Monday, March 26, 2007

The Wall of Silence (Where in the world am I? [35])

In a couple of recent posts about some of the more negative aspects of life in this country, I alluded to the tradition of 'saving face', the national obsession with always maintaining the outward appearance of dignity and respect (without the inner reality!). It is, I'm sorry to say, one aspect of the 'culture' here which I find to be utterly without merit (and that's putting it mildly).

One of the most exasperating manifestations of this phenomenon is the compulsive avoidance of delivering 'bad news'. People here (and I mean everyone: even - especially - educated people, people who work with foreigners a lot, people with high-level management positions in Western companies...) would rather give the appearance of being lazy, incompetent, inconsiderate, RUDE, by not talking to you at all, by breaking off a 'conversation' or a correspondence unfinished, than risk a possible 'scene' by telling you something disappointing. When business relationships break down here - as they all seem to, sooner or later, usually sooner - you generally find out only through the fact that they don't return your calls or e-mails any more.

Since I am working mostly on short-term contracts as an English teacher or business trainer, this is happening to me all the time. I ought to have developed some immunity to the irritation by now, but somehow this is one area where my usual saintly tolerance deserts me: it still hurts every time, it still rankles, it still pisses me off big time!

Last autumn I signed a 4-month training contract with a big American IT company. It was one of the nicest and best-paying gigs I've ever had here. Although I don't like to become too dependent on any single employer, this set-up was too good to turn my back on, so I did try to start cultivating them with a view to establishing a regular, semi-permanent relationship. And they said, "Yes, yes, we love you. You're a great trainer. We'd definitely like you to come back. We're thinking of running trainings through 6-9 months of the year. We'll let you know in March."

That's what they said a month or two ago. Now, they're not returning my e-mails.

I would just like to be told that it's not now going to happen. That I can deal with. Oh, and I suppose a reason would be nice too. Any old reason, really: I don't insist on it being the truth.

The likely, or possible reasons include:

1) We think our English is fantastic already, so we don't need any more training.

2) We realise our English is shite, but we're comfortable with that. (Even perhaps, We've decided it's unpatriotic to learn English.)

3) We've realised we don't in fact need our staff to have a high level of English, because they have hardly any interaction with English speakers in their working life. (This is probably what I told them myself at the outset of my training - but of course, they couldn't possibly ever admit that. I was right, and they were mistaken? Major 'loss of face'!)

4) Actually, we think you're a shit teacher: all the students complained about you.

5) We thought we'd try another teacher, just to give the students some variety. (= We thought we'd try another teacher who charges less than you.)

6) We don't have the budget for any more training this month/quarter/half/year/ever.

In practice, it's almost always either 5) or 6) (perhaps with a slight subtext of 1) or 2)), but they just never want to tell you that. WHY not?? What's so difficult about that??

Oh, yes, from time to time, there are even more annoying variations like: We've assigned our training contracts to a big-name company because they gave us a nice little kickback, or We're just so disorganized around here it takes us 6 months or so to decide to go to the bathroom, or...

Deep breaths.

Usually it's just 5) or 6). I know this. It would just be nice, JUST ONCE, to be told - rather than having to infer it from the sudden SILENCE.


Anonymous said...

You could be a woman talking about the men in her life who dropped their cell phone in the toilet and that's why they never called to say it's over, or who call up the woman's best friend to let her know that it's over and the best friend is going to have to break it to the woman... or well, you get my point.

of course the motivation for the employer not returning calls and the men who inexplicably dissappear is not necessarily the same - but who knows, it might be the same amongst the locals here - (note to self: ask female colleagues what the traditional break up rituals are here and why.)

But you're obviously craving closure.

Froog said...

I hadn't thought of that parallel before, but there might be something in it. The embarrassment, the fear of confronting a potentially emotional exchange of views - that is what brings on this avoidance. I find it much harder to understand in the business context, though!

Do people really break up via intermediaries? Or claim they'd lost their phone? Incredible! I hope you haven't suffered from this kind of cowardly, dishonest evasiveness. I've been dumped by e-mail and SMS - I thought that was quite bad enough. But I suppose it at least gives the confrontation-avoider an easy outlet these days: there are no real excuses for "losing the phone number" or "passing a message through a friend" any more.

(I did once have a girl tell me she had dropped her phone down the toilet as an excuse for failing to be in touch as promised.... but I think it was actually true. She wasn't breaking up with me, but trying to arrange a 'blind date' with me - which we did subsequently do, and it went very well. It was that journalist from The Scotsman that I mentioned in an early post about my so-called 'love life'. I always referred to her as The Phone-Flusher.)