Thursday, January 29, 2009

Speaking the corporate language...

Now, my wonderful company is a multi-national corporation with the head offices in Europe, it's of a fair size, but hardly up there with OCP, General Motors or any of your major energy, finance or pharma companies. But as it is a multi-national company with a bunch of people working together from different countries and different continents and countries, this means that an official corporate language has been set.

Our official corporate language is American English. Now, this is probably what some people would like to think that the language is, in reality our corporate language is some form of unexplored pidgin English with a number of different variants out there. I readily admit that my English grammars and spelling is not perfect, but compared to what can be seen internally in the company I'm waaaay above average.

Even people in the highest of corporate management function can find ways to butcher the English in their official communications (even though there is a supposed safety net of people checking it before releasing it).

Following an exchange involving a French colleague, an Italian collegue and one of my Japanese colleagues can give me a blinding headache trying to dechipher what they actually want to say and it's not American English anyway you look at it... I'm sure I will come back to this subject at some point and especially the interesting e-mail culture that we have...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"I am shy and introvert"

Today was a pretty dull and boring day of preparing for a meeting in the coming week while dealing with 4-5 completely unrelated subjects at the same time. In conjunction with the meetings, I'm also setting up a small dinner party so the guests can interact with the Tokyo team in a more relaxed environment and I sent out a pretty standard invitation to the participants in the Tokyo office asking them whether they can or can't participate, expecting nothing more exciting than a few "Yes I will particiate" and some "No, I cannot participate".

The first reply comes pretty immediately from one of my colleagues, a very nice timid guy close to his sixties, hardly known for his sense of humour, more known for his talent of blowing things out of proportion sometimes. The response to my Japanese e-mail came in English (which he is reasonably good at) and was as follows:

I won't join the drinking party because I'm shy and introvert.
Alcohol is said to be among the top 100 medicines here in Japan .


Since it was sent from his e-mail it was obviously not anonymous however you looked at it and I was first completely confused by the mail. But after a quick clearing of my head I understood that he was actually half-joking, he is shy and introvert and doesn't want to participate in the party because of this, but then he turned it into some form of twisted joke. After digesting it for a few minutes I actually appreciated the humour he had put into this.

After barely recovering from this reply and meanwhile also receive a bunch of "Yes please, I would like to participate" e-mails, the next e-mail came, also in English:

"Hi Mr. Salaryman
I would too like to join this wonderful dinner if it is soooooo nice!!

It seems like this simple thing really triggered some people in the company to do very creative replies and with some people not yet having answered, I might look forward to more freaky mails tomorrow. That said, I did enjoy the mails and a lot more entertaining than the standard replies.

This enhanced my quality of life during an otherwise boring day!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yes, I am a salaryman

When I travel in business here in Japan and find myself on the Shinkansen train heading back to Tokyo in the evening I like to have a beer or two. I find it very relaxing and refreshing after a tiring business trip to chill out on the moving train with a beer.
This is very Salaryman-ish and a casual look over any passengers in a suit at the post 6pm train will show that most salarymen chose this approach.

Drinking beer on the train home from work gives you 1 Salaryman point. However, drinking a "one cup Ozeki" cup of Japanese sake gives you 5 salaryman points. This is the pinnacle of salaryman-ishness and mixing it up with some dried squid gives 2 bonus points.
I hope and dream that even I, can one day reach these heights of salaryman-ishness...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did you get us anything?

As often as is the case here in Japan, some of the nicest customs can also be among the most annoying. I'm talking about the "Omiyage", the gift giving tradition of local souvenirs. Now, in general, this is a pretty nice custom, a friend of yours or someone goes somewhere and brings back something small for you. I like giving gifts to family and friends as much as the next guy and freely admit that I adhere to this customer, in Japan and also outside Japan.

However, again, this can easily spin out of control. Recently I have had to travel a bit nationally in my work and an unnerving custom has developed in the company where people on national business trips bring back something edible for the whole office to try out from their destination. I just simply refuse to do this, it's bad enough that I have to go to stupid Hiroshima for a stupid appointment which I didn't particularly enjoyed or even wanted to go to in the first place and the only place I saw except for taxis and train stations were the meeting location. But I'm not gonna spend 1000~ yen of my own hard-earned money buying snacks for people who didn't really care about it anyway. This was the way things used to be, only controlled gift-giving within the office.

Somewhere in the company during my departure a paradigm shift happened and people started buying stupid (they're usually not good to begin with) snacks from all over the place and placing them in the cafe space. But I refuse to play along, I just don't bring back anything and I'm hoping to create a counter-culture to stop this excessive snack purchasing.

The exception is when I've been on overseas business trips since the general image in most people's minds seem to be that that's all fun and games, so to somehow lessen the envy a little bit I usually bring back some local snacks (most recently Crocodile and Kangaroo jerky, which for some reason remained uneaten for weeks at end, the ungreatful pigs and sows...).

Just say "NO", it's that easy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cold and miserable

Japan is still cold and miserable with the only bright light being that there has been no snow so far this winter, which in turn means that I do not have to burst a blood vessel due to Tokyoites incompetency in the proper use of an umbrella. Currently I have no escape plan, but feel the urgency to start making some contingency plans to take Ms. Sunshine under my arm and get somewhere warm for a few days to try and recharge the batteries and get rid of this annoying winter cold that I end up carrying around for days at end.

On the work front things have been calm, no lack of stupidity, but a certain lack of funny stupidity at the moment, however, with overseas management coming in to inspect the operations in the near future I am sure that there will be plenty of comedy material coming up as certain people in the organization will scramble for attention and others will do their best to cover up what they're doing.

If you live in Europe or the US and is suffering from the winter, keep in mind that you should be thankful that isolation and central heating is concepts that are understood over there at least...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Feed the hunger!

Now, I've lived in Japan for almost ten years by now and I'm pretty familiar with most aspects of the Japanese cuisine and snack culture. I have been aware of the Japanese rice cracker snack "senbei" for a long time and have mildly liked to the extent that I ate one if I got one put in front of me, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get one and never ever purchased any of these rice cookies.

However, Ms. Sunshine started purchasing senbei as snacks and without thinking about it especially I started eating them and started to actually purchasing them and developing preferences in terms of brands and flavors. One of my favorite brands quickly became the chili spiced Tarako cracker that Ms. Sunshine introduced me to. And I was completely horrified the day the local supermarket stopped carrying this brand I had come to love (it was the chili that got me really hooked), for weeks I scavenged throught the senbei section hoping that it would make a glorious comeback but with no luck, instead settling for lesser brands without the kick of the chili...

A recent excursion to another supermarket found me another supply outlet, the catch is that it's pretty far away compared to my next door supermarket, but I did buy a considerable amount of stock when I found it (in fact, I'm eating one now). If you never got into the senbei deal, give it a try, I'm hooked now and at least it's better than cookies and chips!

(the picture shows my favorite brand!)

Monday, January 12, 2009

A phone call I received last week…

Mr. Salaryman: Yes? (Not particularly polite since the direct number is not officially disclosed)
Old Man: Yes, hello, I was calling about the piano?
Mr. Salaryman: (Briefly sharping, realizing that it could be a customer transferred wrongly to me) Yes, hello, this is Mr. Salaryman speaking.

Old Man: Yes, I was wondering about the piano…?

Mr. Salaryman: (Confused and wondering if he heard wrong) Piano? You have reached a company specialized in devices for surgery of the XYZ, are you sure you called the right number?

Old Man: Oh? Surgical equipment, that sounds very serious?

Mr. Salaryman: Yes, I would say it is…

Old Man: So you can’t do anything about the piano?

Mr. Salaryman: No… I don’t think so, are you sure you called the right number?

Old Man: I called the number they gave me…


Old Man: So you can’t do anything about the piano?

Mr. Salaryman: No, I am afraid that we cannot do anything about that. We make surgical equipment.


Old Man: I see…


Old Man: Well thank you then, I probably should check the number.

Mr. Salaryman: Yes, I think you should probably do that, thank you very much and see you soon!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Inspiring the troops!

As is custom in most corporate environments, in Japan and in other countries as well, I would believe, at the start of the new year it is customary for the management of the company to outline the strategy for the year ahead of us and highlight any challenges or changes that we will face. As was done in my little company.

Mr. Schachou had gathered the whole company and held a presentation about what we had to do in the year ahead of us, and it’s no doubt that we have some pretty big challenges in front of us for 2009. His presentations are at least not the dull boring type, usually very energetic and full of hyperbole that can at time be pretty exhausting and painful to be subjected to. But this time he actually managed to keep himself on the reasonable side and it was a comparatively inspiring presentation that at least did not worsen the morale in the company. Everything was going surprisingly well and he finished up his presentation and was probably satisfied with the look of the people’s faces as he finished.

Then he did it…
Inspired, he added a “Don’t worry, we can do this because… I am your leader!”. A brief second of silence followed after which the whole room erupted in laughter and shaking of heads. For a second or two Mr. Schachou looked a bit fluttered but then quickly decided that it was best to laugh with everyone. The corporate lesson in here is that you should probably stop while you are ahead…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sound advice

A friend (male) of mine recently assisted in translation during an interview with a (female) Japanese pornstar. During the interview he got some really good advice from her that I would like to take this opportunity to share with you all:

  • If you get jizz in your eyes, you should wash it out with milk since it removes the sting you would otherwise feel

  • If you happen to be in a situation where you will be required to ingest large amounts of jizz, it is advisable to drink some soda water beforehand since it will lessen the sickness you might otherwise feel

Good advice and you just never know when it might come in handy!

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Happy new year to you too!"

One of the more annoying things about getting back to work is the excessive “Happy New Year” greeting that you have to perform. It is compulsory, to greet each and everyone you meet in the office through saying “Happy new year, hope we can work well together this year too” (in Japanese: 明けましておめでとうございます。本年度もよろしくお願いします) and give a little bow.

Now, this might not sound too bad, but when you’re meeting the 20th something person and have to go throw these motions it gets pretty old and when you do it for the 40th time in the day you just wish that there was a more efficient way of getting all those greetings out of the way. The enthusiasm and the angle of the bow decrease significantly over time…

And it doesn’t really end here like you might think, even in the coming weeks I have to deal with the stragglers that I for one reason or another didn’t meet during this week and go through all the motions again. In a few weeks the invisible barrier will be reached and you don’t have to bother with this particular greeting at least for another year…

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In with the new, out with the old!

After a new year's vacation that contained among other things, Kansai-ben, a hostile cat, Japanese traditional new year's food, fever, a happy poodle and such things, I am now back at Salaryman HQ in Tokyo enjoying the comparative warmth of my apartment compared to the house I stayed at in Osaka (I slept with 6 blankets...).

But now we have left the glorious year of the mouse behind us and are now entering the glorious year of the cow and to follow my tradition, I thought I should summarize the year for your convenience.

Biggest revelation of 2008 was me discovering the Arrested Development sitcom (I know, it took me a while) and getting in on the fun. It strongly competes with the British The Office as the best sitcom ever.

Best Toy of 2008 is still God-Jesus, that this toy, over 25+ years after it was created still captures this position is a testament to the genius of this toy that can amuse old and young alike. Everyone should have one.

Worst Disease of 2008 is without doubt the crippling cold I had to endure during the new year's holidays and I've still not completely recovered from.
Best Gift of 2008 was the wonderful raindeer robber/rapist/wrestler mask that I found in a store here.

Although I did not have any new revolutionary musical findings in 2008 there were solid albums released by some of my favorite artists such as Tiamat, Universal Poplab, Thermostatic among others.

Wish you all a happy 2009 and as is customary to say here in Japan; "Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu!", hope to see you around here in the future as well!
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