Saturday, March 19, 2011


Over the past week, I've marvelled at the incredible calm and resilience of the Japanese people. This picture has been published in many media and every Westerner (probably with the exception of the British, who are known to be patient queuers) was amazed that people would stay within the serpent drawn on the ground. This would NEVER EVER work in Austria, not even in the most peaceful of times. In fact, nobody would even think of drawing such a line for fear of being ridiculed.

Having worked with "the Japanese" for almost a decade, I've had plenty of opportunity to experience this tendency to patiently wait for instructions from an authority and not to question them once issued. A good example was the emergency drill we regularly had at Coma HQ. The idea was that in the event of fire or a terrorist attack we should all immediately come to Boss-san's office on the third floor where we would be briefed on the next steps. As my office was located on the ground floor in close proximity of the exit, I did not see the point of running up the staircase if the building was on fire and also voiced my objection. The "official" reply was to convene at Boss-san's office no matter what.

Poise is often paired with an almost shocking matter-of-fact-ness. In my Japanese class on Thursday, we talked about the recent events in Japan and learned technical terms such as "nuclear power plant", "disaster", "earthquake" and the like. We also discussed cancelled travel plans (one man who is married to a Japanese lady said they were still planning to travel later this month!) and whether everyone's family and friends in Japan were o.k. Our teacher said that her husband had some family in relative proximity of the disaster zone, adding "He's a nuclear scientist so we are able to supply them with valuable information. His relatives are old anyway, so it's not a big deal if they die of cancer in 20 years time." I exchanged looks with the married couple sitting next to me and after the lesson we agreed that even if people had such thoughts here, they would never dare express them in public.


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