Imagine you are traveling in California. It is your first time there. Your English is beginner level. You are determined to have a fantastic vacation. Upon check in, you experienced your first frustration. No one at the desk was able to understand your English. With the help of your smart phone, lots of drawings and arrows you managed to get your point across. You have your room. A lovely room overlooking the Bay. There is a beautiful sunset and you are totally charmed by the scenery.
Once the magic moment is over, you head for the dining room. This is your vacation. You have saved a lot of money to have a great time. You want the best.
You are presented with a menu. What? Only one page? No pictures? No A setto and B setto? What is going on? Of course, it is written in English…
Your high school English helps you make sense of the menu. You order a California roll (after all, you are in California, even if the California roll was actually created by Chef Tojo in Vancouver) and a pasta bolognese because you love Italian food.
While the waiter is ordering your food, you survey what is on your table. Forks, knives and spoons are on placemats not in a box. There is no oshibori, you actually have to go and wash your hands in the washroom. The table setting includes a wine glass and a water glass. On the side, you see two soy sauce containers, Kikkoman and CaliSoybeans, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper mill.
The California roll arrives first, you right away ask your waiter for a raw beer, nama beer, he looks puzzled. You check your dictionary and yeah, nama is raw. Actually, o in this case is draft beer not raw beer. Finally he understands. You will have a great joke to tell at your next nomikai.
You reach for the Kikkoman container. Always go with familiarity. Familiar is safe.
After your first bite, the waiter comes by and asks you if your California roll is to your satisfaction. You are happy to agree. Your plate is now empty, your waiter asks you if you would like another beer. You prefer a decanter of wine. Again, the puzzled look? What is a decanter? In wine language a decanter is a container that is used to decant a wine. Decanting is a procedure used to empty a bottle of wine into a container to accelerate its oxygenation and prevent the sediments from getting mixed with the liquid. In Japan a decanter is what we call a carafe. Another funny alcohol story for your next nomikai.
You feel the gurgling sensation in your stomach. You are hungry. Your “decanter” of Chianti is now sitting in front of you. The waiter is filling up your wine glass. He heads for the kitchen and comes back with your plate. He places the plate 5 cm away from the edge of the table, in front of you. You stare wide eyed???? Where is the sauce???
Unlike Japan, pasta served overseas is served like pasta not ramen. The sauce is used sparingly. Do not slurp it. It is incredibly rude to do that.
You frantically look for the cheese in the green canister. There is no green canister. In fact, do not tell people in California that the green canister contains cheese. They will laugh very hard.
The waiter comes to your table with a block of cheese and a grater and sprinkles freshly grated parmesan cheese, the real parmiggiano Reggiano.
You toss the pasta around and you have your first taste. The waiter comes back and inquires if your pasta is to your satisfaction. You agree.
You order a rare cheesecake for dessert. Another funny look from the waiter. There is no such thing as a rare cheesecake. You try to explain but give up in frustration. You are no longer hungry.
You are now ready to go back to your room and watch some TV before sleeping. Tomorrow will be a long day.
You turn on the TV and flip through the channels. Lethal Weapon 4, The Terminator, Alien, Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek First Contact and lots of sitcoms. No Matsuko. No Atsugiri Jason. Why American People????
You have seen these movies and as for the sitcoms you do not understand American humour.
By now, you have had your fill of cultural differences and shocks.
It will not get better tomorrow
You will use transit, Everything is in English. Native speakers are fast talkers
You will rent a car, speed limits are in miles, you are used to thinking in Km. The good news, your car will be in miles. The traffic is opposite to Japan.
And so on, and so on, and so on….
That is a day in the life of a traveler. Culture shock, new situations and a break from our comfort zones.
You have chosen to come to California. Hopefully, you have done some research and knew what to expect.
Let’s do a role reversal.
Imagine someone coming to Japan just for the Olympics. They are not your typical tourist. They are following the games. They may have no interest in the culture, the food or the scenery. They may be parents, supporters or friends of the competing athletes. They may be proud citizens of their country who are acting as ambassadors.
No matter what their reason is, you should not let them go away with the wrong impression.
Some possible profiles of people visiting Japan during the OG
Athletes personal supporters
Media people and their crews
They will need
The majority of the attendees would not have studied Japanese in Elementary or High School. Most foreigners study Japanese frantically because they get a Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend and usually just before the future in laws come to meet for the first time. Japanese is not widely spoken outside Japan.
A few things you should be aware of.
In North America, Japanese restaurants are very popular but for the most part they do not specialize. You can get tempura, teriyaki and sushi in the same restaurant.
Most foreigners think that sushi is the main food in Japan
Most foreigners think that sushi means raw fish
We have in North America rolls that you have never heard of let alone prepared in any restaurant locally. For example
Salmon Skin Roll
New York Roll
Spicy Tuna Roll
Las Vegas Roll
Crazy Boy Roll
A lot of foreigners have food allergies. The most notable ones are seafood, eggs, peanuts and MonoSodium Glutamate, also known as MSG, Amino san, a favourite in Japan. Most North Americans frown on the use of MSG and many have allergies and sensitivities to that product.
North Americans like Kids menus.
North American do not like paying for bread in a restaurant.
Most North Americans like to communicate with their server. Most customers will call their server by their first name. Is your staff prepared?
North Americans tend to ask questions about the menu? What do you recommend? How is this cooked? Is this too spicy? etc. Remember that the food may be unfamiliar? Can your staff answer questions?
North Americans expect a problem solving approach to a complaint not just an apology.
Most North Americans will be uncomfortable seeing a woman working as a bellhop in a hotel and they will lift/carry their own suitcases when checking in and out. It is the gentlemanly thing to do.
Most North Americans tend to make reservations for formal outings. They will most likely not sit in line outside the restaurant.
There are many sites on the net that mock bad English or Engrish. The last thing you want is your menu featured on such a website. That includes your room service menu and your signs. That means professional translators not Google translate.
Most North Americans despise idling. If your cars are left with the engine on, they will be very offended. We still believe in protecting the environment.
Most North Americans are against smoking. In Canada, it is illegal to smoke in bar and restaurants. If you claim to have a non smoking section in your restaurant, it better be a completely isolated non smoking section. Designating non smoking and smoking tables in an open space is really laughable. Smoke can travel.
Most North Americans would not appreciate being called Castama.
A very important difference. North Americans take their time to dine but they pick up a coffee and go. In Japan, the custom is to eat in a hurry and stay forever in a coffee shop.
North Americans drink milk. As children we drink a lot of milk and as adults we expect milk in our coffee. Real milk not imitation milk filled with milk like substances. Hokkaido has amazing dairy farms. The milk is rich and tasty. Why not support Hokkaido farmers and promote their products?
Preparedness is the key to success. Just like our athletes have spent years and sacrificed everything to train, practice and perform. Their aim is nothing less than the Gold.
We owe our staff the professional courtesy of providing them with the best tool to do their jobs. Your employees represent you. If they look bad you look bad. It is really that simple.
If you look bad, the word will spread. It is amazing how much social media and the internet have changed the way we do business. Complaints today have an international reach.
If the bad news spread, Tokyo’s reputation for outstanding hospitality will take a serious beating.
Most governments lose money during the games but private businesses make money and have the potential to make a lot of money if they play right. Tokyo will host the games, there will be a LOT of people here not just during the games but before and after too. You have a unique opportunity to make money. Do not miss out. Just like our athletes, Go for the Gold