Thursday, June 23, 2005

What is your Salary? - II

Note: This blog is a sequel for this blog. So read this first.

Salary is one of those sensitive pieces information that nobody wants to talk openly about. People dont even argue/disccuss philosophies and issues concerning salary or revealing of salary information. People dont even blog about such topics because it can so easily backfire. When people are young and still in undergraduate college, job and job related things are vague subjects. Manager is a designation that everybody knows, you always have this position called "software engineer". Beyond this nobody knows anything about the job industry. At that time, I heard in my relatives circle about somebody asking someone his salary and then the someone got really offended and refused to say it and then later the sombody also got really offended. I was thinking, "whats the big fuss about?" Just tell some damn number and get lost. The higher the number the better. Well! it was easier said than done. Innocence is worse than virginty , there is no chance that you may not lose it.

I think the laws of life with sub-sections like growing up, experience, maturing etc are wonderful source of enlightenment. Many people try and avoid the learnings. I tried to side-step this like the way I cut classes in college. But it doesn't work. While you can spend time outside college, you can't spend time outside life. Once you step outside the country and spend 2 years as Grad Student, your eyes open up to a whole new world around you. The locals and other students you interact with -- stun you with their maturity and sense of political correctness. You don't get to meet well-oiled corporate employees here, you only get to meet raw students who are the same age as you are and from different parts of the world. Students were from remote villages in America, who have never seen a forigner before, students came from Kenya, Spain etc. It surprised me so much that nobody asked even a single question that could be construed as an invasion of privacy. While I was stunned by many Indians who asked deeply private questions (hmm.."is she your wife" is a private question ;-)). So I went on to investigate the psycological basis for (many if not all) Indians to be so intrusive and insensitive to personal space.

I compared this to my school-kid life, where on the first day of school, students were asked their name, their father's name and his employment. This was how we were asked to introduce ourselves when we were kids. So many times I have seen kids cringing with inferiority complex, when they had to say "un employed" or "mechanic" or "Tahsildar office pune". It became worse when they had to say " I don't have a father (and upon further pressed for info about their mother)... she does domestic work" . Looking back at that, it was the first time I realized "hey! that was wrong and very bad thing for the teachers to do". The very (noble) purpose of having uniforms in school was to make sure there is no differentiation. This "introductions" vitiated that intent. Thinking back friends-circle got formed based on these introductions. Students from poorer backgrounds developed complexes. People who were perceived as rich were surrounded with friends (because they would buy chocolates for everybody in canteen). This insulted the rich kid's intelligence also because they were pursued for their father's money. While this was not always the case, you can never deny the fact that this happens in school.

The same thing happens with grades. The bad manners of scolding students publicly in the class for bad grades. Openly comparing them with other students. How does this help the student? if at all it does anything, it reduces her self-esteem and makes her develop a complex. Thinking back, looking at classmates who got yelled at by the teacher, I developed a low opinion about those classmates and thought them as people who were bad and incapable. Most of my other classmates thought they same too. They once-in-a-while talked and moved with such students as acquaintances, but thats it. Because a judgement was implicitly passed in our minds. As a result academically poor kids moved only with similar kids. In my second year at college, they stuck our first-year mark sheets in the bulletin board. Everybody's mark sheets were on the publicly viewable notice board. I have to say that incident alone directly led to a mini caste-system in our college. In my 3rd year, a lecturer read out everybody's grades during class. We were a class full of people sitting and she read out grades like she was announcing election results. While, at the time I let out a huge whistle of relief that I passed in all subjects, I didn't really think about the people who did badly. They would lose out on friends and even a decent conversation because they did badly in an unrelated field. What has friendship got to do with grades? Even if you did not judge them based on their marks, s/he would develop the perception anyway. For the people who did well in studies -- they have to live with nonsense comments like "you are a big guy.. you have no are a brilliant person". While they can't reply anything but just give out a stupid smile, the "brilliant guy" begins to worry about a dispropotionate reputation and things like "drishti" etc.

The problem why asking for personal information is bad is because, people tend to transalate that into other unconnected fields." you said your father was some General Manager, but you don't know how to eat properly with a spoon". There are things like " you get college first etc.. but you dont know how to hold a cricket bat". Then comes " you are earning so much, you dont wanna spend more on xyz, you wanna split lunch as dutch treat. Why are you so stingy". Sometimes when you think of saying "thats bloody none of your business".. then you get replies like " oh!.. he is showing if he is the only one who is the son-of-a-GM/College-first/high-salary earner"

In a new place (like a foreign country), where your experiences is not normal or is just among one of the many alternatives, Your opinions (silently or otherwise) get challenged by your friends, room mates, and sometimes even professors. Suddenly normal is wrong here. You are now standing in a neutral ground, where you tend to question your education upto that point. I think this is true for everybody who falls in the grad student-work-GC formulaic category -- while we knew that discussing job offers in the final year of education with room mates and friends were okay, we sort of knew that -- that would be it. We woudn't be able to discuss salary with the very same people two years later. Side Note: (as a result of some comments in the previous post) For a person going to US as a so-called "H1-B party" or a "H4 Party" this "realization" could happen the first time they get snubbed/ridiculed when they ask for salary information from a collegue, which invariably is another Indian. I sometimes think the direct H1-B folks from India are unfairly ridiculed by the F1 (student) -> to -> H1B (work visa) folks. While students have had a chance to make mistakes and correct themselves in a relatively secure school environment, the H1B folks get exposed in a more volatile corporate environment. That is the big (if not the only) difference. End Sidenote

One you step into a corporate environment, it is almost cast in stone that asking for salary information is bad manners. In the eyes of others it is uncivilized and reflects poor upbringing. I believe it is true to a great extent. 9 out of ten times, people ask salary for the wrong reasons. Yes! sometimes it is genuine, elders want to know how times have changed ( but then in that case they should get it from their sons/grandsons etc). I have been advised by some good friends, that I am capable of earning more and I should negotiate better. I have told some other friends that they are underpaid and they should look around for better options. These are the right reasons. But it is in minority. For two people, to exchange salary information, there should be mutual trust. Otherwise it could lead to huge problems. For example: One of my relatives was paid very well, he told his father his salary and his father told his friend whose son was working in the same company as my relative. That "son" found that he was getting paid less and argued with my relative as to why this was happening to him. So sometimes if you see someone refusing to divulge information to his own parents don't judge him so soon. For example 2: On my first week at my current company, an unknown person (who I later found out to be an idiot) asked me "what is your salary?". I was new and in a moment of weakness, I told it. But I lied and told a lesser number. Then he went on a long lecture about how he was grossly underpaid. Later everybody he talked to knew my salary. A degree of closeness is also required to discuss salary. Me and my friend "Thanga Balu" have argued many times on whether it is appropriate to as for peer salary information, just to know if you are being paid on-par. I was naive then and thought this was okay. But it is wrong. It is NOT right to find out if you are being paid on-par by directly asking others. You have to work for it. You dont go to a good looking girl and ask her if she would like to go to bed with you and have sex with you --straight away. There are guys who are helping chics do groceries, walking their moms, running up astronomical restaurant/movie ticket bills, learning poems, starting and arresting gossip -- just to acheve the same objective. What do you think -- those hard working guys are idiots ? :-)

There maybe many motivations to ask for a person's salary information. Not all of them -- in fact most of them -- do not justify really asking them. 90% of the time it creates jelousy, unwanted competition even animosity. The two factors "fathers employment" and "grades" in the examples above. Remove them and replace them with "salary" and read this blog again. The results would be the same. Salary is just the same shit but goes by a different name. It causes the same problems and creates the same polarity those two factors created. To me -- asking for such salary information is like asking a guy's underwear size or a girl's cup size. There maybe 1000 reasons why you want to ask that. It maybe sexy to know even if you aren't doing anything with that info. Just don't ask it.


venkat said...

So true. But I think it is part of a deeper malaise in our society, this need to know *everything* about a person, so we can peg someone, so we "understand" where they come from. I am not justifying it, just observing. Sometimes, it gets couched as "concern", which is usually false ("When are you getting married?" or "What? No kids yet?" etc.) My theory is that thanks to high population, we have this constant need to one-up the other person, so we feel distinctive and different.

Anupadmaja said...

I should let you know that it is not "yet another" irritating INDIAN habit to ask for one's salary.

I have had bad experiences from rich and cool Americans too. I am on a flight. My co-passenger a 40 year old American man back from a vacation in Hawaii (meaning rich) had to ask my salary as his third question :)

There are also well-educated Ph.D. students who di this!

I have seen men and women from many countries do this.

I guess it boils down to whether one has the patience to understand and follow ethical behavior. Doesnt matter where you are from or how educated/rich you are.

Anonymous said...


"I guess it boils down to whether one has the patience to understand and follow ethical behavior."

Just that most Indians dont have enough patience to follow this ethics in particular.

Anonymous said...

I was watching this documentary last night on PBS about how expensive U.S. colleges are getting these days and how is it affecting students and teachers. They interviewed some profs and the interviewer asks the dreaded question to the prof point blank---What's your Salary. I was shocked when I heard that and surprised when the prof replied with her salary and that how she thinks that her salary was very low. You know what the worst part is---the interviewer asked the prof if she would go the extra mile to spend additional time with the students to clarify their doubts--the prof said "Why should I do that...I'm only getting paid
$so much". I still cant believe she said that on National TV.


i posted anonymously too!!!!! said...

Agree with you on most parts...people not close to you have absolutely no right askin personal details!!!!

When i read the first part of the blog...the first thing that came to my mind was the school issue when u r asked to inrtoduce urself as " full name , father's occupation".
Even back then (abt 5-6th standard)...i used to wonder wtf does my dad's occupation have to do with me!!!!.

I remeber kids goin " oooohhh!!! that's the industrialist xyz's!!!!

C'mon!!!When u do that, u r just splitting up kids into economic and social groups....which is just so so wrong!!!A teacher with a little bit of common sense should realize that. I infer from what i read(or watch on TV:)) that it is not only a problem in indian schools but pretty much everywhere else!!!

Ram said...


Yes, this sums it up in an accurate way. It is good that you chose to post the sequel today itself, or your previous post would have been flooded with 100 more comments. Good Job!


Anonymous said...

"There are guys who are helping chics do groceries, walking their moms, running up astronomical restaurant/movie ticket bills, learning poems, starting and arresting gossip -- just to acheve the same objective. What do you think -- those hard working guys are idiots ? :-)"

Bharath, Nettiadi Matchi...:-)

Mattavan ellam kenai-ya? :-)


Bharath, Right on Target dude...

Are others fools or what...:-)

Anonymous said...

Bharath, As much as I wud luv to blog myself, I'm too lazy for it.
So, I satisy my blogging desires by reading and commenting on ur blog. Having liked ur narration style, I've been wanting to read about the TV serials that we grew up watching like Great Robot, Ek Dho Theen Chaar etc. I was browsing the web for this and found this link:

It brought back memories of Giant Robot. I'm sure u have stuff that u wan'na write about, but if u are ever lookin for ideas to wud be great if u can blog on this and I hope you too can relate to this.

tilotamma said...

Bharath -first time visit to your iste. very longish post but I liked it :-).

Growing up my mother had a few simple rules for us ( not that we would go around asking any elder suchthing but I remember it anyway)

Never ask a man his salary and a woman her age.

I know it doesn't seem relevant now especially the latter half .....

tilotamma said...

The article by Atul Gawande might be of interest to you.

Me said...

hey bharath first time here..came thru kaps....awesome posts......

agree with u on all the examples...


and thanks to that "Anonymous" who gave the link to Giant Robot....i loved that one and infact my interest in robotics started bec of that......though my robots dont go hitting monsters ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Bharath,

Came to your site thru Kaps..Excellent piece man.

Keep Blogging !



Anjali said...

Bharath came through Kap's link.Lovely and honest post.

visithra said...

Bravo - what a post - finally finished reading it.

It isn't an indian thing, it happens everywhere. People don't dare ask me directly (fear I'll tell them off) so they call my mom and ask. From relatives to friends I haven't seen for years. It is so disgusting, especially when someone new asks it.

My friend was asked same qs in front of some 20 ppl by visiting suitor parents.

One rule I have, never tell your colleague what you earn, causes unnecessary friction.

tt_giant said...

what a coincidence..

Nice detailing.

Suresh Ramani said...

little gems of wisdom from this post"
" you can't spend time outside life." - awesome! .. not for long though .. lol ..

". Innocence is worse than virginty , there is no chance that you may not lose it." - isn't losing virginity better than losing innocence? .. lol .. logical pizhai my friend? :-)

On to the actual topic of discussion:
Asking for one's salary itself is not the actual problem, judging them based on it is. As previous bloggers have mentioned, I see that the American workers have the curiosity to know their co-workers' salaries as well, but they are much more discreet about asking the salary and they judge much less compared to Desi's in general.

As for judging and the need to feel superior compared to the next person , it runs very strong in the desi genes - i can only hope that it would slowly weaken in its influence in the future.


Hawkeye said...


/*isn't losing virginity better than losing innocence? .. */

bharath with the married man's cap on: uh..err.. it depends on the individual actually. these are all phases in life one will cross. it is nuthing big actually.. uh...err

bharath with the suresh's friend cap on: rock on dude... anytime better than losing innocence.