It’s nearly a monthly occurrence. A salesman comes into our office and goes desk to desk. Usually, if no one is there (which is often the case) they will just leave their card and maybe even a flyer. Often times I’ll come back from class with something on my desk from a local bank, travel agency or even a jewelry store.
Then there are the times that I’m in the office. The salesman will come into the office, introduce themselves to the principal or vice principal and then proceed around the room. If there is a teacher at their desk often they will stop, say hello, and then give them their business card and a advertisement from their company.
Thus begins the running bet I have in my head. “What are the odds of this person stopping and talking to me? What will they say if they do? Will they try to use English with me or go into their spiel in Japanese? Or, will they just ignore me altogether?” 9 times out of 10 if I’m there they’ll pass me by. I’ve even gotten to the point where I will get up and leave the office while they are there. Then when I come back I will find their info on my desk and I can do what I usually do with it…throw it away.
But why?! Why would I even go to the trouble of leaving the room? Why don’t they just talk to me! Why is everyone in Japan so mean to us foreigners?! Why can’t they speak English??? They take English everyday in school! WHY CAN’T JAPANESE PEOPLE JUST TALK TO ME!! I FEEL SLIGHTED!
First off…take a step back. How many years of Spanish did you take in school? I bet you can ask where the toilet is and that’s about it. Am I right? If you never use something in your everyday life, you WILL forget it! If you live in a country that doesn’t require you to speak English, work at a job that doesn’t require you to speak English, live in a house that doesn’t require you to speak English, don’t know anyone that speaks English, and don’t consume any media in English you aren’t going to remember much more than how to ask where the bathroom is. If you don’t use it, your brain will push it out in place of things that are more important. So, having a little compassion will go along way!
Second, it really doesn’t offend me that people are “scared” to talk to me. It’s like when I hear people say, “Why don’t people talk to me on the train? No one will even sit next to me on the train!? Japanese people must really hate foreigners!” Really?? When I’m on the train I want people to leave me alone! Shut up and ride the train! And all those videos on YouTube that go viral, “Train sings theme song to Bonanza on commute, cutest thing EVAR!” Really?! Shut up and let me go to work! I don’t want to have conversations on the train. Headphones in, I don’t want to talk…nor do I want to hear you talking!
Seriously though. Why are people so offended that someone is afraid to talk to them? Think of it from our salesman friend point of view. He’s representing his company in our office. If you can’t speak Japanese and he can’t speak English how is he going to represent his company well?
Oh and don’t worry, I can hear you already Mr. God’s Gift to Japan Man! “But I’ve lived in Japan for 3 months and I did a study abroad in Korea. I can speak Japanese. Why doesn’t he speak to me!” Again take a step back and look at it from his point of view. He didn’t do a background check on you. He doesn’t know your “cultured” history. He’s just a guy working too many hours a week, for probably not that much pay, out visiting as many offices as he can in a day in the hopes that he can make his commission.
Again, all joking aside. Show a little compassion. Learning a language is far from easy. Not to mention the difficulty of English. If you aren’t constantly practicing, using, or learning don’t expect to be good at anything.
At the end of the day did it kill you that you didn’t get a flyer from a travel agency that charges way too much for train tours to Hokkaido? If it did…then you’re probably dead and aren’t reading this. But, if it didn’t kill you then move on. It will be OK. You will find someone to talk to you…I promise.
Written by Andrew Higgins