During my initial hiring process in Canada before joining Geos and coming to Japan, one of the interviewers asked me what I wanted to do in Japan. I answered honestly, "I want to learn about Japan. I'd like to learn the language but also other things, like the literature as well."
"Well, that might be OK sometimes, but please remember your priority is to teach English."
"Oh, yeah, of course. What I meant was in my free time and on weekends and whatnot. Of course in class it has to be me teaching them." "That might be OK, sometimes..." Yumiko said and we left it at that.
One month later in the cramped lobby of Odawara Geos I was saying goodbye to a class.
"Bye guys, see you next time." I then cleared my throat and said something that would mar the rest of my career with Geos. A word so volatile, so dangerous, so viciously double edged that uttering it would damn the sayer to a world of pain and regret at Odawara Geos.
The students all said bye and continued milling out the door. Unbeknownst to me, a barrage of glances, looks, and stares were being shot around the room by the managers and senior Japanese teachers behind my waving hand.
In a slow motion Zapruder sequence, my "Sayonara" would be the sound of gun shots. Innocent by-standers scattered, officials ran to cover the situation and I would be the guy with the umbrella.
"Chris?" Aya the sales manager said sweetly, "would you mind coming back here for a moment?"
"Sure. What's up?" I asked dumbly.
"Chris, don't speak Japanese." Aya said.
"I can't. Not much, at least. I'm trying, though."
"No, don't speak Japanese."
"Huh? I don't get it..."
"Here in the school. Don't speak Japanese. Ever."
"What? Ohhhhh, you mean when I said, 'sayonara'."
"Yes. Don't do that again.."
"C'mon, Aya. Do you really think I was speaking Japanese when I said sayonara? I hardly think that qualifies as speaking-"
"We hired you to speak in English."
"So please do not speak anything in Japanese. Ever."
By then Ayumi the lead manager came into the office. She spoke to Aya a little.
"We hired you to be a native speaker of English."
"Guys, you're getting bent out of shape over nothing. It's not as if I had some great lengthy conversation in Japanese for the last 60 minutes. Trust me, my class was conducted in English."
"Our customers pay a very expensive fee to have an English experience. That means entirely in English. From the minute they walk in that door to the minute they leave all should be in English."
"OK," I had a devilish idea, "then how about you guys saying 'Hello' and 'Good-bye' whenever students walk in and out the door? And none of that 'bye-bye' stuff, either."
"But we're Japanese."
"Yes, yes, I've noticed that. And this is an English school. I'm not telling you to conduct sales or regular business in English. I'm just saying that if you guys said the barest niceties in English to the students they might take notice and try harder themselves."
Aya translated this for Ayumi.
Ayumi looked at me and said, "Hmmmmm. Yadda." then walked away.
"Chris, you must prepare for your next class. It's starting in one minute." Aya said as she too walked away.
Next day at lunch I sat with Linda in a small soba restaurant.
"Well Christine, you really put your foot in your mouth this time." Linda said.
"I overheard Ayumi calling head office this morning. I heard your name and I heard the name of the area leader. How much you want to bet you get a little visit from head office soon?"
"Eh? For what? For saying 'sayonara'? They've got better things to do with their time. They're not going to ride the rails for two hours to come to little old Odawara to give me shit for saying sayonara. No way."
"We'll see..." Linda smiled to herself as she said it.
We finished lunch and returned for the back six classes.
"Japanese lesson?! Oh boy!" I was thrilled. Our contracts said we were to receive one Japanese lesson at the discretion of the school given by one of the Japanese teachers. I could hardly wait. I got some paper and a pencil and went Atsuko's room and waited for it to begin. Out in the hall I could hear the Japanese teachers talking animatedly. Then I heard a janken game (rock, paper, scissors) being hurriedly conducted. A bunch of cheers and one moan later, a dejected looking Ako walked in. I sat up straight.
"OK, what do you want to know?" Ako asked as she down opposite me and rested her chin in her palm.
Shit! I wish I could run my classes that way! "'What do you want to know'?! What kind of a lesson plan was this? The look on her face conveyed the feeling that she would rather be having all her teeth extracted. Simultaneously.
OK, OK, try to get the most out of it, I thought.
"Uh, gee, where should we begin? Maybe some vocabulary? How about explaining sentence structure? Parts of speech?" I asked.
"Look, you don't have much time. Just go for the important stuff, alright?" Ako said.
"How much time do I have?"
"I don't know." Ako said picking her teeth. "My next class starts soon, I guess."
"Oh. Well, if time is so limited today, I guess I'll just get some basics to take notes on and get ready for the next lesson."
"Next lesson? Oh no. No no no. There is no next lesson." Ako said emphatically.
"What? Only today?"
"Yes. Only today."
"So, what do you want to know?
I couldn't believe it. One lesson. Taught by a dead beat. Classy.
"Well, what if I need to get some info as to how to get back home?"
Ako walked up to the board and wrote with a black marker, "Odawara yuki no densha wa donno homu dessuka?"
"Memorize this. I'll be back in ten minutes." Then she walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.
This is bullshit! What the hell kind of lesson is this? Where's the Presentation, Practice, and Production that Geos pounded into our heads from day one? Where are the flash cards? The magic? The gizmos?
Ten minutes later, I was cleared by my "teacher" to ask which platform the train for Odawara left from.
Sitting around my apartment, the three foreign teachers of Odawara Geos commiserated in front of the T.V.
"Well, I still think it's bullshit. We live in Japan. Why shouldn't we be allowed to study Japanese? I didn't come all this way to not learn Japanese. What kind of a joke is this? Are we supposed to exist in a bubble completely oblivious to the fact that we're in Japan?"
"Pipe, down, Chris. We're all leaving here soon, anyways. What's the point of learning something you'll just forget in 6 months?" Alisa said.
"Don't bother, Alisa. Head office will be down here soon enough. They'll stamp out any ambition that might be budding around here." Linda said.
Sure enough, next day, tacked up on the message board in the office there was a fax from head office.
"Your school will be visited by Andrea Reeve from 1pm to 2pm"
Great, the head office talking head of the day. What could this be about?
"It has been brought to my attention that some of you are breaking your contracts." Andrea said very seriously to the three foreign teachers seated around the table in one of the tiny classrooms.
"A contract is exactly that: a contract. You signed it. You agreed to it. You must fulfill your end of it."
That 'Contract is a contract' thing was brilliant. Who would have ever thought of that?
"Andrea, we get amendments to the contract faxed to us every week. You guys keep changing the contract." I said.
"And you are to sign those amendments promptly and hand them over to your manager."
I guffawed again.
"Andrea, where does it say that we cannot study Japanese?" Linda asked.
"It says that in the part that states you must do as your manager tells you to create a Geos atmosphere." Andrea replied.
"So if we get some manager who feels that I should wear a pink rabbit costume and hand out suppositories at the station in order to create a Geos atmosphere, I gotta do it?" I asked. Linda and Alisa laughed.
"Don't be daft. Your manager is your boss. Do what she says."
"I just don't think saying 'sayonara' to my students after class is a big deal." I said.
"It is if she says so. Also, and I expect you to take this seriously, your manager feels that the three of you are relaxing in class."
"How so?" Linda asked.
"Your mannerisms and expressions aren't as native English speaker as they could be."
"What?!" I shouted, "What the hell do you mean?"
"I've got a list of expressions and sounds that you are not to utter in class."
"Expressions?" Linda asked.
"Sounds?" I further inquired.
"Yes." She unfolded a piece of paper, cleared her throat and said solemnly, "You are not to say, "Hm" when you could say, "Yes." You are not to say, "eeeehhhh" when you understand something when you could say, "I seeeeee" You are not to say, "hmhm" when you could say, "uh-huh""
During this speech the three of us were cracking up. I pulled myself together to ask,
"Andrea, could you go over that again? I'd like to take notes."
To hell with that! I'll grunt and mumble and intone all I please! Nobody is taking away my god-given right to communicate in a non-verbal fashion, damn it all to hell!
In the school office the next day...
"Chris?" asked Aya.
"Mm?" I replied.
"We need more paperwork from you."
"Um?" I asked
"Mm. You didn't give us enough last week. There should be another 37 sheets of A4 filled both sides with notes about your day to day activities."
"Yehm, more paper work. Now."
"Could you get that to us soon?"
"Your English is getting better all the time."
"Thank you. I think I can catch natural sounding speakers soon."