Only In Japan

Thursday, January 04, 2007

On the phone

My company is, by Japanese standards, fairly easygoing. You can ask the boss "Hey Yoshi, whaddyawant for lunch?" without getting fired; actually without raising a single eyebrow in the room. Cynics will say it's the "you can call me whatever you want as long as you work 12 hours a day " attitude, but still it's pretty unusual in Japan.

Things change when interacting with customers: then it's all subdued attitudes, endless sentences in polite Japanese, and a general emphasis on not contradicting the customer or giving him / her any bad feelings. This attitude is directly linked to the uchi soto syndrome, in which people are very relaxed when in their intimate group and very awkward when outside that same group; and it may look a bit silly, but it is one reason why service is always so good in Japan, so it's really something to be grateful for!

Anyway, the really interesting thing is to observe my co-workers on the phone. Maybe to make up for the fact that they can't use body language to express their humility, their voice becomes exaggeratedly meek. They really speak like little girls! And they even bow on the phone when saying good bye. Now that's politeness! (By the way, I have heard of people bowing to the fax machine when an important fax comes in...)

This situation has two upsides for me though: I get to laugh my head off at my co-workers; and, although my Japanese is fairly decent, they will NEVER let me answer the phone. He he.

After they hang up though, my co-workers often curse copiously at the customers and their unrealistic demands. Some things are the same everywhere, I guess.

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