Sometimes I try to explain to students that the Japanese way is neither the only way nor – heresy, blasphemy and high treason! – the best way, and some other times I simply go "aw fuggit" and make it work for me.
Earlier this week I was doing an eikaiwa lesson about making, rescheduling and cancelling appointments: pretty basic fare in any textbook. The book asks the students to list reasons why they would cancel or reschedule a business meeting. After a decade on these fair isles, this instruction fills me with depthless ennui and boundless cynicism. I've yet to encounter a student who can think of any reason except "train delay".
Quake? You walk. Family emergency? Irrelevant. The sun goes supernova? You ganbare.
My group consisted of a doctor, a sales manager and a university admin person. They're reasonably fluent, and I'm from Africa, and that's a combination that allows … well … somewhat unusual role-playing.
|The photos have nothing to do with the text, but it's early autumn in Tokyo, and I know you won't mind.|
Thus we proceeded:
"I don't cancel business meetings," pronounced the sales manager.
"Never?" I checked.
"I cannot cancel."
"What if you're very sick?"
"I put on mask and go."
"What if you're in a car accident?"
"I must go."
"What if you break your legs?!" Don't judge me. Eikaiwa lessons get slightly surreal at times.
"I fall out and run." He was, at least, laughing while he said that.
"What if your mother is very sick?" That was cruel. That was hitting a Japanese man where it hurts the most.
"I must go to my meeting."
"What if … " I shut up. Mothers are sacred. Best not ask "what if" questions about a maternal demise.
I observed my group, and did that "aww fuggit" thing. "Right," I said, mentally crossing myself and muttering in nomine Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti, "you, Mr Sales Manager, you died, you have to reschedule your meeting with Mr Doctor."
"Yes, you died, umm, last Monday."
"Yes. You're dead. Like Monty Python's parrot."
"Never mind. You're dead. You can't meet Mr Doctor on Friday, as previously agreed. Your ghost has to call him to reschedule."
"Yes! Your ghost! It's Halloween. Arrange a new meeting in the morgue."
"Morgue. Corpses. Skeletons."
They didn't know any of those last three words, but they were already rolling about laughing at their crazy teacher from Africa.
We spent a pleasant ten minutes learning macabre new words related to death. (I didn't show them Monty Python's dead parrot. They could never geddit.)
Then we did role-playing. I was a corpse, because I kept quiet throughout. (It's very nice to play a corpse in class. My students often do that, but this time I beat them to it.) They arranged to meet on Friday 31 October at midnight in the morgue of St Luke's International Hospital.
"See you Friday," said Mr Sales Manager."OK," said Mr Doctor. "Don't forget your pumpkin."
That was a remarkably successful lesson. The end, says I, justifies the means, but please don't tell my school. I'll get fired.