Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Mind of a Student (My Speculation)

It's Sunday morning and I've slept in until 9:20 when I scheduled an English lesson for 10:00 am with my English teacher. I rescheduled this lesson from my usual Saturday at 11:00 pm lesson time and insisted on this earlier time because I told my teacher I just had to finish the lesson and be back home by noon. My teacher may have had to get up earlier than usual and prepare for my early arrival, but she said it was OK.

Now that I can't make the scheduled time, I think I'll call within minutes of rolling out of bed, still in a daze and with a cracked voice, and see if I can subtly pressure my teacher into changing my lesson to a later time, so I don't lose any money. Oh, sure, I could cancel the lesson because I can't make it in time or I could come late and take part of the hour, but if I call and state that I just woke up and then remain silent, the teacher might feel obliged to say it'll be alright if I start late. As long as I don't make any suggestions or overtly state what I want to do, the ball is in her court. As long as I don't take responsibility, perhaps I'll get everything I want and my teacher won't mind the fact that I asked her to rearrange her schedule around my needs once and am now asking her to do it again on extremely short notice. Though I know she has another student after me, I don't care about her need to prepare for that student or plans to do anything else in between my lesson and the other student's.


I honestly don't mind if my students reschedule, cancel or are late. This troubles me not at all. I also don't mind occasionally rearranging my morning schedule to accommodate their needs and then having them be late or cancel. The only thing that drives me crazy is when they call me and when I ask, "would you like to cancel or just have a shorter lesson," they respond with absolute silence. The very act of just saying, "I woke up late" and then not stating any course of action (or answering any questions when given options) is a form of passive coercion in Japan which I don't think I'll ever be able to pry my mind open wide enough to accept with good grace.

And this wasn't the first time this has happened, but I'm sure it won't be the last.


Anonymous said...


Do you feel that:

(a) the behavior of this particular student stems from his/her character, or
(b) the student thinks he/she can get away with it since you're nice and not Japanese?

Maybe my query is a little simplistic. Outsiders tend to have the impression (rightly or wrongly) that, on the whole, people in Japan are expected to be more considerate toward their fellow citizen's feelings.

Last but not least, happy holidays to you and your hubby!


Shari said...

Hi, Bill! I think your question is a very good one. Please keep in mind that my post was a bit sardonic and an expression of (minor) annoyance on my part at what happened.

After my experiences in Japan, I would say that Japanese people cannot easily be pigeon-holed in regards to their consideration for others. It is something which varies personally and by situation. However, I think they give the outward appearance of easy compliance and also are likely to comply readily despite personal reservations in a variety of situations because a lot of their culture demands it of them. Mainly, they are considerate of others when they are acting as hosts or in a lower status position. I've known plenty of inconsiderate people (not toward me, but between themselves) who mistreat subordinates or are indifferent to the feelings of others (particularly when it's a male-female interaction, men can treat women as if their feelings don't matter).

I think this student is a nice person (all of my students are nice people), but I think all of my students view me as a "service provider" as a bottom line and rightfully so. They do pay me so our relationship is a "customer" and "client" one though it is totally couched in friendly rapport. I think the sort of "passive coercion" I mention is a part of this type of relationship and not necessarily because I'm nice to them (though I really am) and not Japanese. However, since I've never been, uh, Japanese, I can't say for sure. ;-)

I've never asked a Japanese person about the tendency to use silence as a means of getting the other person to spit out what you want to hear as it's a complex concept to get across, so I don't know if they experience it or not. My gut feeling is that it's not because I'm a gaijin, though I do believe that being female (and therefore perhaps being seen as more persuadable) and being generally quite flexible with their requests may play a part in it.

Thank you very much for your comment (which provoked some interesting thoughts) and your good wishes. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday as well!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comprehensive and insightful feedback!

I believe your host/relative status comment is spot on, and that your student's lapse in consideration probably flows from his/her ingrained attitude toward a "service provider" relationship in Japan.

In Japan, the customer-is-king mentality is rather pervasive, isn't it? I've long wondered how such tradition (for want of a better word) originally took root in the country.

I lived briefly in Japan ages ago but since then my life has taken a complete turn and I haven't visited the country in many, many years. Earlier in the year my interest in Japan was rekindled, partly through reading wonderful blogs like yours. Thanks again!

May the New Year bring to you and yours all the blessings of health, joy and happiness.


tornados28 said...

So, let me understand this, you asked the student a question on the phone and they were silent? What if you remained silent until they answered? What would they do I wonder?

Shari said...

tornados28: I always crack first so I'm not sure. I do know that, if you wait long enough, they start mumbling to themselves in Japanese. :-p