Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Interpreter

It finally happened - I was asked to put my Japanese skills to work for my company. One of our potential clients is a large middle-man of technology, thinking of reselling our lovely latency monitor to stock exchange users in Tokyo.
Thus, I was only slightly surprised to be invited to a meeting with only the sales people, the CEO and myself... starting at 7:30 *PM*.

As the meeting grew closer and closer, I started getting nervous. I haven't really been speaking Japanese much while I've been here, and I wasn't sure how I'd do while under pressure.
My CEO assured me Id be fine. Unfortunately this was spoken with the breezy confidence of someone who didn't actually have any idea of my skill level, unlike my husband. He gave me a skeptical glance when I failed to remember how to say 'sink', and suddenly I grew nervous again.

Later into the week it turned out that the Japanese company already had a translator brought along for this meeting. I breathed a sigh of relief, and tried to confirm that they no longer needed me to come along.
"Are you kidding?" said my coworker. "You'll be our secret weapon! You should go along just to make sure they don't say anything bad about us!"
Wow, I thought to myself, I should get business cards. They can read, "Kyra Weaver, Corporate Spy."

It was a little strange to see Japanese business ettiquette from an American perspective in Japan, but even stranger to see American business ettiquette after having worked in Japan for three years. I asked my boss what I should wear. "Should I wear a suit?" I had brought my suit from Japan for the purpose of interviews, but I hadn't worn it once since I got here.
My boss shrugged, and said I could wear anything I wanted, after all, I was a developer. Then, with sudden doubt crossing his face, he turned to my coworker, who has also been to Japan. "Or should she?"
Co-worker: "Mmmm... on a business meeting? Better keep it formal..."
CEO: "Yeah, they're Japanese. So no jeans, I guess."
Me: "...Riiight. I'll wear my suit."

So last Wednesday I was dragged along to a meeting at 7:30 PM. The introductions went smoothly enough, but I had a jarring sensation as I noticed my CEO not formally exchanging business cards with both hands and a bow, as I had been taught, but tossing them down on the table like a dealer with a deck of cards. I tried not to wince. Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), I had no business cards to hand out, so had no fear of showing him up on the subtle art of business card exchange. ;)

Unfortunately due to technical difficulties, the Web-X conference wasnt actually working until 8PM, which meant we had to exchange small talk for half an hour, and my 'secret' came out. The manager of the project found out I spoke Japanese, and his face lit up greedily.

"You speak Japanese? You know, we really need a developer who is bilingual. What do they pay you? They can't be paying you that much, they're a startup! Come work for us!" He said laughing, in English. With my CEO sitting right next to me. Um! Actually that is not true, I am very nicely compensated, and I saw your depressing low-walled cubicles and flickering florescent-lit office as I came in, and I was very glad to escape from that working environment when I came to New York. We are moving next week and I got to pick my own furniture(albiet from IKEA); I'm getting a glass desk and a pimpin' white leather chair in a window office! what I wanted to say. But you know. :) Instead I just demured politely, and winked at my CEO, hoping he'd remember this on the day of my anual review.

The meeting itself was not too bad. For the most part the translator did a good job, and I only had to step in when the people in Tokyo had a question about our product. The hard part was remembering to translate the question back into English before I answered it, I forgot to do that once and nearly got poked. Luckily, although I had forgotten the word for sink, three years of business Japanese on a daily basis had drilled words like 'click', 'screen', 'open a new window', 'generate a report', 'memory' and 'database usage' into my head. The only time I really started to get worried was when my stomach started growling towards the end of the meeting at 9PM.

We ended the meeting, and I shook everyone's hand, and stepped out into the freezing night air with a sense of relief and a job well done. My CEO was pleased, and I have an amusing anecdote to tell my coworkers. Hopefully it will help the time pass pleasantly while we spend the next four hours assembling our new IKEA furniture. :)


Blogger Eric C. Weaver said...

Um, let's see... "kuriku", "sukriin", "mado o akeru", "sinku"...

10:29 PM  

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