Friday, January 27, 2006

Party

Last night I went to a party. It was a party to thank (or something) the part-time teachers in a department I work for at one of the universities I work for, a small women's university. (No, I do not mean that it is a university for small women. You know what I mean, and I can't be bothered fixing that sentence.) I have been working for this university for seven or eight years now, but have never managed to make it to their yearly party before. I always want to go, but they usually hold it on a day when I can't. This year they changed the date.

It was very interesting for me to meet some of the other people who work in the department, especially the full-time professors who hired me in the first place. Most of them I had never met before. There was one I should have recognized but didn't. He told everybody that we already knew each other because he also teaches at another place I work, so we meet every Tuesday. I pretended to be completely familiar with this fact, but ... REALLY? I didn't recognize him at all. How long has he been working there? It's a good thing I send out general hellos whenever I walk into a teachers' room. He obviously thought I was greeting him.

But I am pleased that I have now met my colleagues. The problem now is that I'm afraid I have forgotten most of their names already. I have forgotten their faces, too, come to think of it. Never mind. I will greet every pompous old man I meet on campus as my special friend from now on, just in case. It was hard being the only foreign woman there. Everybody knew who I was, but I got them all mixed up.

But I was lucky to have a guide with me. My guide is someone I will call The Proper Scholar. She (HELLO! I know you're reading this!) is a new full-timer, who has studied abroad and has educational standards that make it rather difficult for her to fit in. Her shock at some of the things that go on makes me feel old and cynical. Professor S. 'helped' his students to fill in their teacher evaluation forms? How kind of him to suggest what they should write! We all know how hopeless they are. They probably NEEDED a little guidance, and after all, who knows better what a good teacher he is than the man himself? Anyway, I did the same thing, more or less. I told my students to give me high points. It's true that I didn't check what they wrote as I was collecting the forms and tell them to change it if they wrote something uncomplimentary, but that's just because I didn't think of it. Also, I'm fairly sure his students didn't laugh like mine did, which just proves that he is a real professor and I'm not. My students laugh at me all the time.

My friend the Proper Scholar sat (or stood, depending) beside me most of the time, giving me a highly entertaining running commentary on who everybody was. This was slightly handicapped by her not wearing her contact lenses, but it didn't really matter, since - honestly, and I'm not being racist here - most of the professors looked the same. Perhaps I'd be able to distinguish them if I spent more time with them, but you know how it is at parties when you meet too many people all at once. They were all wearing suits, which didn't help. I was able to recognize the Dean after he was first pointed out to me, though, because he was wearing a brown suit instead of dark blue, which was daring of him. I suppose you can get away with that sort of thing when you're Dean.

One professor who did make an impression, and whom I liked very much, sat beside me right at the beginning and introduced himself. He told me that he had heard a lot about me from his students, which gave me a horrible moment, especially since he didn't elaborate at first but just smiled reminiscently. Later the Proper Scholar managed to insert a plug for me, telling him how dedicated a teacher I was. She told him that I spent a lot of time preparing my lessons (ha) and so on. It was a little embarrassing, but he responded with, "Oh, so that's why they like you so much," and THAT was a relief. When he'd said he'd heard all about me the first thing to pop into my head was DIARRHEA! I was afraid they'd been telling him about it.

Well, maybe they had. But it didn't matter, because Prof. N was very sweet and invited me to visit him in the, the ... what was it called again? The cross-cultural studies room, or something like that. I asked him what happened in the cross-cultural studies room, which I quickly realized was a faux pas because he had a hard time answering. Turned out the answer was 'nothing much,' but we glossed over that, and I decided that I would follow up his invitation some time. When he talked to me I felt as though I was having a conversation rather than a Cross-Cultural Exchange! Look at me! I'm having a Cross-Cultural Exchange! and that was nice.

The Proper Scholar, however, tells me that although Prof. N. is a very nice man and is a Big Man in the university (and thus is a good person to be liked by) I have to be careful because he is near retirement age, and the up-and-coming man, my direct boss (at least I THINK he's my direct boss, but I've never managed to pin him down for long enough to find out) hates him - and HE is the next Big Man on campus. So I have to be careful not to favour one over the other. That proved to be difficult last night, since my maybe-boss disappeared shortly after the opening speeches, without greeting anybody. It is hard to butter up someone whom you only ever see the back of as he runs away. (And there is another awful sentence for someone to criticize. This must be Karma for my book posts.)

In fact my maybe-boss didn't look very happy in the brief time that he was there. While the president of the university and other bigwigs were giving their speeches (the only bit he was there for) he stood staring straight ahead with a pained expression, making no eye contact, and as far as I could see he didn't speak to anybody before doing his vanishing act. Perhaps it is the Proper Scholar's fault. She keeps trying to insist on academic standards, and it is upsetting his plans to pass every student regardless of whether or not they attend classes (let alone do the work). The department will close in three years, and what on earth are they going to do with their leftover students who never showed up for class? He wants them to do one TOEIC course in the spring vacation which is untested and will make up for every course they failed during the year, regardless of what the course was about. She compromised by agreeing, finally, that she would accept this for the English language courses they'd failed. However, that leaves all the other courses. Oh, dear. What can he do now? Enforce academic standards? Tell the students they'll have to transfer to a different department to graduate? Unthinkable. He'll have to come up with something else, but WHAT? No wonder he was looking as if he didn't have enough fibre in his diet.

It was a very Japanese party, in that there were speeches. And speeches. And more and more and more speeches. In fact EVERYBODY had to give a speech, and since there were about thirty people and only two hours, this meant that for most of the party someone was giving a speech, including me. I was one of the first to be called, and gave my speech in English. I kept it short and garbled. (The garbled part wasn't intentional. I wasn't prepared.) I can't remember what I said, but that was all right because nobody understood it anyway. They asked the Proper Scholar for a translation, which gave her a shock because she hadn't actually listened. She stood up, turned around and hissed at me,

"What did you say?" and I said,

"Anything's fine. Don't worry," which wasn't very kind of me (SORRY!) but I really couldn't remember. She greatly improved on the original by not skipping anything important that I should have said but hadn't. (Oh, dear. Another one. Go ahead and criticize.)

At some point somebody asked me where I was from. I said I was from New Zealand, and she said,

"Oh, I thought you were French," which confused me a little. Why would a French person be teaching English?

"Yes, she looks French," said another teacher, and I wondered what a French person looked like. Elegant and sophisticated? Oh, of course, that explained it! The jacket! I bought it in Paris.

"It's just my jacket that's French," I said, and everybody looked politely puzzled.

After the party there was a nijikai, a 'second party,' upstairs in a meeting room. This is a tradition here. You have a party, which is all stiff and formal and boring, then you go off and let your hair down elsewhere. I am convinced, however, that the real, secret nijikai was elsewhere, and involved only the top dogs, because we only had a couple of minor professors entertaining us and there was a conspicuous lack of hair. Some effort was made, with one professor going rather purple from excessive drink and confiding proudly that his research specialty was modern French philosophy. People started to name modern French philosophers, getting them spectacularly wrong, which led to a discussion on Nietzsche. It was a very short-lived discussion, however, because we exhausted our collective knowledge in about two minutes.

The French philosopher at some point commented that he hated Descartes (at least I think he was talking about Descartes) because Descartes was a Spiritualist. That was news to me, and I asked whether he was putting Descartes before da horse, a comment that went down like a lead balloon, and admittedly didn't make much sense, but I've always wanted to say it, and now I have. But it was the vehement announcement he made following this comment that I will remember most clearly about the party:

"I AM A MILITANT MATERIALIST!"

I must blog that! I thought, and now I have. I can't remember why I thought it was so funny, though.

5 comments:

Wiccachicky said...

Wow - that DOES sound like a typical Japanese party. :) I hated being put on the spot to do speeches like that, even though it's supposed to be one of my specialties.

SinisterBaby said...

As you are aware, if there are personal issues, the Japanese won't bring it up to your face, but out of politeness will charge someone else with bringing it up with you. In Caucasion countries, this is called, "talking behind someone's back."

In Japan, social delicay demands it. :)

Rob

kenju said...

Good Lord! So many speeches? Are you sure it was a party?

Antipodeesse said...

Hi Badaunt! Completely off topic, but have you seen a blog called Trivial Pursuit, by a Brit called Caroline, living in NZ? She's HILARIOUS and here's the link to her glossary of Kiwi terms translated into British. I HIGHLY recommend it! (http://www.morphess.org/archives/kiwinese.shtml)

Pookie65 said...

I work for, a small women's university. (No, I do not mean that it is a university for small women. You know what I mean, and I can't be bothered fixing that sentence.)

Oh. My. God. I have tears running down my face and the dog thinks I've lost (what's left of) my mind. I needed to read that this morning. You have no idea how funny this struck me. Thousands of miles across the seas and YOU my dear have in one blurb washed away a weeks worth of hell & misery. You are my Queen.

I'd love to have been at this party and oberved. Better yet I'd have loved to have been beside you the whole night watching your expressions and hearing your sighs.

I despise company parties almost as much as I detest my large (200 people from God knows where and having to look interested in these people I share a drop or two of blood with) family gatherings. Making small talk (and having to behave myself after a couple of cocktails) is the absolute worse. Putting on "the smile" and cocking the head to look like I give a shit is right up there with having a prostrate exam -- get it over with already! And speeches? Good Lord. It makes my head hurt thinking about it.

The nijikai sounds a tad more tolerable. I hope for your sake that at least one person got a case of loose lips and made a fool of themselves. Or that you heard a bit of interesting gossip.

Thanks so much for sharing. I adore your blogs and you are officiallly now my favorite Bad Aunt.