You know, it’s not like I ever really “forget” what a different culture I’m currently living among. All it takes is stepping outside of my apartment and seeing one purple-haired, three-foot tall old woman with a back so crooked that she could retie her shoes without any adjustment of posture. It’s just that every once in awhile I have a little encounter that really “drives it home,” so to speak.
I’ve mentioned a number of times how Japan is a land of staggering contrasts, one of which is their efficiency. Japan offers every modern convenience including many that can’t be found anywhere else – everything from bullet trains to talking, heated toilet seats with built-in bidets. I mean…they even have beer vending machines! You just can’t get any better than that!
Yet somehow every “legal” process seems to take exactly three point six times more paperwork than is necessary, cost exactly nine times more, and take twenty two times as long. And don’t ever think about suggesting a more rational approach. Oh, heavens no! We won’t be having any of that independent thought bologna around here!
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, just to make absolutely certain I was interpreting the “no internet for you, ever” letter that I received from Yahoo Broadband last week, I took it back to the woman with whom I signed up. Before I even opened my mouth she seemed to know what I was going to say. Here’s a little recap of our dialog, edited to make it seem like I’m better at Japanese than I really am:
“Hi, do you remember me? I signed up for internet here three weeks ago.”
“Yes, I do. Did you get a letter saying you can’t have your connection set up?”
“That’s too bad. Would you like to apply again?”
“Would you like to apply for internet again? You still need a connection, don’t you?”
“Well, of course…but I don’t really understand what you’re saying. This letter says that I can’t connect, doesn’t it?”
“Well sir, each area of Kyoto has one distribution center for internet connections, and each center has a limited number of ports for each type of connection (50M, 26M, etc). Activating a connection takes three weeks from when you apply, and at the end of this three week waiting period if there happen to be any opened ports for your requested speed you get your connection! If not, then YahooBB cancels your order and you can just apply again. It all just depends on how many people apply at the same time as you.”
“OK then, sign me up for a 26M.”
“Alright sir, then the activation date will be approximately three weeks from now.”
“Wait a minute, no no no. I’ve already waited the three weeks. I’d like to get my connection set up now.”
“Actually sir, it’s only been two weeks and five days. But I’m sorry that Yahoo has already canceled your previous order, so you’ll need to restart the process from the beginning.”
“So you’re telling me that I just waited all that time for absolutely nothing and that it’s now going to take six weeks to get a connection?”
“No, it will still only take three weeks if you fill out a new application today.”
“…Which will put me at six from the date that I initially applied.”
“Yes, but the process of connecting only takes three weeks from now.”
“Fine, I guess if my order’s already been canceled there’s not much I can do. But what if the ports are all full again even after I re-apply?”
“Then you’re always welcome to come back and apply once more!”
“Ma’am, when I signed up I was shocked that it would take three weeks to connect in the first place. Now you’re sitting here and telling me with a straight face that it’s going to take six weeks, and even then I may not have a connection? Do you realize how ridiculous that is? We’re talking about running a line into my room, not entering the lottery.”
“Many people say the same thing as you, but I’m sorry there’s nothing that I can do.”
“If many people say the same thing as me, might that give you a hint that it’s not a well-designed system? How about this: if after three weeks have passed all of the ports are still full, just bump me down to the next lower speed right away so that I don’t have to start over. There’s no need to cancel everything and send me back to the beginning.”
“I’m sorry sir, but you can only apply for one speed at a time. Would you just like to apply for the slower speed now?”
…Stares at her in disbelief…
“Fine. Sell me your stupid Lottery Ticket.”
Now I’d like you to keep two things in mind. First, I have virtually no ability to speak polite Japanese – no matter how hard I try, I always instinctively switch back to “Conversational Mode” which sounds very rude when conducting a business transaction such as this. So even if I hadn’t been talking back to her I would’ve sounded less than respectful. Second, in Japan nobody ever says what they’re thinking. Ever. Her face showed without a doubt that she’s never been pushed even this hard before. She looked like she was going to break down at one point. I probably should’ve been a bit more understanding of the culture and just let it go, accepting “the way it is” like most people would, but somehow it just seemed too crazy to bear.
Anyways, I signed up and I guess if I’m lucky I’ll have my Vonage phone up fairly soon.
P.S. The man sitting at the table across from me at Starbuck’s right now is wearing a full kimono and straw sandals drinking a Mocha Frappuccino and reading a book about the EU. Speaking of different cultures.