Haagen-Dazs, Mistaken Cause

The Offending Haagen-Dazs Banner.  Photo Credit: Times of India
Photo credit: Times of India

Indians have a strange love of parsing insults from the innocuous — or, as in this case, the poorly thought-through. Particularly when the phantom effrontery seems to come from foreigners.

The latest uproar involves a newly opened Haagen-Dazs ice cream store, which had the bad judgment to fly the banner depicted above to announce its store opening. It reads:




Access restricted only to holders of international passports.

The reaction began with a sketchily described post by Times of India writer and Chief Editor of Times Internet, Rajesh Kalra, on his TOI blog, Random Access. According to Mr. Kalra, a pseudonymous “friend” of his was refused entry to this Haagen-Dazs store for failure to proffer an “international passport.”

The story was repeated by the TOI as a regular news story. Both pieces carried the headline, “Sorry, Indians Not Allowed.”

Since then, it has blanketed the blogs, generating breathless commentary. Feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly incensed and incendiary, even in response to the commendably even-handed post on Desicritics.

I don’t get it. Sure, the banner was stupid beyond belief. But that’s just it: who could read it and believe that it intended anything as sensible as an insult?

The promotion clearly meant to create cachet by equating the consumption of Haagen-Dazs with the romance and luxury of international travel. Was this ice cream seller determined to sell only to people who vacation in San Tropez? Of course not. To people who wish to sell us stuff, “exclusivity” means little more than “limited to anyone who will buy.”

In Noida, that means Indians. It makes no sense to interpret “international” to mean “foreign” or “non-Indian”. How many non-Indians are regularly hanging-out in the strip malls of the heinous suburban dystopia that is Noida? We can agree that the ham-handed promotion doesn’t reflect a great deal of business sense in the first place, but was it really intended to exclude 100% of the store’s potential customers?

True, the Times of India writer says his anonymous friend was excluded by the store manager (an Indian) for failure to present the so-called “international passport.” Is this remotely credible? First, consider the source: TOI. Enough said. Second, doesn’t this smack of, “I know a guy who knew a guy who…”? Third, what the hell is an “international passport”? The only thing I can think of is the United Nations Laissez-Passer, issued to employees of the UN and ILO.

The concluding line on the banner, “Access restricted only to holders of international passports” is, indeed, problematic. It is rather artless and seems takes the theme of “exclusivity” far too literally. But the clumsiness of the language also suggests that this was something generated locally and not by the marketing department of the American overlords. Leaving aside the inanity of the “international passport” requirement, what professional copy writer would follow the word “restricted” with the redundant word “only”? One in India, only.

Common sense suggests that (a) this was a dumb-ass promotional idea, (b) to foster the equally dumb-ass consumption of absurdly overpriced ice cream, (c) badly mishandled in the execution by some dumb-ass Indian ad agency, (d) on behalf of some dumb-ass decision-maker either at the franchisee or within the licensor’s organization. The interesting issue is the last. Who was ultimately responsible for this idiocy? If there is insult to be found in this fiasco, was it a racist barb emanating from shameless foreigners?

I did a little investigation, calling first to Nestle, which owns the Haagen-Dazs brand, and then to the public relations office of General Mills, Inc., which owns the rights to all Haagen-Dazs franchise licensing outside of North America. The spokespeople at both companies stated that each store is an individual franchisee, with “independent responsibility and control of advertising and promotion.” This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that General Mills didn’t have a hand in the fiasco.

And which General Mills?

The next morning, I received an email from the director of Haagen-Dazs brand management at General Mills India Pvt. Ltd., Arindam Halder. Mr. Halder is the architect of brand management for Haagen-Dazs in India, and the man responsible for overseeing the opening of franchises like the one in Noida. His note offers some important details, which support my reading of the event as an ill-conceived marketing idea made even worse by incoherent manifestation:

There have been some reports on various online media alleging that the recently opened Häagen-Dazs shop in New Delhi, India, denied access to Indians. We vehemently and categorically deny this. Häagen-Dazs products and our Häagen-Dazs shop in India are and will always be for our consumers in India.

The recently opened Haagen-Dazs shop is open to one and all, and there’s no question of barring entry to anyone on any basis. The preview on Thursday, 10th December had a morning media event which was attended by journalists of repute from Indian media. The same evening we had a launch party for our friends and families, less than 5% of whom were foreigners. Also, during the mock training days at the shop leading up to 10th December, a lot of interest were generated and hundreds of walk ins were given samples of our ice cream. The store is now open to all public and seeing brisk business.

The poster in question was part of initial local store communication at a few locations within the same mall announcing the opening of the new Häagen-Dazs shop in the mall. The message was intended to suggest that you can enjoy, for instance, a taste of the French Riviera without traveling to France – by enjoying Häagen-Dazs. Unfortunately the reference to the international passport holder on the poster may have led to a significant miscommunication. This was completely unintended and we apologize for creating the misimpression that may have hurt our sentiments as Indians.


Arindam Haldar
General Mills India

Clearly, there was no intent or attempt to exclude Indians; and we can all agree the brouhaha was the result of what Mr. Haldar euphemistically describes as a “significant miscommunication.” But there are two very pregnant ambiguities in his statement. First, the “local store communication” language doesn’t make clear who originated the promotional idea or created the banner, General Mills India (namely, him) or the franchisee. It simply says that the campaign was deployed locally, in the mall where the store was located. Second, the last line, in which Mr. Haldar says, on behalf of General Mills India, “[W]e apologize for creating the misimpression”, suggests rather strongly that the banner came directly from General Mills India. It sounds very different than, say, “We regret that this misimpression occurred at a Haagen-Dazs franchise.”

The concluding apology is also laugh-out-loud funny. So eager is Mr. Halder to self-identify as Indian, he essentially begs forgiveness for an Indian company having offended itself.

What conclusions can we draw from all this?

I think we can agree that there is no evil foreign hand in this story, no American or European racist out to mistreat Indians in their own country or determined to slight them. Indeed, Mr. Kalra of TOI got it exactly right (in his original essay, not the subsequent, abbreviated news item), even if he failed to look at the contribution of the licensor:

Whatever it is, it is idiotic. I checked later and found that the franchisee is an Indian company based in Delhi and the man incharge [sic] is also an Indian.

I have often maintained that we ourselves are our biggest enemies. Our mentality is that of slaves and we think anything is good only if its approved by foreigners, or the “holders of international passport”.

This is all about how India and Indians see themselves. Foreigners have nothing to do with it.

I don’t necessarily fault the bloggers fanning the flames of this supposed outrage for failing to take the 15 minutes Mr. Kalra and I did to pick up the phone and get the facts. It is slightly disappointing, however, that the online commentators have almost uniformly ignored the obvious lack of malicious intent behind the fucked-up promotion. And there is yet deeper culpability in repeating only the tastiest, most shocking morsels of this story, in complete disregard of the basic fact that the errors in judgment were made not by foreigners, but by Indians — even though this was reported and thoughtfully analyzed in Mr. Kalra’s original story. This episode presents a cautionary study of how untrustworthy and manipulable online information can become as true journalism cedes way to what passes for “citizen journalism” in the blog world. It is always tempting to tell the story, not according to the facts, but according to the sermon one wishes to preach. The art is to tell a morally compelling story within the bounds of the evidence.

To her credit, and as we would expect, Deepti Lamba’s Desicritics essay tells the full story — as it was revealed in the original TOI piece — and doesn’t shy away from noting Indian responsibility for both the debacle itself and the underlying attitudes which engendered it. Yet, even Dee reaches the abrupt and slightly ambiguous conclusion that “racist brands” should be chased from India. Brands aren’t ethical agents. People and corporations are. And those at the heart of this story were Indian. Perhaps Dee’s intended plea is to abolish self-loathing; but somehow the anti-foreign implication creeps through.

There will be some, of course, bitterly disappointed that there is no longer a foreign scapegoat by whom to feel insulted; but they will have no difficulty transferring their ire to me for pointing this out. And it will feel just as good, since I am a foreigner.

If Indians want to salvage some national pride from the situation, they can always take encouragement from the fact this crazy promotion could happen in Mother India, but could never have occurred in the United States. After all, most Americans don’t have a passport and have not heard of France.


32 Responses to “Haagen-Dazs, Mistaken Cause”

  1. 1 sojournertruths 17 December 2009 at 12:45 pm

    We indians should come out of this obvious susceptibility of being target for a racial attack. Stop whining, nobody can insult us. I would have laughed at the stupidity of an international brand or its franchisee to open up a shop for non-indians in india. Truly said it was a promotional f***-up and got in hands of overjealous bloggers.
    ANyways, thanks for putting things in perspective..

  2. 2 Prarabdha R. Jaipuriar 17 December 2009 at 7:31 pm

    The moment I read the story on Facebook, I could sense that it was a (by-)product of an Indian experimenting with the language. The ‘evil foreign hand’ is far too busy with its serious hegemony business to come up with goofy ad campaigns. Your write-up made the journey to the core shorter. Thanks!

    TOI’s ‘editporting’ reminds me of a joke which one of my professors once shared with us when someone put a question on quoting newspapers as source in a research paper.

    Once a man died and his soul was taken by the angels to the pearly gates. Before St. Peter could ask him a question, the soul had hiccups. St. Peter was puzzled. The angels explained. This man never lied, so much so that even his soul is averse to lies. Whenever someone lies on earth, he has hiccups. “Interesting. Take him to the heaven. I will meet him in the night when everyone will be asleep on earth and there would be no lies whispered.” So the angels did. St. Peter came to check on the soul at midnight and, much to his amusement, saw the soul in an endless, rhythmic bout of hiccups. He turned to the angels with questioning eyes. They said, “Can’t help it. Late night edition is in print.”

    I am sure the angels were talking about TOI!

  3. 3 Balaji Viswanathan 17 December 2009 at 9:07 pm

    1. I’m not a fan of TOI, but I guess the point was not that some foreign power was plotting against us, but the attitude of the Indian owner and the American brand he was trying to promote.

    2. As you could see the reaction of non-Indians, such a sign wud have raised controversy in the US too.

    Marketing campaigns should be sensitive to regional history. Nobody would be using Swastika to promote a product in Israel or Germany. To understand why this is a controversy you need to understand the Raj era in India and the pre-civil rights US.

    The civil society must give an unconditional disapproval of such discriminatory tactics, regardless of who does it and whether he gets customers inspite of these or not.

  4. 4 Parry 17 December 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Whoever has written this article has never done any research of Indian history and sentiments. Kudos to the above commentor for making the swastika remark. We’re not complaining of any “evil foreign hand” discriminating against us. It just hurts our feelings to see signs like this. It reminds Indians of the colonial-era discrimination. Just like Swastikas are a relic of thye 40s, yet offend people who suffered at the hands of Hitler, this offends us. When an Indian guy innocuously opened up a chain of restaurants called “Hitler’s Cross”, the whole world was up in arms agiainst him as it “hurt their feelings”. He never meant any harm. Should I tell the world to stop crying and that that it’s their fault and not the restauranteur’s? Remeber, the world is NOT just western ideas and sentiments. Western doesn’t mean NORMAL. We have our own thing going on, and if you don’t undersstand it fully, then I’d prefer that you keep your mouths shut.

    • 5 smita 27 December 2009 at 12:23 am

      Balaji, Parry:

      It’s interesting that you draw the comparison to the swastika.

      Here in the US I’ve seen many Indian households with their front doors and doorsteps decorated with this symbol. And I’ve seen Americans recoil in shock and confusion when they see it.

      But I’ve never heard Indians saying they should stop using the swastika out of consideration for the feelings of the people in their adopted country. Do you think they should?


  5. 6 mbjesq 17 December 2009 at 10:48 pm


    Thank you for so nicely illustrating the riff of the next-to-last paragraph of my essay. I just want everyone to know that we’ve never met, this was not prearranged, and I’m not paying you anything to be my straight man.

    It’s nice that you understand that Indians “have their own thing going on.” (Nicely put too, in contrast to the rest of your inelegant, barely coherent comment.) The problem is that the rest of the country is with you in word (“I love my India”) but not heart.

    Indians damn well should have something going on. They have an ancient and extremely rich culture. The country has one-sixth of the world’s human resources. It is respected around the world as one of the emerging economic superpowers.

    Yet, the national vibe remains stuck in post-colonial envy and self-doubt. The interesting thing about the Haagen-Dazs fiasco was not that foreigners were foisting idiotic seductions of western materialism on Indian consumers; they weren’t. It is that Indian marketing professionals were doing it, drawing on the plainly obvious Indian prejudice in favor of all-things-western.

    You and I agree that this sentiment is ugly and pointless. We disagree on what engenders and nurtures this cultural cancer. You see the imposition of western cultural hegemony, but ignore that this is almost entirely enabled, if not directly fostered, by the insecurities of the Indian imagination.


  6. 7 Niki 18 December 2009 at 12:19 pm

    OK. As far as I am concerned it does not matter whether the it was a “fucked-up promotion”. Neither does it matter that, the banner was created by someone not entirely fluent with the English language. YOU are entirely responsible for what you put out there. ESPECIALLY if you are doing business. Now, I for one am not one of those who cry foul at the slightest of issues and go spreading news of bringing someone or a company down. In fact I think as a Race, we humans are getting sissy constantly crying that shit hurts our sensitivity.

    But in this case, I have to say, as a business you are TOTALLY responsible for your promotional ideas and the words you use in them. If you think something like this is alright, imagine this- Tomorrow every other company gets a “free pass” under the name of “mis-communication” and “difficulty with language”. They do what they want and later “apologize” with a “We’re sorry the people who made these banners are illiterate and therefore don’t know what they’re doing.” Besides proving the phrase-“second grade men hire third grade men”, there is a world of wrong with this.

    Think about it. Does my poor knowledge of any language give me a free pass to “accidentally” call you an idiot or something and get away with it? Then why should they?

  7. 8 rajk 18 December 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Parry is absolutely right.
    Symbols and attitudes,whether deliberate or subconscious matter.

    It idiotic to make us act blase’ about the whole thing by laying it at some vague notions of insecurity or imposition of western cultural hegemony.

    These are not the 80’s or 90’s and the first decade of 2000 is ending.
    Information is freely available and accesible at least in the urban setup.

    So we do have a fair idea what is western culture ,what to imbibe and what not to.

    The days are fast going when Indians just lined for stuff because it has a fancy sounding name.

    Guys n Gal are extremely aware of the choice they are to exercise and make.

    I for one am never going to have hagan whatever.

  8. 9 Niki 18 December 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Oh yeah and I agree on the “evil foreigners” are discriminating us part. That is total crap and most of us tend to have that insecurity. While that isn’t the case here, I still won’t let them go on a mere “we’re sorry we hired dumb asses who don’t speak English”. Like in the state of WA, signs read “Litter and it will HURT” doesn’t matter if you do it on purpose or shit falls out of your truck because you were not smart enough to cover it. Same thing, doesn’t matter who you hired to get the job done, this is not acceptable.

  9. 10 Curious 18 December 2009 at 2:08 pm

    “But the clumsiness of the language also suggests that this was something generated locally and not by the marketing department of the American overlords.”

    You seem to be implying that Indians are clumsy in creating ad copy compared to Americans. That’s borderline racist, no?

    • 11 mbjesq 19 December 2009 at 2:48 am


      Your borderline accusation is borderline proof-positive of the opening and concluding riffs of my essay, that many Indians will go out of their way to construe an insult from the perfectly benign where foreigners are involved, no?

      Sadly, you quote the remark which borderline upsets you with borderline dishonesty, omitting these lines: “[W]hat professional copy writer would follow the word ‘restricted’ with the redundant word ‘only’? One in India, only.”

      You may have only borderline awareness that English usage differs among Anglophone countries. Indian English carries a colloquialism not found in American English, but very much found on the banner; namely, the redundant or extraneous use of the word “only”. This thought was conveyed, with a degree of humor and subtlety you will surely regard as borderline, in the punchline: “One in India, only.”

      The “clumsiness of the language” was to reproduce spoken, regional idiom in written text trying to cop an attitude of internationalism and snobishness.

      I hope I didn’t insult your intelligence with this painstaking exegesis of the obvious; but you seemed borderline clueless and I thought this might help.


  10. 12 ajitjoy 18 December 2009 at 8:58 pm

    the company said what it actually was trying to convey was this
    ‘Now get a taste of abroad right here in India’…

    i am asking why did they use such long confusing sentence in their ad if they could have done it in a simple line!

  11. 13 singhs 19 December 2009 at 1:38 am

    I don’t think that people saw this as ‘evil furriners’trying to do bad things to us. Most of the commentators have talked about mental slavery…which does exist, in heaping loads. Anyway, there is no way that the blog writer or Haldar or his cronies can get away with the ‘International Passport’ thingy. And why would Kaira be lying….why not Haldar? I think the miserable sods never thought there would be so much hangama. Hope the big mommy in US raps their knucles with a straight ruler for being unbelievably dumb, not doing there homework and giving the company a bad name. Be as that may, there is never a dull moment in India- mostly we are in hysterics of one sort or the other. Also, next time other corporates will do a stupid check prior to a launch!

  12. 15 sumanth 19 December 2009 at 7:12 pm

    The foreigners are used to disrespecting the so called developing nations for a long time.

    In 2006, Washington Times put a story that according to UN, 70% Indian women face domestic violence. The truth is, UN never conducted a study which established this fact.


  13. 16 Moulee 19 December 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Ok now everyone knows that Haagen Dazs is in town :D

  14. 17 Singh is King 20 December 2009 at 6:57 am

    The author of this blog is a closet racist. He takes the liberty of subtly patronising Indians by saying that they are clumsy at English and then defends that argument by saying that they are insecure and that they dig out insults from places where there aren’t any. Mr. Mbjesq; wordplay and mind-games don’t change the truth. We know when we’re being patronised, as does the rest of the world, which you and your people have screwed with for personal gain. The reason you americans/britons don’t get insulted so easily is because you respect nothing in your culture. You make fun of your own God, South Park desecrates Jesus, if someone calls the Queen a b***h, the briton just says, “Yeah, yeah. This doesn’t insult me. I don’t care”. At least Americans start booing you every time you support a country they don’t (Which is any country that refuses to bend over for them). Vive la France makes Americans hiss. Would you like it, Mbjesq, if someone made a joke about the 9/11 victims in your face? Would you feel like punching him or not? How would you react then, if someone would tell you to “give up your insecurities” and to “stop construing insults from…. whatever blah blah you wrote up there”? You’re a hypocrite. Admit it.

  15. 18 Singh is King 20 December 2009 at 10:21 am

    Oh, oh! BTW, FYI: The guy who wrote the TOI article, his last name is spelt: K-A-L-R-A. For a guy who spends half the year living in India, you sure suck at knowing our names…. or maybe you’re just dyslexic, Mr. Mork B. Jacab5!!!!

  16. 19 mbjesq 20 December 2009 at 10:56 am


    Thanks anyway for (yet again) proving my point with your pointless outrage.

    The “insult” you find is not only innocuous, it is fully explained elsewhere in this comment thread. Your accusation is that I am “subtly patronising Indians by saying that they are clumsy at English.” It would be an alarming charge, if not risible. The language I identified as sloppy was that of the Haagen-Dazs banner, not Indian English generally. Indian English is what it is; as are the many other dialects of English spoken in other Anglophone countries. I am not the one elevating one dialect over another; that would have been the author of the offending banner.

    As I have explained before: The “clumsiness of the language” was to reproduce spoken, regional idiom (the redundant “only”) in written text trying to cop an attitude of internationalism and snobishness. An analogy in American English would have been to write “Come on in” instead of “Welcome”. The words are perfectly sensible, but the folksy, idiomatic turn of phrase is in tension with the stylistic ambitions of the text.

    I’m afraid I also can’t buy into the trumped-up charge that I’m a hypocrite. No reader of my blog could ever contend that I was an American apologist. Need quick proof: just read the last paragraph of the essay above.

    Or don’t they teach reading in that palace of yours, King? The liberty you take with my words makes me wonder.


    [Listen folks, I deeply appreciate receiving all these helpful examples; but, at this point, I think readers understand that Indians often take senseless umbrage at foreigners. We don’t need more self-reflexive illustrations. By all means, comment if you have interesting ideas of your own on this topic or if you disagree with something I have actually written. The exchange of ideas is always interesting. This kind of food fight — where someone puts words in my mouth and then calls me a racist for them — is less fun than it may look.]

  17. 20 Just an Artist 20 December 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Another fascinating read MBJ…thanks for the blog. I would share my thoughts about it, but you would need an International Passport…haha.

  18. 21 Singh is King 20 December 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Where in the world would you find a self-titled writer who prefixes the redundant “self” with reflexive? In America, of course!!!!

    • 22 mbjesq 21 December 2009 at 2:29 pm

      Pronunciation: \ˈself\-ri-ˈflek-siv\
      Function: adjective
      Date: 1933
      : marked by or making reference to its own artificiality or contrivance
      self–re·flex·ive·ly adverb
      self–re·flex·ive·ness noun
      self–re·flex·iv·i·ty \-ˌrē-ˌflek-ˈsi-və-tē, -ri-\ noun

      Courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

      It is no real surprise, Singh, that you comment anonymously and give false email addresses. At some level, even you understand that you are an embarrassment to yourself.

      • 23 Singh is King 22 December 2009 at 11:28 am

        See? Citing from the Merriam Webster dictionary. A dictionary written by a bunch of AMERICAN pot smokers!!!! Illustrates my point just as well. Anyway, everybody knows the definition of a Merriam, as defined by the most Noble Misters Wilson, DenBleyker, Melvin and McElfatrick.

        Pronunciation: ‘me-ri-um
        Function: noun
        Date: 2008
        : The length of skin between a man’s anus and scrotum.
        Usage: Damn, my merriam is itchy…

        Reference: Cyanide and Happiness issue 1273: http://www.explosm.net/comics/1273/

  19. 24 Niki 21 December 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Singh dude, seriously man, chill. From what I can gather from the author’s posts, it doesn’t look like he is being racist. He, from my POV, is providing constructive criticism. And comon, we could use a little of that.

    And mbjesq, I think the deal is that the fucking british burnt us up so bad, that we are now overtly sensitive to anyone who criticizes. And for the record ToI = Toilet of India :P hehehe
    I notice that they derive great pleasure from writing about everyday things that make sense and turn them into “backwardness” of Indians. So many examples come to mind. Go through the blogs, you’ll see what I mean. Some are really well written, but many are poor and thoughtless.

    Anyway though, don’t you think the business should be responsible (I don’t mean shut them down) for stupidity like this? ’cause I can totally see people using this as a ‘get out of a controversy for free card’.

  20. 25 mbjesq 21 December 2009 at 5:54 pm


    I get the post-colonial mind-fuck. I’m just eager and hopeful for an astonishingly rich and potent nation to put the neurosis behind it before too much more time passes.

    It’s not a trivial matter. The effect of this social cancer is not simply an inward injury to the national psyche. It manifests in very tangible ways that are strongly influencing — and, I’d argue, compromising — India’s future.

    To state the matter in a concise and abbreviated way, the uncritical bias in favor of all-things-Western has created patterns of consumption and industrial development which repeat the unsustainable practices of mid-twentieth century growth in America and Europe, rather than using India’s promise, talent and vast resources to imagine and create a new and better future.

    To your final point, free marketeers tell us that businesses are supposed to pay for their screw-ups, because we consumers vote with our wallets. Unfortunately, we exercise our economic suffrage with the same frequency and attention to detail as our political suffrage. I’d sure like one of those “get out of controversy free cards”, though. I could use one from time-to-time, don’t you think?


  21. 26 Passion 23 December 2009 at 10:24 am

    The phenomenon of inward-racism and insecurity that leads to hyper-sensitivity is hardly restricted to India, most countries which have been colonized by a European power do have an inferiority complex. And given the decades of crude, blatant and shocking racism, condescension and exploitation (to say nothing of brutal torture and shocking violations to human rights) that India has faced it is hardly reasonable to expect us to come out of this post colonial hangover anytime soon. I agree that it is pathetic and self-destructive but ideals of equality and self-belief are not that easily achieved.

    Also, this ad caused such uproar because it brings back strongly offensive imagery from the British Raj (when signs frequently said “No Indians and dogs allowed) given its horrendous historical connotations, it is quite obvious why there was such an emotional over-reaction.

    And if the country was too eager to find a foreign scapegoat to blame this on, I think that you are too eager to free all foreigners from any blame. But the view that you take is too simplistic. First of all this might be HD’s first outlet in India but they obviously have enormous potential to tap. India is the second fastest growing country in the world and cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore have a burgeoning upper and middle class, also they hardly have any competitors in the country (like Ben and Jerry’s) . Second of all HD is a respected international brand. Given this I find it quite far-fetched that they left the launch of their first ad campaign for their first store, in a country that is a potential major customer, completely to the local franchisee.

    In my experience, as an Indian in India who has worked for various MNCS, the tendency is to usually over-supervise and instruct local employees (even those in high positions or working in franchises), since these MNCs usually come from more developed countries with better organized work ethics. So you can’t COMPLETELY free HD of all responsibility. After all if they lend somebody their name it is their responsibility to make sure they live up to their standards.

    Also, I do not understand how this doesn’t have a malicious purpose. When you yourself are so vocal about the inferiority complex that most Indians have, how can you be naive enough to believe that this ad had no racist connotations? The ‘partied in the French Riviera’ bit is innocent enough but the ‘entry restricted’ bit is not. If the idea was to capitalize on their so-called international appeal wouldn’t it make more sense that they invited in locals (who do not have knowledge about HD’s brand image in other countries) by tempting them with the exotic instead of calling out to seasoned travelers of the globe (who would be worldly wise enough to understand that Haagen Dazs is neither sophisticated nor glamorous, but mostly sold in grocery stores and average ice cream outlets elsewhere in the world)

    The ad was obviously aiming at creating an exclusivity based on the Indian anglophilia which would then back up the false image of sophistication and snob value that they are trying to project in India. So while the ad might not have been directly insulting, the connotations behind it clearly are.

  22. 27 Niki 23 December 2009 at 11:33 am

    What Passion says does make sense. It is highly unlikely that a first franchise be completely unsupervised. And I stick with the fact that hiring wrong people for the job isn’t an excuse for anything.

    Noticing the vocal beating that you receive, I guess you could use one of those cards :P

  23. 28 sojournertruths 23 December 2009 at 11:38 am

    With reference to the above gentleman aka. @Passion; Please forgive me for the language and hard facts that follow..

    You know what? The greatest and most ignored competency besides rich culture, history, values, snake charming or latest found IT skills of Indian people; is our(mind it i’m indian too) ability to play BLAME-GAME. Oh that little johny was pricked in his ass by this white guy and took his toys too…ah what can poor little johny do..he cant stop crying. :cry:

    We have everything to blame on foreigners, corporates and their governments; And, trust me, we are best at that. We will blame our colonial history for everything happening after 60 years of independence. This is post independence india with most of the people borned much after independence. But, poor johny has laid his hands on history this time…Who the hell is carrying this colonial history over his shoulders?

    And, why we should spare the foreigners, when we are not sparing our fellow citizens. Hey, white guys we dont spare our brownish black comrades too; Don’t feel you are the only ones to be blamed. The Global Restrictions on Religion report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009) ranks India as the country with the second highest Social Hostilites Index. Meaning, after Iraq, India has the most intense Social Hostilities involving religions. We enjoy blaming each other and sometimes look for white asses too. Please don’t mind. Its even.

    You know how our country works? Some David Headley or some Rana can walk into our country and prepare videos during their recce of our cities. Then, LeT terrorist’s can hire a boat and load it with all the latest weapons, RDX and all shit; Walk into our cities and gun down the innocent people. And, it is so oblivious to us.. Then FBI comes out with everything and the great indian state comes out of the eternal blissful ignorance…oh our poor people have so much zest for life, India rebounds and blah blah. What fucking thing we can do? We are just living at the mercy of the terrorists, ISI or al-qaeda. Look I’m Indian and I have things to blame.

    God Bless America and FBI too because we indians need them so much….. We can’t do much without foreign hands; God knows we might need these hands to wipe off our shit also…

  24. 29 Niki 23 December 2009 at 11:56 am


    That doesn’t make sense. 60 years of Independence haven’t been enough. And I think its that way because most of us are raised with some bias or hatred. If not raised, we form a habit to do that because of the people around us. 60 years haven’t helped. I remember meeting people, who in todays day and age, have such inferiority complexes that prevent them from as much as speaking with certain people. The reason, I’ve observed, is “How can I?” or “Who am I?”. They’ve been born free. Why the hell are they still in that mindset? Its either their parents who taught them to “stay away” or others around them.

    Most, subconsciously resist change. “My father did it this way, he believed in this and so will I”. Haven’t we all heard that a million times? We may have had independence for 60 years, but some of us still seem to be living in that old age. Your last para actually proves this :P
    I don’t mean to be a self centered bastard with “We don’t need anyone, we are awesome or we can do whatever”… but saying we need someone so much just shows how pathetic and dependent the mindset is, nevermind the actions. Which, (if you weren’t sarcastic/kidding), goes against your own theory of “60 years of Independence”.

  25. 30 mbjesq 23 December 2009 at 12:37 pm


    I don’t disagree at all with your thoughtful assessment of the racist aspects of this episode.

    I do take issue with the inferences you, Niki, and others are willing to draw about the foreign involvement of the MNC parent corporation in this case. It’s not that the inference you draw is unreasonable. Indeed, it is completely logical and was my working hypothesis when I started my investigation. But unlike absolutely everybody else in this case, I actually did investigation. And while it wasn’t proof-positive, I spoke and corresponded with enough people in the various companies involved on two continents to have a high degree of confidence in the attribution of fault as I presented it. There may be more to the story than the principals, both Indian and American are admitting, but the stories they tell support only one conclusion. With actual admissions and denials on the one hand, and educated speculation on the other hand, the evidence vastly preponderates against arguments about what “must have happened.”


  26. 31 Niki 23 December 2009 at 1:35 pm

    While I agree that I haven’t checked by calling them and speaking with them. I however must oppose the notion that I am drawing a foreign involvement. My notion is that THE business is responsible. I don’t mean foreign or local. Doesn’t matter. If it would have been Reliance for crying out loud, I’d still have said the same thing. Its not an issue of where the business/businessman is from. He is from Delhi, he might as well be from the north pole. Also, in the first post I was referring to our dear owner, the person who oversaw the marketing and the like, if that helps clears things up. While I don’t mean to discredit your investigation on this issue, or claim that HD is responsible, it is possible that the company denied involvement but actually was involved. No claims, just a thought.

  27. 32 Elaine 2 January 2010 at 8:57 am

    Reading this immediately reminded me of the brouhaha that surrounded the Dunkin’ Donuts ad with Rachael Ray wearing an innocuous black-and-white patterned scarf that was mistakenly identified as a keffiyeh.

    Reading the ensuing Comments reinforced the image.

    Every culture has hot trigger points. Both those who are resident in those cultures, and those who examine them should dare to engage in discussion and debate sensitive issues – it is the only way to move forward in our evolution as societies in a world where no country can afford to be an island unto itself.

    And if nothing else, as one of the minority Americans who holds a passport and knows where both France and India are, its a (comic)relief to see that we’re not the only ones shooting ourselves in the foot once in awhile.

    Thanks MBJ, for the discussion forum. Discussion is good.

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Blasts from the Past

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... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.


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... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.


... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.


... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?


... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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