“According to this,” I read to Lynn from my newly-purchased copy of “Etiquette Guide to Japan,” my captive audience on the bed across the way, “Japanese are so accustomed to a specific Japanese way of doing things that they developed an extreme sensitivity to any deviation from the norm.
“Unexpected or nonstandard behavior not only disrupted the cultural imperative of harmony, it was extremely stressful and could be dangerous to the individuals concerned.
“Get a load of this—when Japanese businessmen first started coming to the west in the 50s and 60s, they found our ‘casual, chaotic’ behavior so shocking that some of them had to be whack-evac’d!” That’s a term used in the NGO world, along with medivac and alc-a-vac.
“It could have been the large helpings of meat that westerners served them at every meal, too, it says here. Japanese weren’t used to it.”
“And—this explains a lot!—Japanese behavior is so predictable that they almost have telepathy among themselves.” I turned to Lynn to make sure she was listening. “The Japanese … point to this ‘telepathy’ as one of the cultural characteristics that made their culture superior.”
“Interesting,” Lynn said. “What about dinner? It’s getting on for six o’clock.”
“Want to take a cab somewhere?”
“I’ve got the name of a restaurant written down somewhere, but I think it’s only open for lunch. We could walk across the street to the convenience store and buy instant noodles.”
Lynn gave me a look that said “I am not an instant-noodles-in-the-room kind of person.”
“Let’s investigate the rooftop lounge with the $40 beers,” she suggested. “That can’t be right.”
And it wasn’t. But first, we stood looking at the board, working up courage to mount the stairs to the lounge. What if a beer really did cost $40? Should we ask first, prepared to walk out? Would they feel complained against and maybe commit suicide?
To be clear, I don’t think suicide is a joking matter. My own dad died of suicide (probably). But I was quite certain no one was really going to commit suicide because tourists declined to pay $40 for a beer.
At the top of the stairs, the maître d’ handed us a menu on which was written in English, “All You Can Drink in 90 Minutes Set Meal, Y40000.” Lynn and I exchanged excited glances. It wasn’t a beer for $40, it was all you could drink and a meal for $40.
“Yes, this will do,” Lynn told the maître d’. We were led out onto a lawn with panoramic views of the city. A few other tables were filled with Japanese. Glasses of wine arrived with large plates of what I can only describe as Japanese tapas. Piano music wafted from inside the lounge with great old hits like “As Time Goes By,” and “What a Wonderful World.”
The waiter returned after a few minutes and asked if we wanted anything else.
“More wine?” I held up my empty glass. He looked a bit taken aback, but brought refills.
“They didn’t see us coming,” Lynn said. We ate, drank, and watched the pinks and oranges of the sky turn into purple, blue, and black as we had one of our long discussions. We talked about Richard’s mum, who had died recently, aged 99. That led to talk about my mother and Lynn’s relations who are in their “twilight years.”
“It’s so depressing,” I commented. “I need another glass of wine.” This time the waiter looked amused as he refilled our glasses.
“I think he’s resigned himself to us, as westerners, being able to drink up the stock,” Lynn said. “They’re probably placing bets in the kitchen on how many glasses we’ll drink.”
Lynn told a story about conducting a workshop at an employee retreat in Poland when she worked for Nokia; let’s just say it involved a different workplace drinking norm than in the UK or US.
All the other guests had left and our 90 minutes was up.”
Back in the room I read that we should have held our glasses with both hands as they were refilled. “We missed our chance to demonstrate our exceptionally good manners and character.
“We’ve got two more nights to prove we’re not barbarians.”