Follow the money

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We faced the daunting challenge last week of figuring out how to pay our first round of monthly bills, and especially the internet bill. The choices appeared to be online, by voucher or by courier.

We tried online first, of course. The website appeared to be broken at times. when it was working, we ran into the problem of having a foreign credit card. Some websites won’t accept a foreign credit credit card at all. Others do but the credit card company rejects the charge as fishy. We did not have any success paying the internet bill by credit card.

We opted for the courier option as we did not see any address on the bill or online where we could drop off the payment. For an extra 50 rupees ($1), the courier was to come and pick up the cash. Of course, the courier didn’t come on the appointed day, or the next day. And then we were heading off to Goa for the weekend. We left the bill with the head security guard. Luckily the courier called when we were near the phone in Goa and luckily also RAn was nearby to speak Hindi and give directions, because the man spoke no English.

The voucher option might be something to explore. It sounds like a money order. You go to certain stores and can purchase payment vouchers that can be used for specific purposes. Then there are apparently payment boxes for the vouchers that can be found about town. I’ll save that adventure for next month!

Notice that paying by mail was not one of the choices! The postal system in India is not trusted or reliable. Important business here occurs by courier or by a company such as DSL if going internationally. I have mentioned before that stamps are not trustworthy because it is assumed that someone will cut them off. But since then talking to colleagues it seems that the mail itself only has about a 50% chance of arrving unless you pay for registered mail or some sort of explicit tracking service. So running a business dependent on the mail services is foolhardy. And no one trusts that the mail will get money where it needs to go.

I’ve realized that how money changes hands is a big concern in India. People prefer to deal in cash, even when it is the equivalent of thousands of US dollars.  And there seems to be an expectation that money theft will occur and it affects how business is conducted. For example, in local grocery stores, first you check out your food items and receive a receipt. Then you go to the money guy. It is often a bit chaotic since you have people from several check out aisles converging on one money. He’s where you give the cash or the credit card. Then he stamps your receipt. You then go exit the store where a security guard checks to make sure that your bill is stamped. Now, often this process occurs within a few feet of one another and it is very frustrating to me when the security guard puzzles over my bill after he has watched me check out and then walk over to the money guy. Then, interestingly, fruit is sold separately outside of the store and they collect their own money.

This concern about theft and money helps to explain why building relationships is so key to conducting business in India–the assumption of trust is not there initially but needs to be established through gestures and time.

The lack of trust is also clear with our maid, or her fear that we don’t trust her. She won’t even touch dishes if they aren’t right by the sink because she doesn’t want to be accused to taking anything. She even scolds us if she sees something sitting out that she feels should be locked up. We never let her stay in the house if we are leaving and she doesn’t want to be there for fear of accusation. And yet we know she wouldn’t steal from us, or at least she would be a fool to do so because her entire family works for the apartment complex. Her husband is on the building crew. Her daugher cleans houses. Her grandson gardens. If someone in the family screws up, they could all be fired and be in big financial trouble.

Turns out the Holyman across the way got robbed last weekend. He had Basama, our maid, as his house cleaner, but replaced her with a live in servant. The servant stole from him this weekend. They found all the stuff under the guy’s pillow. By they, I mean Basama’s family and the workers who live in the garage area of our complex. Since the lack of trust also extends to the police, they beat the guy up and brought the stuff back. Justice served, the Indian way.

The photo above hows a policeman in this strangely elaborate tented area on the side side of the highway. The tented area is next to the new toll booths  set up near the airport. The drivers in town are furious about the new tolls and Todd and I got to see their rage when I picked him up at the airport. People getting out of their car and shouting. Cars honking loudly. Turns out they are really mad about the new tolls.

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