I’m afraid this will be looked upon as the timid way out, but I chose the cut-and-run option.
I felt that an apology, no matter how elaborate – especially since I was in no way at fault – would be dragging things out needlessly. Instead, I just quietly left, did my work and flew home. Sooner or later they figured out what had happened, and with a minimum of embarrassment for everyone.
I’ve written before about my work as a film-maker a few decades ago, so I thought this time I’d tell you about my Japan adventure.
The movie I was making was nothing special, no polished, potential Oscar-winner; it was just the equivalent of a metallic, nuts-and-bolts film, though the topic was rice-growing
So I flew to Tokyo, ready to go to work. As I got off the plane, I believed that the Japanese were really taking this motion picture project seriously because, as I was surprised to see, I was being met at the airport by a large limo.
And not just a limo; the car had a uniformed driver and another chap, also uniformed, who rode shotgun - though in Japan I suppose it would be shogun :-) - in the front passenger seat.
I had never had a job, of any kind, that started off so auspiciously. They drove me to their head office and I found myself meeting everyone. They were all friendly and welcoming; there was a lot of bowing, me doing my share, of course.
It was lunchtime, so they asked if I would prefer going to a steak-house or would I like to try some authentic Japanese food? Well, of course, we had steak-houses back in the Stytes and besides, I thought it would be a good political move to opt for the indigenous cuisine, so we headed off for what I would today recognize as a sushi place.
I say I would recognize it today; I didn’t recognize it then. Truth is, a few decades ago there weren’t many sushi joints in our country, and you certainly didn’t see sushi for sale in grocery stores. Most westerners of that era didn’t know from sushi; the idea of eating raw fish was regarded as just sort of weird.
However, I could see that this restaurant I was being taken to was elegant and upscale – i.e., expensive – so I looked forward to an interesting experience.
But there was a fly in the saki. Something had been worrying me, and it had nothing to do with raw fish. It had gradually dawned on me that this was all kind of a blunder: I was inadvertently sailing under false colors.
The reason for the great welcome I had received? I came to realize that they thought that I, a humble artisan, was actually one of the top executives of the worldwide corporation they were a part of. That explained the limo and its two charioteers.
That was bad enough. Just as bad was the question, how on earth do I go about telling them of the mistake? I had heard all about the importance of saving face in the Orient and if I told them about this awkward situation would they be subjected to humiliation and embarrassment, with me as the cause?
Even worse, would they think I had tried to trick them, intentionally acting the part of an American exec so that I could pull off some fraudulent scheme?
I had reached another of those what-would-you-have done? moments.
First off, I could have cut and run, just gone off at an optimal moment and without a word to a remote area, shot my rice-growing footage and left for home. No muss no fuss; let them figure it out.
Or, as a second possibility, I could have adopted a very formal “Japanese” style, bowing numerous times to them and apologizing profusely for the misconception. (Even though, as far as I could see, it was in no way my fault.)
Or I could have used more of a relaxed, “American” approach: “Say, you know, folks, there’s been sort of a mixup; I think you might find it kind of funny…”
Or, given the possibility that I might be regarded as a crook who planned the whole deal as some sort of illegal scheme, my first priority should have been, before they called the Japanese gendarmes, that they clearly understood this was not the case.
So the quiz this week is, how would you have handled this?