I’ve gotten to go to the meetings with visitors from our Japanese group because the marketing contact there took to viewing me as his personal direct line to product information
And any other technical stuff he may have had a whim about.
This dated back to a single moment when I answered one complaint question for him when I was too young to know the value of not giving the best possible answer to some departments.
The perk of this was I occasionally got invited out to meals with him and visiting sales people that would accompany him to trade shows the states as a reward for high performance. He’d usually act as a translator as their English was weak and my Japanese was nonexistent.
Try to get invited to meals with sales and marketing people; they know how to eat well.
In general, due to cultural physical differences, I tended to have a great deal more mass than they did, sometimes combined. I am convinced the two sales women I drove back to their hotel after a dinner in Weehawken were singing songs to Mothra in my back seat.
On another occasion, we were taking a group out for their choice of Sushi for lunch. This was their most common lunch choice. Although since the one time they picked a steakhouse, our (non-marketing) team took them to a Longhorn. (A low to mid-level chain steakhouse for those in other geographical areas.) I can’t say I blame them for sticking with familiar food.
When we went out to the car, I politely deferred the comfort of the front to our guests and offered to get in the furthest back seat of the company minivan.
One of them said,
"No no, is ok...
*Slow Neck tilt up with ever widening eyes*
That day started me toward eating salads before my cardiac issues.
There was one exception to the cross cultural size comparison.
Only the names have been changed to protect the international.
It was their typical group in the states for a show. The main Japanese marketing guy (=JMG), and two sales managers who had done well that year. They knew some English, but almost all conversation was through our usual translator. One manager was non-descript, and unremarkable. The other had the name and build of a common Japanese car (CG=car guy). He was about a half a head shorter than me, but twice as broad (not fat…just broad). His hair looked like a slicked back Mohawk and he was a man of great intensity and focus. The rest of the engineering gang asked, "Who was that sumo wrestler looking guy" when I got out of the meeting.
I got invited to the high end dinner the internal marketing guy (IMG) took them to down by the Hudson after work. (Yay!)
JMG said that CG wanted to know if any of us knew Ichiro on the Mets, because he went to school with New York’s imported player. IMG said we did, and asked CG if he played baseball with Ichiro. We were told no, because CG didn't play baseball, he "played Sumo." Apparently he still did (which answered everyone's question back at the office)
We were told, since he was too busy with his steak, that he could bench 450 pounds.
Looking at him, none of us thought to question that claim. This was not a man to be trifled with.
Conversation turned to other Japanese baseball players including Yankee Hideki Matsui, and his nickname of Godzilla. When I mentioned he had a cameo in the then recent Godzilla x Mechagodzilla, IMG told them I was an "expert" (his words) on Godzilla movies.
(Click Here for the full Godzilla Index)
(Click Here for the full Godzilla Index)
JMG tried to patiently and carefully explain to me that Godzilla was originally a Japanese franchise. With a bit of effort, IMG and I were able to convince him that I was aware of that history, and those were the movies my "expertise" applied to. JMG translated for the rest of the gang, and found they were curious as to my perspective on how the 1998 American Godzilla compared to the original.
I told them that I felt the Japanese monster was created with a lot of symbolism, meaning, personality and character to it, which varied as the series progressed through time…
And the American one was just a giant iguana.
For some reason, they all thought that was very funny.
CG inquired something, and JMG relayed, "He wants to know if you know Gamera, he is a big fan. We chatted a while about that, and CG’s surprises didn't end there.
Actually he was frequently surprised, or at least interrupted, as others at the table were discussing automobiles.
Every time they’d mention the one he shared his name (and probably towing capacity) with, he would look up quickly and go,
and tuck back in to his steak.
IMG then asked JMG if he knew Speed Racer, and tried to describe it.
JMG became very excited and exclaimed,
"Yeah! That show with the race, and the one guy with the stupid dog, that he'd tell him to do things and he would get it wrong, and laugh ssss-ss-ss-ss-sss."
I told him he was describing the American cartoon Wacky Races, once I’d finished recovering from blowing some excellent marinated chicken out my nose following this normally serious businessman’s excellent Mutley impression.
I then clarified that Speed Racer’s name was Go Mifuni in Japan.
At this point CG looked up from his hunk of beef and yelled, "MACH GO!"
I yelled, “YES! Exactly!”
And the VP of R&D yelled, "I can't believe we're talking about cartoons!"
At the end of the night, we said our good-byes, and JMG and I briefly covered some action items and deliverables from the day’s meetings. The other two Japanese sales guys said very stilted "good byes" and "thank yous."
After what, in a normal person’s life, would have been the final handshakes, CG walked back towards me.
He looked around a bit, as if he was ready to impart great wisdom, or perhaps bodily toss me into the Hudson.
He leaned his massive, sumo wrestling, 450 pound bench pressing frame uncomfortably close to me.
Then looked me square in the eye with the most serious of expressions, made a fist and said:
Before walking out in the most normal looking way possible, leaving me shaking with laughter…