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About cringe-worthy verbal tics… February 10, 2016

Posted by globejam in Denmark, This is not bad. It's worse!.

cringe-emojiJust as some people have nervous tics, some others have what I call verbal tics. These manifest under various conditions, most commonly under stress. In some cases these tics become a habit even after the stressful times have passed.

A verbal tic is when a person adds a word or a phrase, you know, on a regular basis, you know, like during a conversation, you know? I mean, a verbal tic is quite often, I mean, inserted because, like nature which abhors a vacuum, some people, I mean, seem to hate pauses in between or within sentences. I guess you get the point.

These verbal tics, like their nervous counterparts can sometimes lead to undesirable and even funny outcomes. One such incident happened a long time ago…

It was a time when the software industry in India was just beginning to blossom and “body shopping” was all in vogue. Software companies of all colours and hues were mushrooming everywhere with genuine companies, fly-by-night operators, and unscrupulous elements all raking in the moolah!

At that time, I was working for an obscure Danish company that was hardly known in India. We had offices all over the world, and there was great need for people both in Europe and in the US. As part of our expansion drive, I along with Sri and Sashi were despatched to Bangalore to recruit a bunch of guys for our European operations.

We made an incongruous trio. I was young and looked much younger than my years and dressed to the hilt – tie, suit, boot and all. Sri, a decade older, had the capital I from the Iyengar drawn in startling vermilion on his forehead and being an anti-colonial non-conformist, was not wearing the proscribed suit. Sashi was somewhere in between, managing to somehow appear properly attired and disheveled at the same time.

Sashi was the head of HR and in charge of the arrangements while Sri and I were the technical people in charge of selection of candidates. For the interviews, Sashi was supposed to have hired a business centre in a 5-star hotel for the day, but had somehow contrived to get us a “cottage” in a dilapidated 3rd grade hotel instead. The cottages were, I think, servant quarters of yore, refurbished at some point in time and left to deteriorate back to their earlier state. There was a steel cot in the room with a dead cockroach on the pillow, the way they place mint chocolates in some hotels. I think I may even have spied a couple of rats scurrying about.

Sashi didn’t seem to find anything amiss, while Sri and I were aghast at the thought of carrying out serious interviews there. We hollered and raved and ranted and eventually convinced Sashi to change the venue. Unfortunately, since Sashi had already informed all the candidates about the venue, we had to settle for a room in the main building of the same hotel (no business centre was available).

The room, it turned out, was only a marginal improvement on the cottage. The carpet was threadbare and musty. It must have been green once, but several years had changed it into a dull bile color. There was a double bed in the middle of the room, a small tea table and two chairs. Thankfully it appeared that the cockroaches had all moved to the cottages as, though they had left their distinct smell behind, there weren’t any running around.

Sri sniffed the air and crinkled his nose while I tried my father’s favorite philosophy on him – “Don’t worry. You will get used to it!”. We cursed Sashi under our breath but settled down for day-long session of interviewing. Sri and I sat on the foot side of the bed, while Sashi sat on one side on one of the chairs available. We placed the tea table in front of us and placed the other chair on the other side of the table for the candidate to sit on. We then decided that Sashi would usher candidates in and make them comfortable while Sri and I would do all the talking. This was a conscious decision on our part as Sashi’s English was more Malayalam than English and we felt it may not create the right first impression with the candidates.

The candidates started coming in one after the other and soon the interview process began in earnest. Sri and I would take turns describing our company first before moving on to the technical questions. The first few candidates who came in were either fresh out of college or people with one or two years of experience. In their eagerness to work for a foreign company, they failed to notice anything odd about the entire setup. Some of them did sniff the air the way Sri had done, but I guess soon even they got used to it.

After a dozen or so interviews, Sashi was feeling left out as he had nothing to do except sort through the printed resumes. So he suggested that he would like to do the company introduction for the next set of candidates. By then we were also getting bored with repeating the same spiel about the company, so despite some misgivings we agreed readily.

Before we progress further, I must tell you that besides having a strong Malayali accent, Sashi also had a verbal tic. It was not one of the usual annoying but harmless ones such as “I mean”, or “like” or adding “per se” to the end of the sentence. What he did was pepper his sentences with the phrase “if at all, maybe“.

Coming back to the story at hand, the next candidate walked in. He was in his late 20s and according to his resume, he had already worked in the US for a couple of years. He had this superior air and looked at us and our room with a certain disdain. He introduced himself as Raj, with an accent.  We warmly welcomed him in and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. Then Sashi started his company introduction. To his credit, he started well.

He drew in a generous breath and in a measured tone, began. “Hi. I am Sashi and I am the head of HR at such and such company. We have our offices in Chennai and we are looking for good candidates such as yourself for many of our overseas projects”, he said. Then came the fateful part. His verbal tic kicked in with a vengeance when he continued with “We are head quartered in Denmark and have branches around the world, if at all maybe, in Norway, if at all maybe in the US and if at all maybe…”. At this point Raj raised his hand and stopped Sashi in mid sentence and asked the inevitable question, “You have branches in these places or maybe you have branches in these places?”.

I don’t remember the rest of the interview or even the rest of the day. All I know is, if at all, maybe the ceiling fan had been within reach, I may just have hung myself from it that day!



1. padmaja - February 17, 2016


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