I’ve lived in several countries in my time, Russia, Ukraine, (well to be honest when I lived there it was so long ago, it was still the Soviet Union), Austria, Germany, Spain and France. In Germany I worked for the Japanese. On hearing about my new job, my father, as usual in his very gruff, Scottish way, mused: Well, I suppose it’s a good job, it’s not 1943. (To be fair he had a point). After 3 months in the job I eventually resigned or “was sacked” to use the correct terminology.
This was despite agreeing to be called Younger-san as opposed to my preferred option of Maureen. (And I never thought I’d say that). It turns out I didn’t embody my Japanese bosses’ ideal of a traditional Japanese woman. Inexplicably it took them 3 months to work that out. Most people who know me would have assumed they would have cottoned on during the initial interview stage. The Japanese are clearly not as efficient as people think! In fact, the Japanese aren’t as efficient as people like to think. Based on my brief experience working for a Japanese company, if the Japanese spent a lot less time collecting business cards and taking cigarette breaks, they might get a lot more work done.
The advantage of working in Germany of course is the wonderful working conditions – at least in those days. 30 days holiday + 1 day extra a month flexi time and the right to leave at 2 on Fridays! As an escapee from Thatcher’s Britain, this was manna from heaven for me. True to my working class roots, I made the most of it.
For, as everyone knows, you can always tell if you are middle class or working class in the UK by applying this simple rule; you are middle class, if at the end of the year, you still have holiday owing to you. You are working class, if you take all the holiday owing to you plus the odd sickie to make up for the amount of holiday you think you should have been getting in the first place.
One day my Japanese boss called me in and asked me to stop taking holiday and to act more like my Japanese colleagues. I pointed out I wasn’t Japanese so that wasn’t happening in my capacity as a British working-class woman. Not a traditional Japanese response I later gathered.
We locked heads again when I wanted to leave work 5 minutes early to get a train to Vienna where a friend was getting married. If I missed that train, it meant I wouldn’t get to Vienna till the evening. My boss wasn’t having any of it. Lules are lules he said. (This is not me being xenophobic by the way. It’s what he actually said). I remember it distinctly as it took me a minute or two to cotton on to what he meant. He then asked me what I thought was more important: my job or my private life. Clearly he thought the first option was the obvious answer, needless to say I didn’t.
In the end my Japanese colleagues actually held a meeting to ask me to change my personality. Many people have felt like that to be honest with you. However, the Japanese are the only group of people organised enough to hold a meeting to discuss it. I couldn’t attend of course. I was off sick.