Monday, May 27, 2013

Dress for Success - First Day of Work

Today was my first day of work at JEN (Japanese Emergency NGO).  Since I have arrived in Tokyo, I have noticed how well dressed everyone is in the city.  All the men and women dress very business-like and I think it is a safe bet that 90% of women here wear heels of various heights.  When I woke up this morning, I wanted to blend in (or at least not stick out) with the workforce so I put on a black pencil skirt, a cardigan, and a pair of heels.  However, when Jamie and I first stepped into JEN, I realized I was in a different office setting than the other people who had ridden the train with me to their respective offices.  Everyone around me was not dressed to the nines with various shapes and shades of black bottoms and white tops but rather their colorfully casual but nice clothing seemed almost symbolic of their grassroot run organization.

JEN has over 400 staff but at their headquarters in Tokyo they only have 20 employees.  The staff members pick their own hours and so throughout the day I saw people arriving and leaving the office.  One of the most difficult things I have found when traveling abroad is how to learn different cultures' societal rules and manners.  In Japan, it is customary to announce to the entire office when you enter in the morning, when you leave for lunch/errands/snacks in the middle of the day, and also when you leave at night.  However, not only are you expected to say a traditional phrase when you exit the office but when other people leave, there is also a response you are expected to say in return.  To say the least, it was very difficult for my jet-lagged muddled brain to sort through the appropriate calls and responses, but I managed with a few mispronunciations and lots of smiles both from me and my new co-workers.

Hopefully, as the summer goes on, my pronunciation of Japanese will become more accurate and both I and my new co-workers will continue to smile together but perhaps over new things besides my, albeit inevitable, cultural faux pas.