I was American female Japanese salaryman. I hope that label isn’t too complicated, but that was exactly what you would call it. I have quite a few stories concerning that period in my life when I first started working, but I think this is a good way to ease into the subject of my corporate experiences in Japan.
When I did sales and operations for my first company, my clients almost always did not know how to react with me when I would first meet them for a sales call. My industry is mostly male, and accordingly the majority of my clients were Japanese men of various ages. It seems that most people assume the token forgienger at any company would be a guy, so I think that when I, a white female, would meet my clients in person, it would totally catch them off guard.
Honestly, I don’t think badly of the people that have said these sorts things to me, but it was pretty strange to hear come out of their mouths… the first 20 or so times before I got used to it. More than anything I just wanted to make my sale, so I rolled with the punches, but it was mentally taxing some days.
Now looking back at it, it is pretty hilarious, and for some reason deep down I’m glad I had that experience. It built character I guess? I’m pretty much a rock now.
The following is the common list of things I would hear during sales meetings. For these remarks to make the list, they must have been said by at least by 2 different clients during 2 separate occasions.
1. “Oh can you read this?”
This is regarding a sales deck that I brought to the meeting. I was the one who wrote part or maybe even all of the document in question.
2. “Well I don’t know if you know this, but in Japan…“
This is said in the beginning of any discussion with the intent to “educate” me about the conditions surrounding said topic in japan, and how my previous statement or information is nonapplicable on that topic because my country of orgin is not Japan. This was also usually said to counter my statements regarding best practices or industry information that was deemed valid by my company beforehand in a sales meeting, and the company in question is a Japanese company in Japan.
3. “You’re Japanese is so good.”
This is said after finishing a 30 minute sales pitch in Japanese and during the time allotted for questions or comments from the client. I would at this point assume that they were not earnestly listening to anything I said during my pitch.
4. “You aren’t fat. Are you sure you are American?”
While it is perfectly acceptable to ask my nationality during a first encounter, this comment would usually follow after I said that my country of origin was the United States. Not only is this an insulting remark, but I cannot fathom how anyone could think saying this is appropriate in any way, shape or form in either a casual or professional setting.
5. “Why did you come to Japan?”
This question, while appropriate when chatting over a beer, is not probably professional. At all. This especially holds true when it blurted out within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone for the first time. I’m here for business, not to give the Reader’s Digest version of my life.
6. “Sorry I can’t speak English.”
This is said at the moment when they first see my face. It might also be said in poorly enunciated English. Until this point I was more than likely communiticating directly with this person all in japanese by email and/or phone.
7. “Can you teach me English?”
This would come near the end of the meeting. It is normal to talk about getting a drink and speak further about business in a casual setting, but in my case I would also get the request to give English lessons (possibly for free?). I was working full time and was in no capacity to be some sort of tutor.
In the end I just put up with most of this because I cared more about my quota than standing on a soapbox. I’d like to call it my three part diamond sales strategy: nod, smile, and close the sale.