It’s only been a year, but I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve felt my face burn to a bright apple red from breaking what I now know are unwritten rules of etiquette at my school.
When we first arrived in Japan as assistant language teachers (ALTs) under the JET Programme, all of us had to attend a three-day orientation in Tokyo. There, we were given hours of lectures on what to expect in — and how to adjust to — the Japanese workplace. By that I mean, we really were taught how to say “good morning” in Japanese and bow properly. There was little to-almost-no information on what we should avoid doing — the “unwritten rules.”
With ALTs coming from the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. to name a few, it is inevitable that we all carry with us different sets of values, beliefs and etiquettes. But somehow, after living in Japan for a period of time, most of us figure to balance our individual personalities with respecting local norms.
Unfortunately, no one will ever tell you the myriad unwritten rules until you break them — as I learned.
The hard way
I broke the first rule the first month I was living in Japan. My students were busy painting their team banners for sports day, so I decided to sit on a table to watch them. The moment my bottom touched the table, a teacher immediately rushed to me and yelled, “Dame Dame! (You can’t do that!)” As my students turned around to see that I was sitting on a table, my face instantly reached its boiling point.
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