the Treasury Department, and also with the soon to be boss, a lower ranked Accountant.

As soon as the impending transfer became common knowledge my boss apparently took it personally and became vindictive. My guess is that he made life difficult for my soon to be boss also, being so much higher on the food chain, so while I was not sure that I would get the best of reviews after the transfer, I was not prepared for the extreme criticism I received.  The most ridiculous thing of all was that he finished up by telling me that I was 99% perfect and they were looking for 100%. Therefore I was getting low scores and no increase in salary.  Really? I admit, I was very flattered to think that I was considered 99% perfect, though I had a problem believing it - I mean who on earth is that perfect? and if they were looking for 100% then I was most definitely not in the right job, because I was, and am, human - therefore never going to be 100% perfect.

That review still  lingers in my memory and pops up its head every year since, at review time. I do firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and it was that review that finally pushed me to take charge of my life. If you read my book, you will see how I achieved that and ended up in the US where I found that I was appreciated a whole lot more.

One of the things I found refreshing when I moved to the US is the 'peer review' process. After all, who knows you better than the people you work closely with every day? In some companies you can select those you wish to supply feedback. This, of course, means that you will select those you believe will give you good feedback, so it can be lopsided. In other companies I have worked in, the manager requests feedback from his / her selection of people. This assumes they know who will have had experience working with you. And yet another  company, anyone and everyone can supply feedback at any time - good bad or indifferent. This does ensure that throughout the year you are aware of the possibility of your actions, or lack of actions, having an immediate effect on your end of year review. At that company you can also request feedback at any time, and of course at review time. The result is a much wider view of your achievements, or lack thereof, and a much better cross section view of your overall performance.

Of course, no matter how you perform,  or what your peers report about you, the quality of your performance review will still hinge on the quality of the manager responsible for evaluating you and delivering this evaluation. Here is a really good document for reviewers.

Here is an excerpt from a great article from


Accenture, GE, Adobe, Netflix, and dozens of other organizations are killing annual performance reviews as they aren't enough for today’s workplace. As Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google, recently wrote, "Performance management as practiced by most organizations has become a rule-based, bureaucratic process, existing as an end in itself rather than actually shaping performance. Employees hate it. Managers hate it. Even HR departments hate it."

And another very good article in SHRM quotes Rose Mueller-Hanson, HR practice leader at the CEB

According to this article in the Huffington Post, the annual performance review is on the way to extinction, and I for one, will be more than happy to see it go.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I got to India - how did Phileas Fogg do it?

He managed to travel around the world in 80 days. One thing is for sure, he didn't use American Airlines. I suppose I am being unfair to that airline, though I don't really remember having any pleasant experiences using them in the past. But air travel is fraught with delays and subject to the whims of nature and mechanical failures, it is far better that these failures keep you on the ground, rather than causing you to return there unexpectedly.

But, this blog entry is not so much about my unfortunate misadventures getting to India, but more about the fascinating and fortunate opportunity of being able to travel here and experience such an amazingly different culture.

However, I can't resist describing the journey. My reservations were schedule to take me from Austin TX, departing at 3.27 p.m. Friday to Dallas TX, with a 2 hour layover for a flight to London Heathrow, where I had a 4 hour wait for my direct connection from there to Bangalore India, that flight was scheduled to arrive just before 5 a.m. on Sunday morning IST. The flight out of Austin was delayed by 1 hour, due to the late arrival of the incoming flight. Not a cause for alarm as 1 hour was still sufficient to make my connection.

I need not have worried, the flight to London boarded 30 minutes late, and then we sat on the plane, at the gate, for two and a half hours while they fiddled around with a faulty radar issue. I watched a complete movie - Brooklyn - I highly recommend it, though it made me feel like crying - not sure if that was because I related so closely to the story, or because I was getting stressed about my connection time in London being whittled away. Once the movie was over and the flight was still not going anywhere, I called American Airlines reservations and asked what my alternatives were, should I miss the connection. They suggested I catch another flight out of Dallas, due to depart within the hour. That was not an option as my luggage was already aboard the parked plane. Then we were advised that we needed to deplane while the issue was fixed, so I had to hang up.

It was 11 p.m. before we finally took off

Once off the plane, I called AA reservations again, they advised me to speak to the gate agent. Another hour went by, lining up to speak with a gate agent. Finally when my turn came, he agreed that yes, it was unlikely that I would make the connection, but lets wait and see.. perhaps that flight would also be delayed, he spoke with a confidence that led me to believe that delayed flights was the norm for American Airlines.

Sun setting on London Airport before boarding
We finally were loaded back on the plane and took off 4 hours late. Arrival in London was approximately the same time as the flight to Bangalore departed, 2.25 p.m. GMT. However I was not surprised to find that London had stepped up and had everything under control. I was met at the arrival gate by a ticket agent with a new itinerary for me. My new flight was departing at 8.25 p.m and would take me to Delhi where I would make a connection to Bangalore, to arrive at 2.30 p.,m. Sunday afternoon IST. I had to check in with Jet Airlines (in London) at 5 p.m. to pick up my ticket, so I hung around until I got my boarding pass and then got something to eat to fill in the time.

This flight took off on time and my connection at Delhi to Bangalore was also on time.  Here is the thing, Any other time I have ever had disrupted flight plans, be it due to mechanical issue, or weather related, I have always received at the very least, meal vouchers, if not some form of compensation.

Despite spending 4 hours hanging around in Dallas, and almost a full day hanging around in Heathrow airport, I received no such compensation and I did incur extra expense buying meals I certainly had not anticipated having to buy - and could also have had much more expense as I arrived at my hotel a day later than expected and would have had to pay for the car that had been organized to meet me at the Bangalore Airport, had I not been able to rearrange that - even that required that I use roaming on my personal phone, an expense incurred as a direct result of the delayed flights.

The Palace
My colleague in Bangalore had arranged a car to pick me up from the airport and take me to my hotel, I contacted him from London to let him know the new arrival time, and he was able to contact the hotel on my behalf and this saved extra cost, no thanks to American Airlines there and sure enough the car was at the airport to meet me. The drive from the airport to the hotel should have taken about 30 minutes, however my driver took it upon himself to show me some of the local sights, we drove into the Palace grounds, an old Palace now a tourist attraction and a venue for events. (More information here). A marriage was in progress and it took some time to navigate through the crowds and the heavy traffic. I managed to get one inadequate photograph through the window of the slow moving cab and then we were off to my hotel I hoped, as I longed for a long hot shower and a quite, slow recovery. No such luck, I managed to convince the driver that I did not wish to go to Mysore Palace, almost 100 miles away. However he decided I might like to take a quick wander around the Cottage Industries, a local Bazaar. I could think of very little I would like to do less. At the best of times I hate shopping, and while it might have been a wonderfully exotic experience, most definitely not in my current state of exhaustion, jet lag and three days of travel grime. It took a a few minutes to convince the driver that no way was I getting out of the car for anything, least of all a shopping trip!

Finally he brought me to the hotel. I thought that the traffic was remarkably heavy for a Sunday afternoon, and more than a bit chaotic, that was because I had not yet seen, nor heard, the traffic on a normal working day, that was to come. Meanwhile I was impressed by the security at the hotel. Before the car could drive into the grounds of the hotel, it stopped at a security barrier where some incredibly polite security guards requested my permission to take my bag from the trunk of the car and scan it before delivering it to the reception area for me. I have no problem with being kept safe and agreed, not that I really had a choice. I was deposited at the entrance to the hotel, where my backpack was scanned and I was required to pass through a security scanner myself.

The hotel was extremely plush and quiet, the staff were almost too polite and I was advised that I had been upgraded to a 'single lady room' in their secure wing for single ladies. This wing was protected by an outer door with an electronic lock and a female security guard. Apparently they do not trust single ladies? The room was pleasant.. fairly standard hotel room. I connected my phone and laptop to the hotel WIFI and finally had my shower. After that I just chilled out. The rest of the visiting group from our head office in Seattle were not arriving until later that evening, so I sent a message to my manager (one of the late arriving group) and went to bed.

Squatty Potty 
I should take a step back here and mention that as soon as I knew that I was making this trip, I spent some time researching what I could expect and what preparations I needed to make. I established the vaccinations I needed and while at the travel clinic getting this taken care of, I was recommended to buy anti-mosquito wipes which I did. Google advised me that I could expect very different toilet arrangements, Indians have a similar arrangement to many European countries, where the bidet is a very important part of any toilet, so important in fact, that my French Grandmother had one installed in her bathroom in her home in Dublin.

My hotel toilet
Google led me to believe that I would not find toilet paper anywhere in India and strongly advised that foreigners removed their clothes before using the toilets, 'squatty potty' - and subsequently washing with the supplied spray/hose. I do admit that I was relieved to find a normal toilet in the hotel, and while the office also had a normal toilet, and toilet paper, it also had a hose / sprayer for that added cleanliness. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the rules posted in the ladies toilet in the office. To my Western mind, the idea of climbing on the toilet seemed somewhat unnecessary, however an Indian friend explained that for people who were brought up with the traditional India 'squatting' toilet, climbing on the bowl in order to squat did not seem all that far fetched - however, still somewhat dangerous.

toilet with sprayer

I guess I have to admit to being somewhat obsessed with toilets after all - this is definitely not the first time I have written about toilet habits. Looking back through the archives I find four blog entries on the subject. (One, two, three, four!). I can't help mentioning that one of the things I observed was men relieving themselves on the side of the road - any road, even the busy main road to the Airport, so I was not surprised to see a wall close to the office, with a huge sign painted on it 'Urine Forbidden'. Unfortunately I was not able to get a photo of that.

couldn't resist getting a photo of this

Later in the evening I received a text from my manager let me know that I could meet up with the group for breakfast and they had two cars on hand to ferry us all (all 8 of us) between the hotel and the office. Another logistical problem I no longer had to worry about.

Breakfast was amazing. I tried masala dosa and was hooked. But I admit I threw my diet to the West and indulged in all I could of this amazing Eastern food, a dish made from chia seeds and finely chopped fruit, made into a pudding - I don't normally like pudding but this was delicious. Coconut water, real, I mean still in the coconut, they drill a hole through one end and stick a straw in it. And the coffee! just amazing.

The entire purpose of the trip was to work with the team in India, up to now I was solely responsible for all of the testing on mobile devices, and as that effort had grown considerably in recent times and was no longer able to be handled by just one person, I was passing part of this effort to a new hire in the Bangalore office.Work was probably the only thing that was no different. Actually getting to work was probably the biggest culture shock, though getting back to the hotel after work even more so.

The traffic in Austin is bad, but nothing can compare to Bangalore rush hour. There are some similarities to Dublin - in so far as the roads are narrow, the traffic moves as fast as the obstacle in front will allow, and few observe rules of the road. However, in Dublin one way streets are observed, except by accident. In Bangalore, no one observes one way streets, they drive in the direction that will get them to where they want to go in the shortest amount of time. If that means the wrong way on a one way street then that is what they do.

There are more motorbikes on the streets than there are cars, plus there are more 'rickshaws' than cars. These are covered, three wheeled scooters. But the memory that I will carry forever is the absolute cacophony of sound. Everyone, I mean everyone who has a horn within hands reach, toots, blasts, beeps and blows that horn constantly. I figured out that this is because it is every man for himself. By that I mean, you do not check before changing direction, you expect everyone else to get out of the way, so everyone is constantly announcing their immediate presence by beeping and blowing their horns. The problem is that with so much noise, it is impossible to tell who is where. And of course, it is contagious.  It is a language on to itself. By the end of the week I had actually started to understand some of it. I could tell when it was intended as a greeting, the 'Good Morning' beep. A warning 'hey.. I am here', or 'behind you', and the very rare, but equally obvious 'Get out of my way!'.

Coming out of the office in the evening was probably the scariest part of the day. The street out front where we picked up our cab back to the hotel was a one way street. Most days our cab was parked across the street, facing in the right direction for the hotel, the wrong direction for the traffic flow, and I use the term flow very loosely. The traffic flowed at 5 p.m. like a rapid down a mountainside when the snows are melting in Spring. The noise was as deafening. There was no break in the horrific, beeping, honking, tooting stream of motorbikes, cars and rickshaws rushing past. The only way to cross was to take a deep breath and run, miraculously people, including myself, made it safely across the street - and during my entire week I never saw one traffic accident. An accident would have been fairly severe I think, as motorbike riders rarely wore helmets, frequently rode wearing flip flops, those who had helmets didn't close the straps so they would have been worse than useless in the event of a fall, and I saw many pillion rides carrying helmets, which didn't make sense, not only would it not protect them, also they didn't have free hands to hold on to the constantly weaving and sudden stopping vehicle. The majority of the helmets were actually construction hard hats, designed for protecting against minor debris falling from above, not designed to protect heads plowing into pavements or moving vehicles.

The hotel was a quiet harbor of luxury. It was a very old building, beautifully maintained. In the morning there was a piano player in the foyer, and in the evening a gentleman with an accordion sat on the gallery overlooking the foyer and played. The first evening, as I passed him, he asked me where I was from and obligingly played an Irish jig. The following evening as soon as he saw me, he switching into the jig immediately. Before I left I stopped and took a photo of him.

There were 4 restaurants in the hotel, all serving incredible food. On one evening we ate at the poolside Royal Afghan restaurant - that was amazingly good, and a beautiful location. I also enjoyed the Dublin Pub, seriously an 'Irish' pub in the hotel, where I taught the barman to say 'Slainte' in place of Salute. Much more appropriate. As I left the pub I heard him say Slainte to someone at the bar, my work was done.

I think the highlight of my visit had to be dinner with my wonderful friends Shubham and Akriti. What an honor to be invited to eat at home with an Indian family. I traveled to their home with Akriti, in a cab. Despite it being a working day, she had prepared food that morning and we had a wonderful meal and shared an evening of enjoyable camaraderie and conversation, after which they drove me home, even at 10 p.m. the traffic was still thick and noisy, it took an hour and a half to travel the approximately 30 miles back to my hotel, and they then had to turn around and drive back, with another working day to face. What incredible hospitality! And because I am almost overwhelmed by it, I have to say once again what an  honor it is to be able to say I spent an evening at home with an Indian family, while on a business trip. Before I left the office on Friday, Akriti presented me with a box of Indian sweets which I packed carefully in my check in luggage to bring home with me.

The journey home was not quite as painful as the journey out. Almost all flights were on time and relatively uneventful. I flew from Bangalore to Abu Dhabi, the 4 hour layover there was taken up with US immigration, customs and security, then a very long walk to the departure gate. From Abu Dhabi to JFK New York, was a 13 hour flight, in an airbus A380 which was interesting. This plane has two stories and hold 544 passengers. I had a very long layover at JFK, made even longer because the flight to Austin was delayed. It was due to depart at 5.15 and at the exact moment that the first class passengers started to board, a delay was announced, because the cockpit crew had been diverted to Newark airport and we had to wait for them to get from there to JFK. The first delay announced was only 30 minutes, but that was extended and it was almost 8 p.m. before we finally took off. At one point I overheard one of the American Airlines Gold members, that is someone who travels with them very frequently, complaining to the gate agent that this seems to be the norm for AA. It was after midnight before I was at last able to sleep in my own bed. In response to a question from one of my friends. I spent 84 hours traveling and 144 hours in India.

I really did enjoy India, and I do hope to return again some time, but I can't tell you how good it felt to be back on American soil, the very long layover at JFK was definitely a challenge but I was almost home and the time passed quickly as I finished up my first draft of this blog and enjoyed a triple venti cappuccino from Starbucks - back on my diet tomorrow, but today was all about celebrating a successful trip and getting home safe and sound.

Bangalore from the 30th floor restaurant.