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Is not worth a fly.
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"Fear and Trembling" by Amelie Nothomb

Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
Dear @takafromtokyo and @Yellowtail , please share your opinion if the story in that novel could be in real life? I've made a shortened plot from the Wikipedia article ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Trembling_%28novel%29 ).

***
Amélie, a young Belgian woman who spent the first five years of her life in Japan, signs a one-year contract at the prestigious company Yumimoto. During her time at Yumimoto, she is the direct subordinate of Fubuki Mori, whose friendly demeanor quickly disappears when Amélie unwittingly oversteps herself.

Bored and frustrated with how she is apparently not assigned to do anything productive, Amélie tries to take the initiative. [Another dept's manager ] Mr. Tenshi takes notice of her and asks for her help in drafting a report.

Amélie's contributions to Mr. Tenshi's report make is a big success and she requests not to be given credit. Though it seems her transfer to Mr. Tenshi's department is imminent, Fubuki feels offended and she exposes everything to the vice-president, who severely scolds Mr Tenshi and Amélie, and sees to it that Amélie writes no more reports and strictly sticks to doing duties assigned by Ms Mori.

Although advised by Mr Tenshi not to do so, Amélie decides to confront Ms Mori and talk to her personally. The main difference [between them] is that while Amélie feels her progress in her career from useless work to the place where she actually can use her skills has been hindered for no other reason than maliciousness, Ms Mori interprets Amélie's move as being against her as Amélie was trying to pass her by, thus violating the correct hierarchy. Ms Mori had to suffer and work hard for years to achieve her position and it was inconceivable to her to imagine that Amélie might achieve the same level of hierarchy within only a couple of weeks.

The biggest mistake Amélie commits comes after Ms Mori has been severely abused by the vice-president in front of all the department. When Ms Mori, not having shown tears to her colleagues, goes to the bathroom to let her feelings out in private, Amélie follows her to console her. While from Amélie's point of view Ms Mori is not in a shameful position and offering a consolation like that is only a kind-hearted gesture, Ms Mori feels utterly ashamed to be seen showing her feelings and misunderstands Amélie's following her as vengefulness and hostility.

The next day Amélie is assigned the job of a bathroom cleaner by Ms Mori. With six more months of her one-year contract to go, Amélie decides to endure until the end, which might be shameful from the Western point of view, but from the Japanese point of view means not losing face.

Comments

  • takafromtokyotakafromtokyo Posts: 2,057 ✭✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard
    Thanks for inviting me here. I've read the desciption that you've made, and I also read the original article from wiki, but I don't fully get the story yet. I need to get it straight one by one to make a comment concerning the whole story.

    The first thing I didn't understand is whether this is a true story or a make up story. Is this based on something that actually happened?

    The second question is that what was her contract with the company in the first place? She was a translator, but what material was she required to traslate in the first place?

    There are lots of other things that seems very unclear to me at this point.
    Have you read the novel yet?
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    @takafromtokyo
    First of all, I've brought it up solely because of my interest to culural differences and not to blame anyone.

    >> Is this based on something that actually happened?
    In an interview, the author said she had written it from personal experience: "It was absolutely true," she says. "Believe me, I have not enough imagination to think up that story. I wrote it because I didn't understand what happened to me. I think that maybe my mistake was to really try to become a Japanese girl. They don't want you to become Japanese." Despite the burning humiliation, she is grateful for the experience. "Thanks to that, I dared to send my writing to a publishing company because I was already that humiliated. A toilet cleaner? What could be worse? Even if the publisher refuses me, even if the critics despise me, that cannot be worse than cleaning the toilets."
    www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3654008/A-writers-life-Amelie-Nothomb.html

    She was a daughter of a Belgian diplomat who served for several years in Japan.

    >>She was a translator, but what material was she required to traslate in the first place?

    I can't answer this question.
    >Have you read the novel yet?
    I've watched a film based on this novel.
  • takafromtokyotakafromtokyo Posts: 2,057 ✭✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard
    I think her description of the story is so un-Japanese. (But of course, my interpretation could be off the mark, since I've never read the story yet.) Obviously, there were facts, a string of incidents, but her interpretation of the facts really sounds like western. She sounds like trying to depict herself as an eager girl doing her best but just gets messed up because she gets treated unfairly, but I'm not so sure if that was what really was going on.

    By the way, people don't clean the toilet as a punishment in Japan, because we generally think it's basically and simply a part of our job to clean up the workplace. If a company is big enough to pay for the cleaning, then maybe they don't do the cleaning up, but if you're in a small company, we do it ourselves. Usually, when you start out in a company, you start your career helping your supervisor. The jobs at this stage would be something like to clean up the place, to pick up the calls, to photocopy, to pick up the mails, to welcome guests, and all sorts of other little things that are essential to run the workplace. You don't do these because your supervisor beleives those are merely troublesome things that she doesn't want to do by herself. By doing so, you learn about how people are working there, what kind of clients the company has, and make friendly relationships with the clients. The most improtant thing at this stage is to earn trust from your co-workers and your clients.

    But her case is a little special, because she says she was hired as a translator, and that was the contract. In this case, people won't "assign" her to do those little things. Instead, her supervisor will have to assign jobs that involve translation. But if she can't assign anything related to translation due to the lack of the jobs itself, then she may tell her to do those little things, and it will surely help the Belgium girl learn about the people in the workplace and the clients.

    Anyway, I'm not so sure what is really written in the novel, nor what really happened.

    So, aside from the novel, what is it like in your country when a newbie starts out his/her career? Does he/she starts out doing those little things? Do people see those little things as imoortant and essential jobs in your country, or "punishments"? In japan, younger generation tend to think these as "punishments" or something they wouldn't want to do themselves. And the cases where they quit the job because they say were assigned to clean up the toilet, or to do some other "boring and unproductive" things, are rapidly increasing, and it's really freaking out the supervisors nowadays.

    Can I ask more people to join the conversation, @Practical_Severard ?
    I want to have more different points of view!!

    @mheredge @mohit_singh @filauzio @Bubbly @kindgnice @Frank @Paulette @pelouche
  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 26,046 mod
    It's an interesting story @Practical_Severard. I have absolutely no experience at all of working for a Japanese employer. I did once have an interview to work at a Japanese investment bank in London. All except one of my interviewers were Japanese but only the British manager spoke. At the end of the interview, all the Japanese managers bowed and I was very embarrassed as I had no idea what to do.

    I'm going to a Japanese film festival this afternoon @takafromtokyo. I don't yet know which movies they are showing but I'll let you know. I think I have only ever seen one Japanese movie before so I'm very excited to see what there will be showing.
  • YellowtailYellowtail Posts: 692 ✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard
    Thank you for the interesting topic. I agree with what the novel seems to discribe in general. Actually I have questioned Japanese working culture for years myself. Especially this part:

    >Ms Mori had to suffer and work hard for years to achieve her position and it was inconceivable to her to imagine that Amélie might achieve the same level of hierarchy within only a couple of weeks.

    You can imagine a career in Japanese companies as a long staircase. It takes you your whole working life to get to the top. At each level, you will do what deserves the level. Running up fast is not just difficult but also unwanted. So usually older people are higher position, and younger people are lower. Abilities and skilles doesn't matter. The seniority system plays the role to make them work comfortably.

    I know this is just my rough sketch about Japanese companies. Of course it varies from company to company. But in my opinion, many companies in our country is not really productive. Maybe I have a little more critical view than @takafromtokyo has. I don't think cleaning toilet is a punishment. But I do suspect those kinds of chores are partly imposed as a kind of education, where workers learn to obey the correct order of the company. Because it would be obviously more productive if they outsourced the cleaning and workers did their own professional work instead for the time.

    Fortunately I think the culture has changed little by little for the last decades. So now it's different to a certain extant from the time the author worked in Japan more than 20 years ago. But still I'm often come across the ingrained mindset.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    @takafromtokyo
    > Anyway, I'm not so sure what is really written in the novel, nor what really happened.
    The book is a fiction one about a cultural clash. The author said it was based on her personal experience so there must be the reverse side: the Japanese managers and colleagues who may have another view on the story the plot was based on. We don't know what the story was, we have only the book.
    But the book is successful: it has been translated in tens of languages and there is a film made of it. It means that many people in the Western world have believed in it.

    > So, aside from the novel, what is it like in your country when a newbie starts out his/her career?
    Speaking about the other countries' situation I can share the Russian one. Surely, the career starters receive simple and often supportive tasks. But the tasks are within their job descriptions, e.g. a junior accountant would rather file invoices than clean toilets. Young staff members are occasionally sent as messengers/forwarders and something like that, but while in an emergency, not as a regular practice.

    As for cleaning, an employee is typically responsible for his workplace, files/tools and such while daily cleaning like washing the floor or toilets is done by specially hired people. Employees may be mobilised for something grand like moving an office, a warehouse, yearly cleaning up a building/territory after winter and they usually do it on a Saturday and for free. All of these depend much on a company’s culture, of course. The larger company, the fewer cleaning the employees do.

    Cleaning toilets as an assignment would be a harsh punishment, it’s possible in the army, prison – places where people can’t walk out, and, I guess, in some blue-collar work-teams. The one who has received it falls to the bottom of the social ladder in the community so others will try to shove off all dirty jobs on such person. So, in my eyes, Amelie’s cleaning toilets for six months ‘to save face’ is really remarkable and shows how different the Japanese culture is.

    > Can I ask more people to join the conversation, @Practical_Severard ?
    > I want to have more different points of view!!
    Sure.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    > @mheredge said:
    all the Japanese managers bowed and I was very embarrassed as I had no idea what to do.
    >
    A curtsy, I think. It would have been certainly funny.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    > @Yellowtail
    I understand your position. Nevertheless, the position that Japan has reached by now - a leading one in technology, wealth, science is due the effort of the older generations, so their work culture is maybe justified with the result.

    South Korea and China are treading the same path, I guess.

    But time passes and something new may be more fitting now. Cleaning isn't so costly after all, I think employees doing this is only a tradition.
  • PaulettePaulette Posts: 4,898 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard @takafromtokyo @Yellowtail @mheredge

    This is what I know about the life of Amelie Nothomb:
    The constantly changing environments from her childhood leave their mark on Nothomb and her oeuvre. One could speak of a kind of alienation, which resounds in her novels. She felt alone and misunderstood. To dispel the loneliness, she began to write. Nothomb's stories are often short and fanciful and resemble fairy tales, but with a dark and ironic undertone. Her style, word choice, choice of subject and constant self-deprecation are its trademarks.
  • mheredgemheredge Teacher Here and therePosts: 26,046 mod
    I've just seen an interesting Japanese movie called The Chef of South Polar. Switching from slapstick to pathos, it's a comedy about eight guys stuck for a year in a research station in Antarctica. As you might imagine, they are obsessed with food. ( There was a serious crisis when the ran email noodles ran out @takafromtokyo). It seemed like a good opportunity to try out the new Japanese restaurant that I've had my eye on. I ordered a chicken teriyaki teishoku that was very acceptable. I will come back to try out a few more items on the menu. I like the look of the ranem soup and the yose nabe teishoku looks appealing (fried vegetable, sea food and chicken).
  • YellowtailYellowtail Posts: 692 ✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard
    I think the reason Japan succeeded in economics in the past is mainly that the population rapidly increased. It's the common phenomenon to any other fast growing countries, including China and Korea. In Japan, the baby boom right after WW2 led to rapid increase of the labor force and relatively small welfare costs, through the 60's and the 70's.
    Also those days many people worked for manufacturing companies. In the circumstance, it might be appropriate that they emphasis more being cooperative than being professional. But now the main industry has changed from manufacturing to service. I think it means employees should more focus their professional work than before.
  • filauziofilauzio Posts: 1,517 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Thank you for the thread, @Practical_Severard, and to you too for involving me, @takafromtokyo, I really appreciated it.

    The story isn't less interesting than quite plausible in my point of view; besides, I would add, there's nothing new under the sky. I suppose these kinds of things are going on wherever in working places, where employees are subject to a hierarchy of roles and ranks. Vexations, little vengeances, punishments done by managers and ranking employees over the inexperienced, lately arrived ones who still are trying to settle down in their new positions, seem to be the normal atmosphere they have to stand, along with quite routinary treatment they have to go through.
    Then, I dare to say, I suppose that it hasn't to do with a particular country's tradition of dealing with inferiors at work; rather, in my opinion, it has to do with a far more widespread banal feeling of envy which naturally arises among workers in any companies.

    Moreover, I couldn't blame Amélie for having ' ... unwittingly overstepped herself ... '; It's, I think, an obvious consequence with any young persons, as being well conscious of their skills and possibilities, to try to start off in their career, and to try to gain as many accomplishments as both their competences and ambitions are likely to allow them to get.
    The only limit to your dreams of career being, as they say, the ceiling.

    As for the passage:

    ' ... The next day Amélie is assigned the job of a bathroom cleaner by Ms Mori. With six more months of her one-year contract to go, Amélie decides to endure until the end, which might be shameful from the Western point of view, but from the Japanese point of view means not losing face. '

    She decides to stick to her duty, even now hers has turned a rather humiliating one, at least considering the matter from a Western point of view. I think she did the right thing. You could think you've been assigned to such shameful work out of willingness to mock and have fun of you, together with the intent to punish you; well you could have guessed it right.
    However, by putting your best bold face on the adversity; by grinning and bearing it; shortly, by showing that you can bravely face whatever without complaint, you can manage to show your strength and capability of standing either good or bad fortune. To me it's a prove of dignity which couldn't but attract consideration and praise by the superiors. Be sure they well know you deserve and are able to perform much more than it; they, intimately, are already brooding over it: would they be able, as well, to do the same, to abruptly demean themselves in the colleagues' eyes, then suddenly restart with stronger spirit from scratch ?

    Have you ever undergone the same kind of bad treatment, the so-called mobbing ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobbing
    glad to stop strict diet, splashed in belly flop? Don't care you're not light, here on English hop !
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    > @Yellowtail said:
    > I think the reason Japan succeeded in economics in the past is mainly that the population rapidly increased.
    Many countries have experienced a demographic explosion, some are still doing this. (Bangladesh?) But not all of them have succeeded in technology, science or economy like Japan has done. Probably the Confucion ethics is the key.

    > Also those days many people worked for manufacturing companies. In the circumstance, it might be appropriate that they emphasis more being cooperative than being professional. But now the main industry has changed from manufacturing to service. I think it means employees should more focus their professional work than before.
    No doubt that you're right. You can't enter the same river twice (Heraclitius)
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    > @filauzio said:
    estart with stronger spirit from scratch ?
    >
    > Have you ever undergone the same kind of bad treatment, the so-called mobbing ?

    Yes, I have, at school. A boxing duel behind the school's transformer shed was necessary.
  • YellowtailYellowtail Posts: 692 ✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard
    You're right. The demographic situation is not the only reason. And also I agree that Confucianism has had an influence to a certain degree here.

    And thank you for letting me know about the great quote by Heraclitus! :)
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