The New Guy: Adventures in Communication

The new guy arrived from Japan just a week earlier. He is the one that observed “Americans could never survive driving the roads in Japan” — While I was taking my Saturday to drive him around town to show him the sights. I remember considering stopping the car and asking him if he liked walking. This guy reminds me a little of the animal pictured to the left.

One day he came to chat with me at my desk. (One detail to help all of this make sense is that I typically spoke Japanese at work.)

The Dialogue:

Me: (in Japanese) “whats going on?”

The Guy: “I have a question for you”

Me: (in Japanese) “OK”

The Guy: “Will you please not speak Japanese to the people from Japan anymore?”

Me: (in Japanese) “Why not”

The Guy: (pointing over the cube walls to the nearby desks) “It makes the Americans feel strange to not understand a conversation they may overhear.”

Me: (in Japanese) (pointing over the cube walls to the nearby desks) “Those folks are all from Sony. They don’t speak English very well, so by your logic they would feel strange if I was speaking in English, wouldn’t you agree?”

The Guy: “Please speak English to us from now on”.

Me: (in Japanese) “When I speak Japanese to you guys, it is easier for you to get along. You understand better. We work faster. Plus, Japanese is an important part of my career, so it is important for me to use it every day. I tell you what, I will speak only in English to YOU. Will that work?”

The Guy: (somewhat displeased) “OK. I have a technical question about the lab software…(proceeds to ask question…)”

Me: (in English) I answer his question in simple, short sentences with vocabulary words chosen not to throw off a foreign listener . He doesn’t understand. I answer it again, but simpler and slower. He still doesn’t understand. As I go for round three when he interrupts me.

The Guy: “Can you tell me in… Japanese?”

Me: (Trying not to laugh) “Sure…”

I was able to solve his problem in less than 60 seconds in Japanese. Much to his (and my) relief.

In fairness to this gentleman, he came to the United States on a temporary basis from Japan, with the intention of making the most of the opportunity to learn English. He pushed his coworkers to use English and not fall back into their native tongue amongst each other. This is laudable, and a great idea. The problem was that he was not able to convince anyone to join him, and he was comically awkward in his interactions, such as this one.

Great idea, but poor implementation = funny story.

PostScript: One time this gentleman got bent out of shape because he wanted to have some IBM network engineers (only tangentially related to his work) punished for not doing something in what he thought was the “right” way. I was explaining to him that there was no benefit for our company to do so, and that no harm was done so he should just forget about it. He could not get it, after repeated, repeated explanations so I explained to him that if our conversation continued as it was, “my head was going to explode.”
He gave me a shocked look, and then apologized and the conversation was (finally) over with. He dropped the push to get the IBM’ers run off of a cliff. Thank The Maker.

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Kevin Ready

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