The simple method is this:
Work your ass off.
I have a question. As a foreigner, what is the ultimate form of praise that you might receive during your tenor in Japan?
“You are Japanese!”
“You are more Japanese than we are!”
Well, the latter seems a little bit overboard, but I have been told both. It’s just my opinion that these are strong forms of flattery because it’s always been my bit to adapt and blend in with the people in my surroundings. I’m a crowd pleaser, what can I say? (Although I don’t give a shit if you call me a poser for it). That’s just how I like to get on with people. Japan has been a tricky test when it comes to blending in though. Lllllllots of untold nuances. But it’s a really interesting something to gun for.
This past Sunday was the Sports Day Festival at the Middle School. I was already exhausted from the previous work week and not really looking forward to the drinking party at the end of the day. In all honesty I was hoping to get off early. It’s sports day. There’s no way this could go on till 5pm!
Well, it almost did! The ‘sports’ ended at about 2, but clean-up went on till almost 4. Even with all the students and teachers helping, we still had to dismantle and carry away 6-8 huge tents. I was working extra hard just to be able to finish early enough to get my ass home, sweating and cursing the whole way through. Gotta get home, into the shower and then into new clothes before leaving again for the drinking party.
Drinking with the teachers. Once my ultimate goal. I worked hard and strived to achieve this honour, only now to find it something to endure.
Well, at least at the start of the evening. And mostly just coz I was already tired. But once you get drinking they’re pretty fun – - especially if you know the drill: Don’t just sit and eat and wait for people to come to you with the drinks. You, the lowly ALT, get up yourself with a bottle of beer in hand and set out offering drinks to people. The people who wanna talk with you will make this their opportunity to. And if the people who you want to talk to aren’t drinking beer, call the waitress for a bottle of red wine, or grape juice or whatever is called for. I made my way through the 2nd year social studies teacher and others before making my way to the Vice-Principal and Principal (usually surrounded by something of a harem of other teachers – both male and female).
Apparently the higher-ups noticed my work earlier in the day and let fire all sorts of compliments.
“You are more Japanese than we are!”
“You’re eyes are quite something, I could get lost in them!” (seriously!)
The Vice who lived in Thailand for a few years whipped out his Thai and explained that he was thanking me in Thai keigo. Taking interest in the Vice’s Thai-knowledge has been a good way to chum-up. Heck, I’m interested in language anyway, so it just happens to work out well.
I also got to have a long chat with the art teacher, who explained to me the use of colour in paintings and their effect on the human psyche (super interesting, although hard to understand in a 2nd language). I had long suspected that she and I were not off on good terms. Nice to sweep that dust out the door.
But my favourite teacher-interaction by far though was talking with the 1st year English teacher. I cannot express how much of a doll she is: super, super sweet and always happy (with a pretty killer sense of humour), but also lacking some confidence. She’s a bit quirky (in a good way), and was explaining to me that she felt like the other teachers thought she was weird. I was explaining to her that she needn’t worry about stuff like that – just as the other teacher’s called on her to make a speech on the part of the winning Yellow Team that Sports Day. True to herself, she got up there and made everyone laugh with her wit and inspired self-mimicry (she’s purposefully and skillfully a great boke).
When the speech was over and she came back to her seat I nabbed the opportunity to explain to her the English difference between “people laughing at you” and “people laughing with you.” I told her that her case was definitely the latter. And her speech just moments before was the proof.
After the after party at a local Korean shop I got home and on my cellphone was a message from her,
“Thank you, C.
It was really good for me to talk with you tonight
I just wanted to tell you “thank you”!”
Yep, it’s totally my pleasure. I really get going on people’s positive energy. I feed off of it, in all seriousness. And in Japan it’s finally paid off. Yes, ALTs. Work your asses off. Or not. They’re not going to do anything if you don’t, mind you.