The secret to making friends: baby carrots

The biggest discovery I made at work was the key method of attracting attention and starting up much needed conversation in a very serious, focused work environment. The trick: having a ziplock bag of baby carrots on my desk. As a part of my trip to Costco a few weeks ago, I got a big bag of baby carrots, bulk size, to make up for the sadness of not finding what I was looking for. Each day before going to work, I would pack a half bag of baby carrots to snack on during my dead tired time around 10AM and 2PM. With the extreme early mornings of waking up at 5:20AM each day, I get hungry very early even after having eaten breakfast. Since we don’t have refrigerators at work, I need to keep any of my snacks on the desk. I started noticing that many of the girls in the office who I did not even know the names of, would suddenly stop at my desk and stare at the carrots. They made a funny face and then pointed at the odd shaped orange things in the bag. I would immediately open the bag and have them try it. The shock, reaction, and response from these people are completely priceless. The unexpected crunch noise threw these people into an extreme reaction of giggling, laughing, with elevated voices of excitement. This is how much Japan lacks vegetables and fruits – the fact that people could not figure out what baby carrots are was quite amusing to me. I tried to teach them that it was a healthy “snack”, a word not commonly known in their English vocabulary. The best part of this was that I started getting random stuff in return like grape flavored gum. This past week I had Trader Joe’s honey pretzel sticks and boy did I get equally awesome reactions.

Translation/communication FAIL examples:

  • A roadmap diagram was passed out to my division containing the upcoming items that would be featured for the 2014 Fall Winter season. My teammate was trying to explain what this document was. I still could not understand what he was trying to say so he attempted to use his translation website and wrote down “all bodily sensation”. My reaction was probably not the most controlled one but in the end, the word that he was trying to convey was “outline”.
  • Another reason translation sites like Google Translate cannot always be trusted. I emailed the System Service Desk to change the language on my Microsoft Excel. The response was all in Japanese so I proceeded to check my dear friend, Google Translate. I immediately chuckled upon seeing the translation at the end of the email, presumably the signature of the sender, “Raccoon Butterflyfish”. I am pretty sure that wasn’t the name signing off for Service Desk.
  • I really appreciate the effort that some co-workers attempt at speaking English. It’s even more entertaining over dinner time and a few drinks. One person wanted to sit next to me to practice English. He was late to the dinner so upon securing a seat near mine, he quickly says “I’m toilet.” Okay, we definitely need to make some corrections here on how to excuse oneself to the washroom…

Continuation of learnings of Japan and its culture:

  • At meals or parties with coworkers, least experienced (also usually the youngest) always serves and orders for the group. He/she must always keep an eye when glasses are near empty to fill them up immediately.
  • PowerPoint is called “Power Po” at work
  • People in general have a hard time giving feedback of any sort, whether positive or negative. I learned that saying nothing means it’s okay – there is no need to give any praise at any point because you are just following the process and doing your job.
  • Email writing style: Japanese emails are known for their countless line breaks in email – easy to digest, concise, short sentences separated by a line break to understand quicker. I don’t think recipients of my emails have been thrilled with my detailed verboseness with large paragraphs like the first one in this entry. It most likely intimidated the Japanese readers and they couldn’t understand it or didn’t want to read such a big chunk of text. I have been trying to use more bullet points and short paragraphs in my emails now.
  • Phone carriers in Japan
    • Au actually stands for “access to you”
    • NTT Docomo = dual communication modes. Also an abbreviation of the phrase, “do communications over the mobile network” In Japanese it is a compound word meaning “everywhere”.
  • At work and most other places, there is a certain elevator etiquette that boggles my mind. Someone will always stay back and hold the open button until everyone gets off.┬áIt’s unbelievable, I have never seen that before. Also, people in the front will automatically walk outside of the elevator to let those behind walk out without having to squeeze through. In other countries, everyone just crams to get out as fast as they can and could care less if someone gets crushed by heavy elevator doors. Or worse off, they will quickly push the close button even if someone is rushing towards the elevator. I haven’t seen that in Japan yet – they are quite courteous and aware of people entering/exiting the elevator.
  • There are bumpy yellow lines on the street and along the underground subway path. I always thought they were just to separate opposite directions of walking or maybe to separate walkers on one side and bikers on the other. I finally found out that these yellow lines are actually for the blind so that they can use the bumps along the yellow line to guide them.

Okay, that’s enough text for this blog, let’s get some pictures in! More than a month has passed since my last post so I will have to break up the entries by event, otherwise there will be way too many photos!

NOVEMBER 17: Showa Memorial Park (Showa Kinen Koen), a huge park in the western suburbs of Tokyo, 30 minute train ride from Shinjuku. Rows of Ginkgo Trees with bright yellow leaves, Maple trees, a brilliant array of different leaf colors boasting the best of autumn, reflective ponds, Japanese gardens, and a random disc golf course.

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