Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Shopper and the Shauppeur

These days, many of my "blogger-thoughts" seem to occur while shopping. I hope I can say this without sounding shallow or inane. Anyway, today, I accompanied the husband to a store to help him pick out a pair of jeans. Finding myself in the unusual role of the shauppeur (okay, it's not a real word, but, you know, shauppeur = shop + chauffeur = someone who drives/accompanies you to shopping), it struck me, for the first time, that stores in the US almost never have any seating. It's almost as if they don't want the many waiting spouses/friends/parents accompanying their customers to have this basic comfort.

This lead to a sudden (and emotional) flashback to stores in India where customer service is impeccable. Right from the 'aiye behenji' greeting, to seating customers comfortably as someone tirelessly unfolds and displays hundreds of sarees while the behenji-suddenly-turned-diva rejects them one after the other with a shake of her head. The behenji is then shown how the saree will look on her, the saleswoman, and the store manager so that she can get a truly accurate picture of what the saree looks like, and is convinced that there really is no catch. And this I will never understand - how is it humanly possible to smile at someone who walks away after all this without buying anything? Epitome of human endurance if you ask me.

Anyway, back to America where, except for a 30-day return policy (which I will forever be grateful for), customers aren't treated as gods. Now, the behenji-business ain't gonna fly in America, but I would imagine that at least seating shauppeurs will allow them to busy themselves with Facebook apps on their iPhones and whine less, so that the shoppers can take their time to browse the store and find something they like. This may particularly help the case of the tired/irritable/impatient/well-past-the-dating-stage-I-don't-have-to-impress-no-more shauppeurs.

But then again, having no seating may force shauppeurs to browse the store themselves and perhaps buy something (I did eye a this pair of pink jeans that I almost tried today). Two birds with one stone maybe? This may hold true mostly for female shauppeurs though. What do you guys think?

Anyway, this post isn't just an attempt to understand the complex science of shoppology, but of late, I've noticed how little time and money is spent in understanding what people want, and how much of it is spent on something that someone sitting within the confines of an office thinks is a great idea. Just trying to see if paying attention to little things can make a difference. To the perceptive eye, some of my posts have undercurrents ...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Water - Blog Action Day 2010

(Click here for source of image)

On most mornings, as I brush my teeth, I just let the water run all the time. Then I spend a good 20 minutes in the shower before leaving for work. And not even for a moment do I stop to think that over a billion people in this world have no access to something as basic as clean water. Thing is, living a sheltered life in urban India, followed by a move to America, has, over time, made me forget this harsh reality, until I got an invite for the international blog action day on water.

Frankly, like most people out there, I have been largely ignorant of the global water crisis. As I began to google, I realized that I did not want to blog about "facts and stats" today. There is loads of research out there describing the problem at hand and it's ghastly consequences. And few people reading this blog (myself included) will remember all the numbers (although a billion is quite unforgettable!). So I thought, what can I, and those like me, do to help in their own little way?

The answer came to me from the very idea of Blog Action Day - awareness. It really is the first step. A general awareness (if not a complete understanding) of the problem at hand is what will drive each one of us to do our bit to help solve this problem. As an example, I never used a reusable grocery bag until I found out that New York City produces an insane amount of waste every day. Knowing that, made me feel like I had to do something about it, and I have refused many a plastic bag over the past year. Awareness, and a little initiative is all it took.

So, know that over a billion people in this world do not have the "luxury" of clean, drinking water. Know that hundreds of thousands of children die in India every year from water-borne diseases. Know that millions of little girls drop out of school because they have to walk miles and miles each day to fetch water. Know, that 40 billion hours are spent each year by Africans walking for water. Know, that while gallons of water are being wasted in one household, another goes thirsty. And finally, don't ignore it and be part of the solution in your own little way.

Save water. Reduce pollutants. Support NGOs that are working hard to solve this monolithic problem. Spread awareness. And this one is free, easy and fun - contribute to ideas! Think-tanks, and members of organizations like Asha for Education have been putting their minds together to come up with solutions to the water-crisis problem in places like Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, India*. Water-crisis spins a complex web of socio-economic problems and there is much you can do to contribute in the form of ideas/research/volunteering.

To end with a line that will make us all appreciate the severity of this problem - "A recent UN report confirms that more people die of contaminated and polluted water than from all forms of violence including wars." (ref) I, for my part, will not let water run waste in my sink or tub from today, and recyle. Will you?

*Special thanks to Sharad Sundararajan and Shreya Amin for leading the efforts for Jhabua from New York.

Wordless Wednesdays

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Fine Line

I love Desperate Housewives. What I love about the show is that even with a name like that, they refuse to portray their leading female characters as idiots, which is increasingly becoming a rarity on Television. These women are shown as fundamentally strong, intelligent, and witty without being Charlie's Angels or CSI Detectives, and I'm fine if they throw a cat-fight or two into the mix just to add some drama - it's a TV show after all.

Now, what I cannot stand is shows like 'The Real Housewives of...' series, Bridezillas or Paris Hilton's new BFF, whose sole purpose seems to be to slot women into one of three categories - bitchy, dumb or gold-digger. Over time, I've sort of made my peace with this portrayal - unfortunate, but someone out there gets a kick out of this stuff, and money must be made off it. But this Sunday, I was completely ticked off after seeing this ad.

Some would say this is a harmless ad. So why am I so riled, when I could look past Bridezillas? You see, once advertising misses the fine line between stupidity and comedy, and begins to think that women must be portrayed as dumb in order to potentially lure female consumers, one must take notice of the gravity of the problem.

My issues with this ad are, but obvious. Firstly, it is not funny. Yes, I mean even with grown women in Cinderella-like gowns, wearing those silly expressions. If they were going for comedy, they failed miserably. Those women could have been witty and funny - it's not entirely impossible. Even SATC could teach you a lesson or two on how to do that! Secondly, these people from advertising and marketing didn't stop to think if self-respecting women would want to buy butter-finger snacksters after seeing such an ad (and not just because they're called butter-finger snacksters)? No, just like in the ad, I think I won't! You see, I would feel stupid eating those things, now that I have the image of those two silly women stuck in my head, know what I mean?

And I'm not overreacting either. This ad is only one in a string of such insulting ads that I saw this weekend. And even if some women don't consciously feel offended by this (it's almost impossible to mentally register ads these days given all the info overload), I'm not sure if the overall impression of such ads appeals to the average woman's subconscious at least. So, to all the ad agencies/TV shows out there, please, take a leaf out of Desperate Housewives. And if you absolutely must show us as "girly girls", you could learn from 'The Closer' where Kyra Sedgwick has such a weakness for chocolate that she steals donuts from a crime scene while superbly solving a homicide mystery. I can live with that. Just not stupidity.