Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Faux pas

Yesterday I went to a meeting. It was at one of the universities where I've worked for a while, but most of my classes this year will be in a different department. This means that I have a different boss for those particular classes. I like my new boss and am looking forward to working with him, but not looking forward so much to actual classes. The students in that department have a reputation, and it is not a good one.

There were quite a few teachers at the meeting, and it was fun to catch up with my colleagues. There was not much other reason for the meeting, really – everything we were told we either knew already or could have been told via email. But we also got to meet our OTHER boss, the Japanese one (i.e. the real boss rather than the token foreigner one).

The meeting started with the foreign boss introducing the Japanese boss. We were told that he was very busy with an important publishing deadline so would only speak for a moment and could not stay for the whole meeting. We had not met this guy before, and were all very aware that this was the man who really hired us, so prepared to listen carefully and impress him with our professional attitude.

After the Japanese boss was introduced we all clapped, and he stood up to give his welcoming speech.

He spoke in a friendly, chatty way. He started by telling us his name, and then his title in Japanese. Then he translated his title into English. His title was a long one.

"I am (deep breath) the Chairman of the Y Department of X University Committee for the Promotion of Proficiency in English Education," he said.

He exhaled, and smiled.

We were not sure if this ridiculous title was officially funny or not, so didn't laugh too much, just in case. Instead we chuckled warmly in a way that could be taken as appreciative of his superior status OR appreciative of his making fun of his own title.

The chuckling was fading away when a deeply sarcastic voice from the other side of the room muttered quietly (but unfortunately not quietly enough),

"Whose idea was THAT?"

The Chairman looked at his heckler. "Mine," he said.

It was a brilliant comic moment. The guy who had asked the sarcastic question went bright red, and the rest of us howled with laughter.

Ooh, good one! I thought, as I wiped my eyes. Our new boss has an evil sense of humour! How wonderful!

Amidst the uproar the Chairman gazed around the room, smiling pleasantly. But he also looked rather puzzled, and gradually the realization dawned that his stupendously brilliant comeback at the sarcastic teacher had been entirely unintentional.

It was awful. The sarcasm had gone straight past him! He had answered the question seriously! He had no idea what we were laughing about! He probably thought we were laughing at him!

We stopped laughing. This was not easy, as the situation had just racheted up to a whole new level of funny, only this time the joke was on us.

The Chairman resumed his speech, and after our dreadful collective faux pas we were all very careful to smile and laugh in the right places – the OBVIOUS places when he said something clearly identifiable as a joke, and paused especially for laughter. After he'd finished we all applauded again, probably a little too enthusiastically. Then he made his excuses and left, and we carried on with the meeting.

I am fairly sure that we did not make a very good first impression on our new boss, which is a shame, really, because he seemed like a nice man.

And we're not bad people, not really.


kenju said...

It is really too bad that he didn't say that on purpose. He'd seem like such a good person to have as a boss if he had.

Lia said...

There is something to be said for having a boss who says what he means. But it would have been way more fun if he'd been less clueless.

Badaunt said...

Kenju: Yes, it is a shame. His timing was perfect, and the way he said it was perfect ... it was just that he didn't have a clue the effect it would have.

Lia: Well, yes. I suppose that could be seen as a good thing. But I hope he doesn't do that sort of thing too often. It was too surprisingly funny. Falling about laughing when the boss turns out to be totally serious could cause image problems!