The last story about Mr. S. is the most serious and problematic. Complaining about too much lobster and using rude gestures in a passive-aggressive way is annoying, yes. Sexual harassment is an entirely different story. Add alcohol to the mix and this was an explosive situation. Here’s what happened.
I knew Mr. S. really liked his liquor and got drunk every time he was taken out. What I did not realize until too late was the fact he probably had a serious alcohol problem. I have heard of those who cannot process and break down alcohol in their bodies and thus show symptoms of drunkenness or mild alcohol poisoning even after one or two sips. This was certainly the case for Mr. S.
We are out to dinner with a large group of executives at Mr. S’s new favorite steak restaurant. Drinks are ordered and poured, appetizers have come and been consumed and the steaks arrive. The lone female executive in the group ordered a “petit fillet”, an 8-ounce steak. Mr. S. looks at her plate and says,
“It’s good you ordered the small steak. Otherwise you’d get fat and then you won’t get promoted. No one will want to sleep with you if you’re fat, you know.”
I just about fell off my chair. I didn’t repeat this, of course, except for the “…you ordered a small steak” part. I wiped my mouth with my napkin, placed it on the table, stood up and excused myself and walked over to the bar to cool off. After a few minutes Mr. S. came over. I glared at him, pointed my finger at his chest and said,
“Don’t ever say that again.”
“Say what you just said.”
“What did I say?”
I thought he was kidding. I thought he was deliberately trying to make me angry. Then it dawned on me. Did he really not remember? I asked.
“You don’t remember what you said in there?”
“What’d I say?”
“Answer my question. You really don’t remember what you said?”
Wild and dangerous curse words flew through my head. I knew this was bad. I also knew how dangerous this information was. Here was a man,where alcohol affected him in such a way he could not control his tongue/behavior, and then could not remember what he had said and done. I had to think fast but I also knew our absence from the table made us all the more conspicuous. In an attempt to prevent any further mishaps, I said,
“We’re going back to the table. Can you keep your mouth shut the rest of the night?”
“Please. Just don’t talk anymore tonight. Okay? Please.”
“Yeah, I guess. Sure.”
He didn’t keep his promise, of course. He went on and on discussing his accomplishments in his previous company, telling tales of his multiple climbs up various mountains around the world, and in general, dominating the conversation.
When I arrived at work the next morning, I found him outside smoking a cigarette. I smiled and said,
“Do you remember what happened last night?”
“We went out to dinner, right?”
“Right. We did. Do you remember what you said to (female executive)?”
Here, I went on to describe what he said and that he could, under no circumstances, ever say that again. I explained sexual harassment laws the best I could, discussed the seriousness of an accusation against him (should one be forthcoming in the future) and tried to get my point across. It must have sunk in. He never did that again.
Let me go back to the quick thinking I had to do standing in front of him in the bar. Let’s imagine the statement he made to the female executive (or anyone, for that matter) wasn’t so aggregious that it could have been repeated. Let’s also imagine it wasn’t aggregious enough to cause a lawsuit but was obnoxious enough to upset someone. This has the potential of putting the interpreter on the hot seat. In Mr. S’s case, he didn’t remember what he said. Or, so he says. If a lawsuit is filed, or a complaint is made, it’s the interpreter’s word against the speaker’s. This is a classic case of he-said-she-said. I realized this as I drove home from the restaurant that night. I also realized the only way I could protect myself was to write down, verbatim, if possible, what transpired at a setting where something was said that could be potentially problematic. For the record, I have three large notebooks of notes I wrote down after that conversation with Mr. S containing his outbursts, comments I couldn’t repeat and temper tantrums. I imagine writing a best-selling tell-all book someday. In the mean time, a word of caution to interpreters: protect yourself. Take notes. You’ll never know when you might need to prove your innocence.
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/.