Sunday, 25 September 2011

"Sometimes, I like my fun to be consensual"

I don’t know why I’ve put quotation marks there, since I’m quoting myself. As such, the intellectual property rights are mine and, though I’m sure those of you who read this are qualified to correct me, I doubt there are many legal systems in the world where I would have anything to gain from suing myself from not having properly cited my sources. Still, just as one of my contemporaries in Paris “proved” that the French invented the trust in 1804, so too, I imagine, some mechanism will exist.

But I digress, I digress, I digress.
Tonight the gang went to a party. It was organised by an extremely friendly and enthusiastic group of Japanese fifty or sixty somethings who have been friends with all of our predecessors, going back a decade. It was lovely, and I am extremely grateful for their hospitality, but the whole experience brought to the fore three aspects of Japanese behaviour that are starting to, well, make me have to bite my tongue a bit; and that’s not great ‘cause I get ulcers sometimes.

I – Spending a lot of time on things that don’t really require a lot of time
This party, though lovely, has been in the offing (can anyone find that on a map?) for weeks and weeks. Henry-san, who has been our representative in this regard, has been being badgered almost consciously about arrangements for it. There have been meetings. Plural.
To me, this stems from a larger Japanese thing of not being efficient with time. At a lot of my jobs, I spend hours on end waiting around for things to happen. Ina four hour block that I spend at Linden Hall, for example, little over one hour is spent with the kids we’re supposed to be teaching English.
As the sands of time do pass, and my grave slips ever closer, I become increasingly jealous of my time. Japan is not a good place for that. I get the feeling that certain bosses like to feel that they have you at their beck and call and if you’re doing nothing, more’s the better.
For example, at each of the jobs I do, I’m required to be there up to forty minutes before class starts. There is no need for it. Our boss at Linden Hall, every time we speak, tries to get us to agree to arrive earlier and earlier. For what purpose? Unknown.

II – Ultra-hyper-micro-management
For the last few weeks, the minutiae of this party have been known to all and repeated to all several times. Indeed, we were marched around a supermarket an hour before the party was due to start so that the organisers could supervise what it was that “we” were “bringing” to the party. Gone are the Paris days of rocking up to Carrefour on the way to the 11eme to find some cheap plonk and scraping off the price tag as the métro crosses the canal at Jaurès.
Japanese bosses (and when I say bosses, I mean the people who are organising our teaching schedules &c.) don’t seem to just let you get on with things. In some circumstances this is welcome, or at least from my point of view it is. One of the women I teach for has this down to planning my lessons and then just doing the lessons, in questionable English, with me to the side for pronunciation. What the students get out of this I don’t know. What I get out of it lives in a bank account.
Another of my teachers repeats ad nauseam her proclamations as to what I should be wearing for every lesson (“Ooooooh, maybe you forgot your tie?”. “No, like last time, it’s in my bag I just haven’t put it on yet because it’s very hot”. “Maybe you should wear a tie”. “Really?”). Often there’s a script too: when one of the students reads something in English, well or otherwise, I’m supposed to thank them explicitly. Right. Can I not just get on with it, because I’ve done it before, you know? No.

III – The sense of obligation
And this brings us back to the title. In the run-up to the party, we were never actually asked if we wanted to come. It was simply expected that we would because our predecessors had. We were told we had to be at a train station at a particular time, and received a classic Japanese remark when we got there: “Oh, I thought you had missed the train” (You are late and I can put this down to you being foreigners who couldn’t possibly understand how things work in this country). The hospitality we received was wonderful, and the ladies who had cooked everything were extremely warm, even if they could speak no English. The trouble was that, from other quarters, we received a lot of instructions as to how we should have fun. And we were told many times that we were having a good time. And it was positively insisted upon that we go back. Dates and times were set. “Remember, we are your Japanese family now!”.


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