Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cult of "Me" vs. Cult of "We"

Thanks for your patience while waiting for the update. I started back to work this week, and like anytime you start back to work after a long break, it is pretty tiring getting back into the groove.

For the better part of the last 20 years I have been working with Japanese people almost exclusively.
That means that I have gotten use to a communication style that is very nonverbal, vague and roundabout when compared to that of Americans.
Now that may sound like a negative to most of you, but once you get to the point where you can understand the nuances of Japanese communication, interpersonal communication and coworker interactions actually become more predictable and easier to handle. You'll notice I am NOT saying preferrable.... there is a lot of superficial nonsense to deal with in Japan and of course, maintaining the heirarchy and pecking order here is maddening at times.

Japan is a seniority based society, not a merit based society.

Still dealing with something that is familiar and predictable can sometimes be better than the opposite.

So, it was with some trepidation that I enbarked on my new career at the International school. For the first time in a veeeery long time I would be working side-by-side with other expats like myself, 9 to 5 everyday.

I must say that I did look forward to it while being a little worried.

I mean, I should be able to communicate directly and openly with my fellow expats. This would, I thought, be a very refreshing change. I was looking forward to having meetings in which something was ACTUALLY accomplished, rather than meetings with Japanese coworkers in which group consensus was goal to be reached after all the decisions had been made by the "guys upstairs" prior to the meeting.

I should add that Japanese meetings are insufferably long- especially when you consider that nothing is actually decided of importance during said meetings.

Well....I was right about the directness of my fellow expats. Their individuality was not just evident in interactions, but it was more like it was splayed across the room in large garish orange neon.


It was as if I had left the "cult of "we" and traded it for the cult of "me"!

A large, flashing neon "ME" at Idiosyncracys-R-Us!

What is particular disturbing to me about this is that I am put off by it.
This is no doubt a true sign of "you've been in Japan too long when...."

Still, though, I am slowly getting used to it and learning how to work around it.

My co-workers, while small in numbers, are a fairly clickish lot. Socializing with them has proven interesting.
I have managed to step on a few toes in the early 20's to 30's-single-and-wanna-drink beer crowd, so they don't invite me out, but I tend to get invited to gatherings for "the guys". Having a beer with the guys allows all ages to participate, because no matter what your age, you can still tilt back a beer and add to the commentary on the workplace.

No one invites the headmaster to these gatherings, which is a shame...but I guess the power thing is a lot larger a hurdle than the age thing.

Being 43, I feel like I can fit in anywhere with most any age group. It is interesting that the younger age groups don't feel the same way about me.

The Japanese staff, I think, like me a lot. When we communicate they feel at ease speaking Japanese to me and I don't go into the office yelling screaming, or showing anger....
I am more predictable....and there is a certain comfort that it brings.
Maybe that is why I like talking with them too....


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