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tv   How May I Help You  CSPAN  July 29, 2017 8:45am-9:16am EDT

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the country and lean into that and sell a lot of books in the process. >> marji ross is the publisher of regnery. >> booktv is on twitter and facebook and we want to hear from you. sweet us, or post a comment on our facebook page, >> good evening, everyone. welcome to porter spring books. this is being filled by c-span for their booktv programming. make sure your ring tones are turned off and let you know about a couple things coming up. tomorrow night lisa jewell will
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be here with her mystery i found you and the next installment in our roundtable series hosted by of literary magazine ken jarvis will feature several contributors to their new issue. tonight we are delighted to have you here for deepak singh. he is a contributor to pri's the world, the new york times, npr, the boston globe and the atlantic. he is here to present his new book "how may i help you?: an immigrant's journey from mba to minimum wage". [applause] >> thank you for having me here. my name is deepak singh. if you can't tell, you have seen the posters and everything. i am from india originally. i moved to the united states 13 years ago, 2003. i have an mba, i was working in india and when i came here i came from a good educational
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background, spoke well, came from a well-known organization, thought i would have no problem getting a job but i was surprised my educational qualifications and experience didn't matter much and also my accent. working on a radio, bbc world service, coming here i had to speak like an american and say things like pakistan instead of pakistan or baghdad instead of baghdad. so i took a job here and this happened. tell you a few things about me, how i came to the united states. i was working for bbc in india and met a woman from rural pennsylvania who was there on a scholarship. her name was holly. i met her, became friends, fell
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in love, that is how america became my new home. make a lot of money and get married and have kids and live forever and ever, i didn't get the job they wanted. i also got married. when i came here a lot of stuff in this book, in india there is a lot of prejudice, if you take a menial job, people look down on you, for doing something menial and judge you on the
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basis of. i was constantly constant. this thing in the back of my head people are judging me, had a good education, radar detectors and electric tools, why did i give everything up in india. i am going to read a chapter and open up so you can ask me questions. this is the first day on my sales floor. i had been on sales for for only a few minutes when i saw an indian couple walking up, my heart jumped, i took off my name tag, slipped into my shirt pocket and tried not to be the first one to talk to them and
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pretended to look like a shopper myself. i was embarrassed to be talking to an indian. i saw a gray hard man, i could look in their eyes when they looked at me. i went to hide in the back and cindy, my boss, look at the back room and said we have some indian shoppers who want to buy a dvd player and want to know if it would work in india. one of our team members is from india. she can answer your question better than anyone else can. she said with a grin on her face, i have to come out, the man who smiled at me, are you from india? yes i am i said and smiled back. which part? brought in a. we are from mumbai, i have a question. you have a question? yes. my son is in medical school here. we are visiting him but we are going back. what can i help you with? trying to avoid the next question. mothers of my friends often
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volunteer their sons salary and quickly ask mine. it was a way of judging some things. we are trying to buy a dvd player but want to make sure it works in india. let me see and walked to the dvd section but are you studying at the university? no, i am not. what are you doing here? i am working here. he fired the next question. what is your background? yes, the dvd will work in india, i said. my background is in media. i am new in america and trying to find a better job. i was thinking about that. you seem to be an educated chap. you can do better than this is. i was acting as though they would go to india and tell my parents what i was doing. out of more than 1 billion indians in india and around the world, those in my store turning out to be someone who would know
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my parents were next to zero but it didn't matter. i couldn't get the innovation out of my system. when it finished i had no business being in the back room without the newly arrived merchandise. all of a sudden it wasn't over. my first reaction was to avoid being seen as working as a salesman by anyone who looked to be indian. although i didn't know any of the indians who came to shop it seemed i could read their minds when they saw me working at the store, you pathetic loser, you came to america to do this? i took a deep breath after the indian couple left. in the next few minutes the white lady came into the store, looked at me and walked very slowly. cindy, my boss, gestured to me to help her. i waited until she came to the counter where i was standing. i didn't say anything. she came up to me and said hi, i am looking for a battery for my watch. i did a quick search, although
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all knowledge about the batteries a few days ago, she took a wristwatch off and set it on the counter. i knew i had learned about finding batteries and watches but couldn't recall anything. i asked you know what kind of battery this is? does it take? i don't know but you should be able to look it up on the computer can't you? as i watched her, skipping a few, leave the store, i wondered if she had any children or grandchildren that felt sorry for her that in old age she had to buy watch battery herself, my grandmother died at the age of 80 often asked me to get her eyeglasses, pick up her medicine. she would never have to go anywhere else but i couldn't imagine her having to buy a battery on her own. my family would be judged harshly. my neighbors and friends would have thought we were foolish and selfish and irresponsible. cindy put down the screwdriver
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and she walked toward me. she came up to me, brought her face to mine and stared at me of a few inches away. all i could see was her white face smiling but with gritted teeth she says all right, what did you learn from the customer service training? i stood blankly and said nothing. she said let me remind you and don't ever forget, every customer has to be greeted with 5 seconds of setting foot in the store. all right? i will never forget that. she stepped back, pointed to the entrance and that you should walk up to the customer is not wait for him to come to you. she raised her them in the air and said all right, and went back to what she was doing. i had forgotten to greet the customer and waited for her to come to me because i wasn't confident i could answer the question. i printed out the receipt and handed it to the ladies. one of them said you will get there.
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eyes i saw them walking out of the store i took a deep breath and wiped sweat off my 4 head. i felt i had a just indoor the longest 20 minutes of my life. i looked at my watch and said it is almost time to go. we got to do a few things before we close. grab the vacuum cleaner and i will count the money and the fact -- cash register. i wonder if rob tried to help me because he was insecure and not a good enough salesman himself. i wasn't sure. i left work after a long and emotionally exhausting day. my wife came to pick me up since the city buses stopped running after 9:00 at night. after i put on the seatbelt, she put the car in gear and we drove off. a few seconds later she asked me how was your first day? i didn't know what to say. i wasn't sure if the 85-year-old lady coming to get the vacuum was more shocking than cindy the rating me for bad customer service or not being able to help the two gentlemen was more embarrassing.
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holly looked at me and i didn't respond. i said how was your day? i took a deep breath, it is all right, we can talk again later. the first chapter, hope it gives a small glimpse what the book is about. yes? >> are you still selling and how is it going? >> good question, i am not selling anymore. this happened we 10 years ago, 2004-2006. i went back to doing radio and writing, i am a full-time writer now. yes? >> when during the process of working retail did you write this book?
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>> much after. i wasn't thinking of writing the book when i was working because it was too overwhelming just to learn to sell and not get fired. i wasn't thinking about that. three years later when i finished the work, i would do that again, go back to selling batteries and stuff i didn't know existing like shower radio. i don't know why people listen to the radio in the shower. someone came to buy a shower radio and didn't know what it was for. as i was writing the book, 5 years after i finished the book, i had quite a bit of distance from the work, i went back to india, i wanted to write for me and other people who didn't know what it was like to work in retail for two years in virginia and sell to americans and extra
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syllable in every word. >> what was it like? >> it was good. i worked in bbc, my accent was different. i thought i spoke fine when i came to virginia, charlottesville you drive ten miles to charlottesville you can be in rural virginia and people have a different dialect. it took a long time for me to understand them and for them to understand me. the book is also not just about my experiences and learning about my colleagues. the more shocking thing was how i learn about poverty in the united states, people working with me making ends meet by $7 an hour. i didn't have a mortgage or loan or debt or child-support to pay for any kind of thing, people working with me had kids, had to
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pay child support and childcare, healthcare, mortgages and lots of debt. they were trying to do that while working with me and i often thought i could go back to india and do what i was doing, thinking of people like ron and cindy and jackie. they didn't have a place to go back to. this was the life. they were going to get out of that retail store they would end up in a different one some of the time. i developed a lot of empathy for my colleagues and it helped me to re-examine myself. because i came from a high cast hindu, just for two years i lost all the privileges i had in india. i was sitting on the floor vacuuming and cleaning, doing
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very menial jobs and i realized what about the people who do this on a daily basis in my home in india. maybe these guys are doing this because this is what they are good for, didn't go to school, don't have a job or good education to get a good job and i realized it is not about -- a lot depends where you come from and what advantages you have in life and what background. if you go to india it is unlikely to be, ceo. it is a vicious cycle, the dog trying to chase its own tail. i can keep going on. >> did you work in retail in different parts of the united states or just in virginia? >> just in virginia.
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i quit that and went back to retail. >> or even in your writing, has it affected your writing? >> in writing, yes. it didn't help me get a job, but it helped me knowledge wise. like, i could talk to people. i learned a lot of subjects such as organizational behavior, stuff like that. so it helped me converse with a
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lot of customers and talk to them, not just try to sell them, push stuff on them, but learn about my customers as human beings and have a conversation. a lot of times my boss didn't like i talked to my customers too much. she thought i was wasting time. but the same people came back to buy stuff. so it did help me in some ways. but it didn't help me get a better job. [laughter] >> but did it help you in your writing? >> it did. it doesn't teach -- it teaches you different kinds of writing, mostly business communications. so for this i had to, i was doing radio first, i was writing for radio, so i knew -- i had this journalistic eye. i was always observing even while i was working. so it did help me in some way. it didn't help me much with writing.
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>> just wondering how you felt people, the customers, treated you. >> there were both good and bad. in the beginning, because of my accent, people couldn't communicate, so that was a barrier. so they didn't want to deal with me because they knew it would take longer for me to understand what they were saying. and so i thought they didn't like me because of that. but that was not -- they didn't hate me because of that, but they thought it would be -- became, they wanted to come in, get their stuff and leave. they didn't want to have to explain over and over. but some people, like i said, said bad things, but there were a lot of people who were really gracious and nice and supportive, and they wanted to, like, give me the time to understand. i kept saying for a long time this is my second day, this is my third day, this is my fourth day -- [laughter] this is my fourth week. okay, you've been here for a month. you should know how to sell. [laughter]
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>> thank you for sharing your story. i wonder if you would use, like, upward social mobility to express your work experience here. >> do i select that? >> i wonder, like, if you would use, like, upward social mobility to see your work appearance here. >> not quite sure of your question, but, you know, this book is about my downward mobility. like, i started from india. i had a good job. if i had stayed in india, i probably would have kept going up. but here all of a sudden it took a dive, and i went from a cushy job to standing on your feet for eight hours. >> but that was at very beginning, right? >> no, it was two years. >> uh-huh. >> i worked here for two years. so i did the same thing, i didn't move up.
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i mean, there were -- my manager asked me to go for manager training so i could become manager, but she was a manager, she also worked pretty hard. she did the same things. i didn't want to become a manager because it would have meant that i moved to the a different city on a different store, and i was with my wife who was going to school at university of virginia for a ph.d.. so i didn't -- i wanted to stay close to her. so i just chose to be in that store and in that position for a long time until when i quit, i just quit and didn't do retail after after that. does that answer your question? >> yes. do you mind -- >> no, go ahead. >> another one? >> please, go ahead. >> i wonder if this experience, i wonder how it relates to your sense of dignity, however you define it?
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>> when i came, just to let you know, started wearing a uniform, you know, a shirt, khaki pants and shirt, name tag and standing this front of the store on the sales floor every day. customers, when they come in, they're nice to you, but they -- you have to be very nice to them. you have to smile every day, you know? no matter what your life is, how unhappy or what is going on in your life. you have to put on a good smile. so it's a hard job, in retail. you know, you have to be nice to every single person, and they don't have to be nice to you, you know, at the same time. i'm not saying every customer is rude, but you can find people who are not so nice to you. so your dignity takes, you know, it's like people, somebody says something and you get upset, but you cannot be upset because you have to carry on. it's a balancing act, you know? you just learn to, like, brush off, you know, bad things and keep going.
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you also learn, in my case i learned what it is like to be human, what it is like to be a salesperson, to be in someone else's shoes. i left that job and never went back, but some people are still working those jobs. and a lot of indians, the immigrants who come here, they staff many subways and motels and dunkin' donuts and stuff like that. a lot of them are educated people. they do this because, because the education is not valued, if it's valued, it's not valued the same level. and i met a lot of people who were theres back in india, but they couldn't -- doctors back in india, but they didn't want to do the seven-year residency, so they took a job in whole foods or some other store because they wanted to send their kids to school. you know, it's a lot of suffering. people give up a lot to come here but, of course, america has offered them a lot to move ahead. but they also sacrificed a lot. >> thank you. >> you're welcome. >> what are your impressions of
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the states versus india? professionally and personally? >> professionally. professionally, i learned that things get done in america. if you go to post office, you know, you can post your letter or buy your stamps in a certain number of, like, minutes. you can decide, okay, i'm going to spend ten minutes and do it. in india, you can spend two hours and still not get it done. a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of people. things don't work orderly. this can be -- it's changing, but there is still a lot like that. and personally, i think two different worldses. it's hard to compare. i cannot say i feel this way and that way. it's two different worlds. in india you can spend your lifetime and still not understand. i'm from the north, and the southern part has 20 other languages that i don't know a word of. i've met many indians here whom
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i have to speak in english because i don't speak their language. where do i start? it's a huge country, and so is america. so i love both countries. i'm from india and this is my new home, and i'm in a good position to write about both cultures. because my wife's american too. she's from rural pennsylvania, so i see another part of america. when i go back to see my in-laws, they live on a 100-acre farm. and at 5:00 they eat supper, not dinner. and so it's good for a writer. it's a great, lot of material there. yes. >> do any of your coworkers that you write about in the book, have they read the book, and what are their reactions? >> actually, you know, i left the store, and i didn't -- i lost touch with them. this was before the facebook, it was 2004 and '6. so i started writing the book five years after i left, so i
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lost touch with all of them. and it was a high turnover job. people came and they left in two months, three months, four months. but i didn't leave. so all those people whom i write about, they were in my head, but i didn't keep track of them. hopefully, somebody will find something they'll read. i'm not in touch with anybody. >> oh. >> yes. >> are you still adjusting to the differences of the two cultures? >> two cultures, good question. >> is it difficult? >> i think i'm doing pretty well in united states. i have adjusted. sometimes after living here when i go back to india, i have to adjust there now. it's a reverse culture shock. somebody asked me somewhere that what's my next project. so in 2007 i went back to india for a year, and i belt a house for my parents -- i built a house for my parents. did i tell you that? i built a house. not with my hands, but i hired a contractor who has to arrange for every, you know, plumber,
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electrician, bricklayers, everything. from the first nail to the last coat of paint, i built a house in nine months, and that was a reverse culture shock on steroids to. i was driving oldsmobile here in america. my wife's big car. i went back to driving my 100cc honda, honda motorbike. so, i mean, yeah. we go back to india, you live there for a while and you say, oh, i forgot this, you know? it's a constant learning situation. >> given the changes in the social and political environment of the united states since ten years ago when you were working in retail, how do you think that the challenges and situation might be different for people who are now in a similar situation to you in terms of being a highly educated person working a low-wage job as an immigrant in the u.s.? >> good question, thank you for asking. i think, you know, the minimum wage has gone up since then.
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it was only $5.15 when i was working. i don't know what it is now, 8, 9 something? >> i think it's 31 -- >> it's 11. even $11, and things have gotten expensive. so even if you are educated, not educated, it would be hard to make, you know, pay rent, childcare and everything. and so it's difficult. i'm sure, maybe it has gotten better because the minimum wage has gone up, but i'm sure it's hard. people who work this target -- in target, you know, walmart, big stores a lot of times they don't even have health insurance, and it's difficult. >> no. >> i don't know a very good answer to that, but i'm thinking that it hasn't become much easier. yes, go ahead. >> i'm just curious how was your
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relationship with your in-laws and getting to know them from such a different background? >> yeah, that was a whole different book. [laughter] so my in-laws, they lived in one village. like, they were born on a farm and they never left. so they're 60 years or 30 years old, and they've always lived in a small village. every single person who is related to my wife lives in one village, so when i go there, everybody knows i am deepak, there's only one brown guy in the whole village. [laughter] so they're very enchanted by this guy is from india, and they had lots of questions. sometimes questions were kind of strange like do you wear a turban. [laughter] because they met another guy a long time ago who wore a turban. and the one time my father, grandfather-in-law stopped a guy by the side of the road and said, hey, have you seen taj
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mahal? and he said, what? oh, taj mahal, india. i'm like, no, what? aren't you from india? i said, no, i'm from guatemala. oh, i'm sorry. [laughter] so there were cultural faux pas, but they're very sweet people, very accommodating. i wrote another book before this one, and in that book i wrote i'd never eaten beef before i ate beef there. after my grandmother-in-law read that book, she said i have to feed you chick cannen now. i'm -- chicken now. [laughter] it's like, it's okay. i've been eating beef for a long time. i like it. it's been a learning experience. it's been 14 years, i've been married for 14 years. they know we now, i know them, and it's a constant learning process. >> thank you so much. >> thank you. [applause]
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>> we've got books up at the front counter, deepak will be up here signing. thank you all. >> booktv recently visited capitol hill to ask members of congress what they're reading this summer. >> congressman, what are you reading this summer? >> it's the life and times of robert kennedy. first of all, robert kennedy was a new york senator, and i'm a representative from new york. schlessinger wrote an incredible book about bobby kennedy's life, his political life, the history of his family, and it's certainly an enjoyable read. >> booktv wants know what you're -- wants to know what you're reading. end us your summer reading list


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