20 September 2009

The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in the LL Room

Or, "How To Be An Asshole So Overtly That No One Can Really Be Offended" (volume 1)
Or... "I had a really terrible week at work."

If you're a long-term reader, you may remember, my pièce de résistance "The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in a Japanese Office Environment", which gave instructions on the following leftist revolutionary activities:

- If a coworker leaves a stack of papers on your desk, hide it

- Abuse the laminating machine

- Blame your own bad English on your "dialect" (etc.)

I wrote a guide on being an ass of an ALT, which many of us certainly are, but many of my Japanese coworkers have expressed concern that I took the ethnocentric route and ignored the Japanese point of view, because, dammit, we're all human beings and human beings are basically evil, spiteful simian turd-throwers.

So, in my second volume, I will give advice for any team teacher unlucky enough to be forced into working with a lazy, stupid, badly-dressed punk of a gaikokujin. Sometimes, if they push you, you gotta shove back.

So let me present, the The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in the LL Room.

1. Talk about the ALT to the students in simple, understandable Japanese in front of the Japanese-speaking ALT.

Have you ever walked into a classroom, noticed an ALT chatting with some students, and announced in a loud voice "彼は外人だから英語がぺらぺらだね!" (He's a white, so that's why he's fluent in English!"). If you have, then you're probably the former principal at my school.

2. Got team teaching class? Mark some papers!

Your prefecture spends $40,000 a year to bring a foreign language teacher in to assist you in your classroom to enrich the classes for both you and your students.

But this is probably a good opportunity to get some of that pesky marking done. So while the ALT is up at the front of the class "assisting" you, you should stand at the back, completely ignore him or her, and get the real work done. Marking tests and quizzes.

(Alternative: still ignore the ALT, and give him or her these tests or quizzes to mark!)

3. Bring up the war with a nuance of blame (even if the ALT is not American).

There's absolutely no better environment than an international communication class to bring up the war. Not only bring it up, but avoid any association with your country and any aggression, while still demonizing the enemy. POWs? Huh? Unit 731? What's that? Seriously-- what is that? I've never heard of it. Should I know? ...Let's talk about Hiroshima instead.

4. What's his name? I think it's "ALT" or something.

It takes time -- and time is money, as the students inexplicably all know how to say in English -- to ask the foreigner it's name, and it probably wouldn't understand the question in the first place, so let's call it by it's job title. The ALT. No wait-- ALT-sensei to be polite. Well... ALT-san, anyway. And the ALT don't mind if you use it's job title to describe it while talking about it in front of it as though it wasn't sitting right there looking at you. It is an ALT after all. It's like calling a spade a spade, or a German Shepherd a German Shepherd.

If correctly used, this guide will ruin all international communication, effectively destroy the chance that the ALT will choose to recontract, and spread hideous lies about xenophobia in Japan the world over.

Disclaimer: Dear bosses, there is no Nishimura-sensei. If there was, I'm sure he would be very nice.

2 September 2009

The Difference Between "Gaikokujin" and "(Go Home You F'ing) Foreigner"

One of the first things any ALT hears during orientation back in their home country is "don't try to change things." The system is what it is, the culture is what it is, and trying to change everything will probably alienate you further and cause you much frustration and gnashing of teeth. 99% of the time, this is true.

But back last winter, I was given a stack of essays to mark by students who made a trip to Asia Pacific University, a major international school in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. They met some of the foreign students there, of which there are many, and came back and wrote about their experiences. Most of them were okay, but maybe 20-25% of them kept referring to the full-time Japanese speaking students as "foreigners".

[Editor's note: In Japanese, gaikokujin (外国人) means "non-Japanese", though literally means "foreigner". It's applied very liberally, and has no particular negative nuance despite exclusion and generalization. Japanese people generally don't refer to people by race or nationality, for better or for worse. Most people here just think of people as being Japanese-- or not. So if you're a Canadian tourist, for example, you think of yourself as being a foreigner in another country. However, if you're a Japanese tourist, you might think, 'Ooooh look at all the foreigners here.' And just a side note, last time I went on vacation to Canada I said in shock and horror "God damn there're a lot of white people here!"]

So they kept calling these Chinese and Indonesian and Sri Lankan students "foreigners", and it kind of dawned on me how the students clearly don't know the difference in nuance between the benign word "gaikokujin" and the much more negative word "foreigner", so I showed them the distinctly negative definition in the Oxford English dictionary:

1. a person who comes from a different country
EXAMPLE: The fact that I was a foreigner was a big disadvantage.

2. a person who does not belong in a particular place
EXAMPLE: I have always been regarded as a foreigner by the local folk.

and left it at that.

Next essay, a couple of students talked about "the foreigners" [actually "foreign" fish from tropical "countries" invading Japanese waters], so I figured, yeah, I guess I really can't change anything. If Japan wants to be weird and xenophobic, they can do it without me.

But then when I got to school today the teacher from this particular class asked me to correct a draft of a speech one of these students wrote, and the whole thing was about the word "foreigner" -- about realizing through the experience at the university and my little lecture about it that the word "foreigner", or even "gaikokujin", can hurt or offend people. He went on to give his own opinion that this is left over from Japan's period of national isolation and said we should try to look at each other as being simply human beings before than anything else. Dude! I was absolutely floored, because, to be honest, I've been really sick of the whole "gaijin" issue lately. Sick of it being an issue. Both for recent depressing personal reasons, and broader reasons [for the latter, read the last two posts].

This is the first time where I know-- not hope, but know that I've made a difference here. So despite whatever you hear at orientation, if there's something that's really important to you, don't just do the whole "ALT gaijin clown" thing even though it's easier and it's what they want you to do, but do your duty as a teacher and as someone representing your country and at least try to tell people about your point of view. If you do it respectfully, it won't hurt the wa, and someone out there might just be listening.