I had made friends with the lady at the supermarket in charge of the fruit and vegetable aisle. One day I had pointed to a bunch of greens and asked: “Dhantu soppu?” She was thrilled I knew the word for dhantu soppu. But I have no clue what it is in English – it’s a type of leafy green vegetable. After that, each time I came in she would take me around the store, pointing at things and telling me their names in Kannada. Mango. Mavina hannu. Coconut. Tengina kaayi. Rice. Akki. Tomato. Tamato. She pointed to a magazine. Booku, she said. Alla! Pustaka! I replied and she laughed out loud.
But I haven’t seen her for months now. She must have changed jobs. I noticed that people seem to change jobs often. This is a sign of a healthy and flexible job market. The staff at the supermarket seem to change every week.
There definitely doesn’t seem to be a shortage of jobs. On the contrary, many shops and restaurants seem overstaffed. Are three waiters really needed to serve a table of two customers? One will serve the vegetarian dishes, another the non-veg, and yet another the bread and rice. If you lift a serving spoon to help yourself to more rice, the waiter will rush over and insist on serving you. I still find this hard to get used to!
The other day I was at my neighbourhood Health & Glow shop (similar to Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canada or Di in Belgium). It’s not very big, only one room, but I counted 10 employees. At least five friendly shop girls asked me if I needed help with anything. I’m now used to being followed around as I browse and closely observed (mostly out of curiosity rather than suspicion) though at the beginning this used to really irk me. In India I’ve had to learn to ignore.
There seems to be a job for everyone, just like under communism, because some jobs seem to be non-jobs. Some examples:
The security guard who stands at the exit of supermarkets with a hole-punch. He asks for your receipt and then punches a hole in it. But he doesn’t look very closely at the receipt or even inspect your bags. So what’s the point?
Then there’s the guy who works in the parking garage of shopping malls. His job is to press the button on the machine which spits out a ticket and then hand the ticket over to the driver.
There’s a lot of work for button pressers. There’s the elevator operator whose job is also to push on buttons. You tell him which floor and he’ll push the corresponding button. Then he’ll push on the button for the fan. If you protest he’ll gladly turn it off. When you arrive at your floor he’ll tell you you’ve arrived. Helpful but definitely not indispensable.
There’s even better… in the bathrooms of some hotels and shopping centres, there’s an employee who hands you a towel after you’ve washed your hands. From reports I’ve received from my husband this seems to be a lot more customary in the mens' than the ladies’.
In India you don’t have to fill your car’s tank at the service station, bag your groceries at the supermarket, or waste your energy opening doors, lifting serving spoons or pushing on buttons. There’s always someone to do it for you!