We’ve all had one, I’m sure. A client who pays well, offers steady work, pays on time but is truly a horrific person—nasty, mean, offends all who cross his path and yet is so brilliant his presence continues to be requested. You cringe when the phone rings and it’s his number. You dread the assignments when you interpret for him. You still go though. It pays and you need the work. Is it possible you consider the assignments with him a challenge? Is it a slightly twisted personal quest where you promise yourself “this time I won’t let him get under my skin”? My nightmare was Mr. S. Here’s part 1 of my story:
Twice a week he asks to be taken out to dinner. We go. The restaurants are always expensive; the best sushi in the area, high-end steak, gourmet Italian, lobster. He loved lobster. So much so he would insist someone do research into the best lobster/seafood restaurants within a 50-mile radius (“I want the best of the best”). He ate lobster once a week until he returned home and his children laughed at his weight gain. On his next trip back to the U.S., he promptly announced to the client, “I’m sick of lobster. No more lobster.”
This comment drew stares. Those who heard his words later looked at me with a combination of sheer anger and a “is this guy serious?”, the latter in total disbelief. Those who would accompany him to dinner would have to put up with his grandiose stories about his amazing profit-making ventures (“no shortage of ego there!” one executive said to me) and his guzzling of the most expensive wine on the menu. The perk, however, was they got to eat this food, too. “There’s nothing quite like eating well on the company tab!” I heard this over and over.
When the announcement came Mr. S was no longer eating lobster, those who were suddenly denied good wine and “free” lobster were angry. I tried to play peacemaker, suggesting maybe we have lobster every other week as opposed to never. “No worries. We’ll find better seafood,” was Mr. S’s reply. Better seafood than lobster? Okay. Indeed.
The frustration over the lack of lobster meals (eaten on an expense account) was exacerbated when Mr. S tried to file a complaint against a young server at one of the new, four-plus star restaurants chosen to replace the seafood restaurants. Our server, a woman in her early twenties, a college student perhaps was certainly nice, polite, accommodating and professional. Her mistake, according to Mr. S came, when she replied “sure!” in response to another helping of their fresh-baked bread.
“Sure?” Mr. S looked at the young woman. “Yes, I’ll bring it right over,” she said. “Sure?!” Mr. S said again. He then looked at me and told me to tell her to get the manager. “For what?” I asked. “No waitress in Japan would ever say ‘sure’ in response to a customer’s request.” That’s true. “Seriously? You want to speak to the manager because you didn’t like her choice of words?” I push back. I’m not happy about this and the executives at the same table are looking bewildered as to the rather heated exchange Mr. S and I are having. “It’s bad customer service,” he says. “Sure means ‘yes’.” I snap. “No,” he says. “Yes,” I repeat. This is getting ridiculous. I look away. I did not call the manager over. Mr. S took another gulp of his very expensive red wine. I feel just the slightest bit victorious.
There’s a lot more to this story. There’s a lot of background. In the next two weeks I will introduce you to Mr. S in more detail and show you why I felt compelled, nay, entitled to push back. Had I not worked with him over the years and gotten to know him well I would not have taken the liberty of picking a fight.
I wouldn’t normally, and I wouldn’t recommend any interpreter take it upon him/herself to correct a newly acquired client’s manners or words. Mr. S, however, as you will soon see, is one of those people who finds peoples’ buttons and then pushes them. Sadly, I am full of horror stories that even my active imagination could not make up. On a happy note, fast-forward several years later, I have managed to lose Mr. S’s number. Some clients are worth letting go of.
Amya Miller lives near Boston, Massachusetts and is the President and CEO of Lupine and Co., which offers Japanese interpretation, liaison services, business etiquette training, consultation on successful negotiation techniques and problem solving.
Amya also founded the Gaijin Group; a group for gaijins all over the world. She was born and raised in Japan and spent time in Tokyo and Hokkaido. She has worked as an Interpreter and behind-the-scenes liaison in Japan-US business for 20 years. You can reach Amya at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more about at https://www.lupineandco.com/ and https://www.gaijingroup.com/.