All Yoko could see from her window seat was a vast expanse of water beneath an endless blue sky. A glance at her iPhone, still four hours to go. Time for a nap or rather go through that file again ? Her husband would be waiting for her, she closed her eyes. A friendly voice interrupted her daydreams, ‘Some tea Madam’ asked the stewardess ‘with maybe something to eat ?’ Not that Yoko was hungry, but a bite would help sort out her thoughts. ‘You’re becoming so American’ had been her mother’s last words at Haneda Airport. She had had a point, hadn’t it all begun the day Yoko was offered an internship in Los Angeles to conclude her Master of Economics at Tödai, the famous university of Tokyo ?
Yoko didn’t have to think long but had instead ‘gone with the wind’ as her friends liked to put it. To LA where she had met Oliver ! The only man to speak some words of Japanese had also been the sweetest one around.
After a short stay with friends at Amami-Oshima and a couple of days spent with her parents in Tokyo, she was now on her way back to LA to start a new job in the Japanese food sector. Yet, having her own American dream, she was not sure she wanted to work for a Japanese company. Her American predecessor had given up on the Japanese impassiveness that had only brought him misery, so had told her the CEO. This was what worried Yoko, her job becoming a piece of cake instead of the challenge of working for an American firm she had hoped for. Her husband thought otherwise ‘ Don’t abandon your origins, Yoko, you won’t become American just by being settled here. I needn’t tell you how different Japanese and American values are, often turning management into a maze.
Oliver knew what he was talking about. A highly appreciated professor of intercultural communication and management at the University of California, he had seen how some of his international students had tried to become Americans to discover that being American is more than eating out of the fridge. He remembered Yoko having trouble with her team members in her previous American firm, often complaining that her staff were too independent or not willing to avoid open confrontation. Harmony was crucial, Japanese could not live without.
The two cultures are far apart making change difficult not to say impossible. Adjusting like Yoko tried to do, is a solution, but may remain a source of annoyance if only from time to time.
Americans are known for their direct communication and informal working style, two things the slower and measured Japanese are allergic to. Yoko will feel better in a ‘we’ society with that strong group mentality she was going to experience with her countrymen, already from next week on.
Early that Monday morning, while setting the table, Oliver hummed ‘Breakfast in America’. ‘Only two people in this city to sit at their breakfast table, sweetheart. You can thank my mother, if one person in America stayed French her whole life, I can only think of her. Encore un croissant Yoko ?’