Off to a superb start
Perhaps my new boss felt he couldn’t find someone to replace me in time. Perhaps he was excusing me as a silly foreigner. Perhaps he was overly kind.
It is impossible to explain why I felt the above photo was appropriate to forward to my new workplace in Japan. I can only think it was substantial miscommunication. Perhaps it was purposeful ignorance about workplace etiquette. Or was it love?
One year at a small but busy branch of a conversation school came to a close. I felt I’d learned as much as I could and wanted a new opportunity. My request to move branches for year two was thankfully approved by my manager and forwarded to head office.
The president of the chain had recently secured a contract for an English teacher at a large company in a different prefecture. The position was mine if I wanted it.
The pressing question was how far this new job was from my love in Tokyo. We had met only a few months earlier and my head and heart were soaring far above me most of the time.
Hurrah! The “commute” of four hours by bullet train to see my darling would be replaced by three hours on a highway bus. This extra hour sealed the deal. Saving around $250 per round-trip compared to the shinkansen was a minor detail.
After I accepted the position, the president asked for a photo to send to his client. Since I wore a suit to work *every single day*, I have no idea why a casual photo of me in sunglasses, crouched beside a frog in front of a pharmacy, holding a second-hand Lonely Planet guidebook would pass as professional.
To provide context of how ridiculous this decision was, the executives and managers who met me on my first day were visibly relieved.
Why that photo was even forwarded and a request not made for a photo along the lines below is also a mystery.
Keeping the momentum going
The next request was for an updated resume. Refusing to follow rules I felt were questionable or love clouding my sensibilities meant I duly forwarded the Canadian version*.
It was the wrong content, the wrong size, and glaringly absent of any photographic evidence of me. In Japan, photos are required on resumes for any position. Well, almost any.
When I applied to the conversation school before moving to Japan, my resume was photo-less. As such, I was anonymous to my new manager. Facebook wasn’t open to all, friends and strangers via LinkedIn had not started sending me repeated invites, and my only Internet presence was a somewhat embarrassing half-marathon time.
After one year in Japan, I knew about the photo requirement but thought it unnecessary unless acting or modelling were in my future.
This stubbornness led to the stupid photo above. Anxiety attacks around the Japanese-style resume was the complement.
*Canadian resumes shouldn’t include birthdate, age, citizenship, passport information, if English/French is your first language, political affiliation, religion, marital status, kid status, information on dependants or a photo. Anything before high school is skipped and if you’ve got a degree, high school is taken off, too.
Why stop when you’re ahead?
For reasons I never understood, the client wanted a handwritten Japanese-style resume. The forms were standard and available at any convenience store or department store’s stationary zone.
The form required a photo. The proper type was one taken at a professional studio. I skipped that part.
Hitoshi and I sat cross-legged on the floor in the barren living room of my new abode. I chewed my lip and stared at the unassuming two-page form.
Hitoshi started translating and I started printing, in English. Why not go all the way?
Argh! A spelling mistake. Start over!
An ink blob? Start over!
Blue pen? Start over! Only black is acceptable.
Can’t remember your high school hobbies? Too bad!
Don’t know your father’s income? Find out!
Smack! The black pen hit the paper-covered sliding door to the bedroom.
Exasperated and defiant, I concluded that if I never mentioned this resume, no one else would. I was right.
“Free” – a weighty word
Mr. President asked me if I had any questions about my new workplace.
Was it smoke free?
Having taught at companies where smoking was allowed fuelled this inquiry. I should clarify. The top brass felt smoking anywhere was okay. The students and I unwillingly bathed and spluttered in the remnants.
Japanese English has a few quirks and the word “free” is one of them. For me, smoke free means NO smoking or FREE OF smoking.
In Japanese English, smoke free means you can smoke anywhere, any time. You are FREE to smoke as you wish.
Mr. President panicked.
We sorted it out.
Perhaps Mr. President thought he had chosen an offensive, culturally clueless, chain-smoking lunatic to represent his company at a new high stakes contract.
Luckily for him, I showed up for work on the first day wearing a suit, looking the part, and sufficiently “good-looking” for the job. I shall take a wide circle around that last comment, for now.
The executives teased me about the sunglasses photo (Egads! Yakuza!), told me to immediately report any sexual harassment from the students (Is there something I should know?), and handed over ten class lists, each having ten students (hmm… that would be 100 students).
They also told me to be myself. This would foster understanding of new cultures.
And so began my new job inside a Japanese company. I felt like a giddy fly on the wall of a secret world.
Have you worked at a company in another country? What was it like? If you did the same or perhaps even more ridiculous things than I did, please comment and we’ll start a club.