Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Double-Blast from the (Japanese) Past

On top of all the other positive impressions of my visit to Japan, I was truly wowed by its polite citizens. Interestingly enough - and this excludes my Japanese friends here in Vienna - this seemed to be restricted to strangers. Let me explain. Before flying there, I got in touch with a colleague at the Firm's Tokyo branch who like me had volunteered to occasionally entertain visitors from other offices. We arranged that Chiquita and myself would drop by at the office on our last night which coincided with a Halloween party there. Unfortunately, though, the colleague was really stressed and once it was obvious she had to stay in the office until very late and would not really have time, nor the engergy to meet for a drink later, we said our good-byes and I left a gift there. That was the last time I heard from her.
Earlier the same day, I finally posted a present for my former bosses at Coma HQ, who are now a married couple. Inexplicably and despite the computer-typed address in Japanese characters, the person behind the counter at the post office in Ueno signalled that he had no clue what I wanted him to do with my padded envelope. After much pointing at myself and then at the "sender" address on the envelope followed by pointing at the recipient's address and making a forward motion with my hands, I hoped he had understood that my highly unusual request was to - gasp- post this item. I know...at the post office, of all places. Anyway, when I heard no word of thanks from my former bosses (and those were nice gifts, mainly for their newborn son), I was convinced that the guy had either sent it to his grandmother or fed it to the shredder. I thought it very out of character for them not to show a reaction of some kind and was rather tempted to write to ask directly whether they had received any post from me.
Yesterday, however, I was surprised by a FedExed t-shirt (really cool, with the Firm's logo spelt in pseudo-Japanese) and card from my colleague, apologising for not having had time to properly entertain me when I was in Japan.
When I got home, a New Year's card from my ex-bosses was waiting for me, on which they thanked me for my gifts.
Just like the mortal offence not to send a "thank you" card in the UK or US which is an alien concept for most Europeans, it is obviously not required for Japanese people to acknowledge gifts upon receipt. Well, I knew that the gift-giver must not make a fuss and hand over their offerings as if they were completely worthless, but I had actually expected the recipient to show more enthusiasm, given their profuse thanks for mundane daily transactions like paying for groceries. Must do research on that!
In any case, I was relieved to finally find out that my envelope had reached its destination.


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