Thursday, September 17, 2009

Internal Discussions

As I've mentioned in previous posts, most of my Japanese clients do not speak English well enough to conduct a meeting in it. As a result, at small meetings, we often have a bilingual translator at the table.

However, in numerous meetings, one of the relatively senior clients has wanted to have an "internal discussion" with his team, during the meeting. This meant that he and his colleagues in the room were going to speak and Japanese, and the translator should not translate.

The generous view of this was that, because of something new in the meeting, and and his team needed to confer for a few minutes to clarify something or make sure they were all on the same page, and, to expedite it, he didn't want the translator to waste everyone's time translating to English. This internal discussion had to happen right then and there so that the meeting could continue.

The less generous view is that it's just plain rude. What would he have done if everyone in the meeting spoke Japanese? One would have hope he would done what they do on the "West Wing," which is excuse themselves for a moment and confer in the hallway. But to do while we're sitting there is like the rather inconsiderate staff Verizon Authorized Retailer in the base of my building who would speak to each other in a foreign language in the middle of selling you something.

This behavior is consistent with stories I've heard about gaijin (foreigners) who understand Japanese being kicked out of meetings because they understood what was being said during "internal discussions". Lovely. Yet another way that we're made to feel welcome here in Japan.

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