Culture Shock, Frustration, and Jobs

As you probably noticed, none of the jobs I applied for really panned out. I don’t know where the train goes off the tracks, but at some point they all just stop emailing. It doesn’t seem to be at any sort of normal time — nothing significant happens, they just go quiet. So I don’t know what that’s about, but I’ve heard from a number of the other spouses on the compound that they’ve been trying for over a year to no effect.

Keeping that in mind, I’ve had a couple interviews over the last few days with English language schools that arrange 1-1 conversation time. It’s pretty convenient, since usually they come to your house, and the pay is comparatively quite good. One of the schools asked me if I spoke any other languages and I said that while I spoke some French, I don’t speak it well enough to teach it. Unfortunately they’re looking for someone to teach a baby, and they said that while they continue to look I could read to the baby. After some followup questions, I agreed, and today was the first “class”.

I was picked up at the compound by one of the school’s administrators, who took me to the woman’s house, and translated for us. He is a very nice Japanese guy who speaks pretty passable if heavily accented english. We made polite, slightly strained conversation on the way over there. It was an odd position to be in as this is sortof a job interview, but also sortof casual and the Japanese are not so direct, so knowing what is appropriate/inappropriate conversation is difficult. (Note this as cultural layer number 1: a semi-formal interaction with someone who understands my language and culture to a certain degree.) We got there early, so sat in a cafe for a little while. Takahashi-san put me at my ease at this point by proceeding to pour tea all over himself.

When we arrived at her house there was a lot of bowing/politeness, most of which I left to Takahashi-san since they don’t understand me when I try to speak Japanese anyway. Generally “mumble mumble mumble” bow “mumble mumble” is just as effective. So culturally speaking I’m clinging to Takahashi-san for hints on what to do like a drowning man clings to a lifevest. (cultural layer 2: walking into a japanese home on business)  Takahashi however keeps indicating that I should go first, or imitating what I’m doing (drinking tea when I drink tea, motioning for me to walk ahead of him, watching the baby when I watch the baby) so I’m trying to decipher what’s proper when making a business arrangement with a mom and a teaching relationship with a baby through someone who’s mirroring me.

The kid’s pretty cute, and seemed to like me, but almost immediately it became clear that despite my having checked repeatedly to make sure this wasn’t a french teaching job, which I had told them i wasn’t qualified for, she does in fact want me to teach. Not only that, but boy does she have ideas about how that’s best done. (cultural layer 3: “energetic” japanese mothers) My flashcard flipping was found to be too slow. My reading was too concentrated. I should read a little, then talk to her in French while playing with blocks, then read some more. Could I find some more sophisticated French novels to bring next time? Maybe a French Newspaper? But nothing like Cinderella, where there are bad things and evil people. I should read to her while she’s doing other things because she is still listening, but then I was reading too much, and I should do more playing. Keep in mind that she’s 8 months old. She hasn’t spoken a word of Japanese yet, never mind any other language.

My french is pretty rusty. (cultural layer 4: adding a third language to the mix) To my credit, I managed most of the vocab on the blocks/flashcards she had without too many hiccups, but honestly today was really hard. I didn’t know thread or alligator, I felt so slow on reading the dates that I just skipped them (the good part is that none of them know enough French to catch me at this). My poor brain keeps scrabbling after idle chatter to make with a baby and coming up with English, looking for something else, coming up with Japanese, then clawing desperately it finds French. I feel like I’m deep sea diving for “aren’t you cute. are you gonna eat that block?”

I’m not at all sure that it went well. She seems concerned that I’m not cuddling Towa enough. I asked Takahashi-san whether to call her Towa-san or Towa-chan, and he gave me a totally noncommittal response. So defaulting to more polite I called her Towa-san, which was the wrong thing to do because the mother wants us to be more comfortable together. I tried communicating some concern that my french is not good enough to Takahashi-san on the way home, but he seemed to brush off the concern. I’m not sure whether it’s in his interests that I do it even if I’m uncomfortable, if it’s a Japanese communication thing, or what. I think that he was also surprised by what she wanted though, so he did admit that pretty directly. She did ask about next time, and made an appointment for next week, so if she has concerns, they’re apparently not serious enough to make her not want me. Which honestly is almost too bad. I’m not crazy about this job, but I don’t know how to back out without damaging my relationship with the english school, which is one of the best (in terms of pay, policies, etc) and have already accepted me. It also pays really well — even better than teaching english. Roughly the equivalent of 80 bucks/hour plus all my costs.

At any rate, I’m exhausted and have a huge headache now. I’m back and forth on whether going to Judo shortly will make me feel better or not (my Judo sensei was also trying to set me up with a university teaching job, which is further incentive to get up off my butt and go to class). I recognize this exhaustion point in moving abroad as a part of culture shock — interacting with the locals requires so much energy, I just want to sit in the house and not deal with it — and I also know that it’ll pass, but right at the moment I just really wish a nice American would come along and pay me to do something I’m actually qualified for.

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2 Responses to Culture Shock, Frustration, and Jobs

  1. Calley says:

    oy, what a cultural zoo – but good for you for diving in and trying it! For my two cents I’d say stick with the french-baby gig as long as the mom is reasonably happy with it. Really, at this point in 8-month development she probably just needs to be hearing a flow of French sounds, or things like “this block is red! but this block is blue!” I’m sure it will continue to be awkward until the mom stops micro-managing every baby interaction, but either you’ll get in a groove or the mom will give up on you, and there would be upsides to either outcome 😉

    Give yourself a break, and hang in there!

  2. meg says:

    oh, poor Tata. just cuddle that baby and teach her dirty things to say in French!

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