I’ve been helping a friend find a place  to change money in an obscure city (by phone). He is by nature rather impatient, and it seems that his impatience has been getting in the way of him finding the right person. The first bank he went to said it wasn’t possible, that you have to go to the airport. So he went to the airport and guess what? No foreign exchange facility.

He’s been asking around at other places with similarly unhelpful advice, but I finally realized that he is undoubtedly asking the wrong people. If you ask the peon at the front desk of a bank, hotel, etc., you will get a peon’s answer. The thing about lower level employees in India is that they are trained to know nothing but their job. Often, they can’t even direct you to something that is 50 meters away. It’s almost always a complete waste of time to approach them with unusual requests. You usually have to go to the top person.

So my advice to him was not to think of traveling to a bigger city, as I’m sure that he can find someone to ‘do the needful’ right where he is. In this case, the owner of a big hotel or jewelry store is undoubtedly the key to getting what he needs. I’ve advised him to go and chitchat with the guy for a while, accept a cup of tea, etc., rather than just jumping right in with his question. This is the Indian way, and it’s what works best.

Although this is a substantial but not enormous transaction, it’s the kind of transaction that’s less than routine in that city, so it requires finding a someone who deals with foreigners on a regular basis and who has a license to do foreign exchange. My friend’s problem is that he is carrying Canadian dollars. Changing American dollars or Euros would have been no problem.

The manager of his hotel might not be the right one, but a bit of schmoozing with him should result in a referral to someone who can help, or at least to someone who can lead him to the right person. There might be a few more referrals in between, but this is really the fastest and most efficient way to go about it. And he will have made a useful connection and perhaps a new friend along the way. In Indian business, who you know is really, really important, so networking is crucial.

All this takes time, so patience is really the key. Ironically, even though this roundabout approach seems like a hug time-waster to the average American, it’s usually the fastest way to get something like this accomplished. If you charge in impatiently, many Indians will simply turn their backs on you and decline to help, refer you to someone who they know can’t help, or else take a very long time to get around to doing it.

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