Someone great once said: a man should not count the number of years he has lived, but the number of times he has had new beginnings. (Or something to that effect.) In any case, if that was true, I would be drawing pension by now. I have been lucky (or not) to have had opportunities at regular intervals that exposed my senses to completely new environments, forcing me to rethink preconceived notions and adapt my behavior and response mechanisms.

Like yesterday.

The first day at a new job is not too different from coming to a new country for the first time. The surroundings are unfamiliar. The coffee tastes different. The toilet flushes in a different way. Your place of stay is immediately uncomfortable (thought that improves with time). The rituals are from another world – like the way meetings are set up, or coffee breaks are taken or team lunches are organized…. and of course, headlining the foreign environment are the locals. They look at you funnily and hurriedly look away as soon as you turn towards them. You can almost imagine some sizing you up and giggling behind your back about the way you are dressed. Their cultural nuances are sometimes in your face – like the way they greet each other or superiors – but sometimes there are tremendously complex social transactions happening right under your nose and you are not even aware of them! But, as is the typical attitude towards foreigners, unless you are travelling to Russia, most locals are extremely courteous and show a lot of teeth.

I know all this, because I have been through this a few times before. So I landed at my new workplace, dressed in new shirt and hairless cheek, with my adaptive sensors tuned to maximum sensitivity. They were not of much help when I realized that there was no one there. A bored looking guard looked at me as one looks at a giraffe wearing purple shoes and yellow sunglasses, and plainly informed me that there was no one here. After checking and rechecking the address, I decided not ask him if the company had folded or if the entire interview process had been a sick episode of MTV Bakra. Buoyed by the fact that no Cyrus jumped at me from behind with a camera crew, I searched for some more locals – and when I couldn’t find any, I sat down in the lobby and started flipping through the newspapers. It was 9:30 for Christ’s sake! Where was everyone?

I was almost done counting the number of words on page 5 of the Mumbai mirror classifieds, when a nice gentleman approached me and asked me if I was who he thought I was. I said, I was. Profusely apologizing on behalf of the rest of organization, he told me that he had done the same thing on his first day. Ok…. not the reception I was expecting but hey…. this was like a foreign country, where I had the added disadvantage of not having a “Lonely Planet’s Guide” to get me started.

Well – I am happy to report – that the others did arrive at some point – and yes, I was subjected to beaming smiles and excited handshakes and even the sacred “Team Lunch” – where everyone except me somehow knew where we were going. Unseen complex social rituals apart – I realized that the coffee does taste different and that the toilets did flush in a different way. I have lots to learn about the local customs, habits, email clients (Notes) and peculiarities (like – everyone comes in at 11). But, one thing is certain – being the chameleon that I am – it won’t take me long to become a local myself. And judging by just two days of intense interaction, this is a bunch I wouldn’t really mind becoming a part of.

 Oh…how I love new beginnings!