Shattered Confidence

I don’t know how many of you know this, but in Japan, every day for about 15 minutes, the students and teachers give the school a mediocre scrubbing. I’m not sure if this is to save money on janitors or if the kids are supposed to be learning responsibility or what, but regardless, it happens every day and I help out in the science lab (if balancing broomsticks on my fingertips with the kids counts as “helping out”). Yesterday was no different and toward the end of cleaning time I saw some newspapers fly off a table and on to the floor. I went over and picked them up and was putting them back on the table when I heard the all too familiar sound of glass exploding on the floor. I looked down and I’d somehow managed to knock over a beaker (with a NEWSPAPER of all things). Shit. So I bend down and start collecting the shattered remnants in the newspaper and the students went to fetch the teachers. It was an accident and it’s not the first time I’ve broken a beaker and the kids were telling me not to sweat it, so I said my sumimasens and cleaned up the mess and moved on.

Later I was talking to one of the teachers about it and I told her that I felt really bad and that I hoped that the beaker wasn’t expensive (knowing full well that if it was, then the Japanese need to find a glassware supplier who won’t scam them). She told me that I shouldn’t worry too much because I probably didn’t have to pay for it. ::blinks:: Worry *too* much? *Probably*? What’s with the hedging words? Shouldn’t you be telling me that it was really no big deal and so I shouldn’t give it another thought? Is a broken beaker really that terrible of an offense where I *might* have to worry even a little bit about *maybe* having offended someone to the point of seeking monetary compensation? It’s not that I object to paying for a replacement, it’s just that the way she said it made it seem like I *might* have done something really awful. She went on to ask if in America we would have to pay for something like that. I explained that when I was in college, if we broke a piece of glassware we usually had to pay for it because there were a lot of us borrowing equipment from the school and people broke shit all the time (not to mention that some of the stuff we were using in lab ran upwards of $100 – i.e. those huge 1 L beakers that were usually used for putting things on ice. Whose dumb idea was it to make these huge, unwieldy glass beakers and then have us fill them up with ice water and then, at the end of lab, when there’s condensation all over the damn thing, carry it over to the sink to dump it out. Like that’s not a disaster waiting to happen). She asked if I had ever had to pay for a piece of glassware and I said that I had. Then she asked if I had purposely thrown the equipment on the floor or across the room and I was like “gah, no…sometimes it just happened. Someone broke something practically every lab period.” She seemed confused and said that in Japan, they only had to pay for things if they broke them on purpose. Then, as if something had just occurred to her, she turned to me and asked very seriously, “You didn’t break it on purpose did you?” More “gah, no”-ing from my end, followed by what I’m sure she thought was reassurance: “Then you probably don’t need to worry about that. I’ll ask the science teacher about it.” Then, with my mind still reeling, we went in and taught class together.

I didn’t go to the junior high today so I’m still awaiting judgment, but I’ve gone from shrugging the whole thing off, to being genuinely concerned that I’ve done something irreparably wrong. I replay the incident in my head to make sure that it was in fact, an accident. I worry that I didn’t express my apology obviously enough or that I seemed too nonchalant about the whole incident. I worry that while I was thinking about “accidentally” and “relative ease of replace-ability,” I should have been thinking about “responsibility” and “doing the right thing.”

As I write this, I can already tell that I’m overreacting and that this situation shouldn’t be a “Japan vs. America” issue because this isn’t any different from how we deal with broken glassware in America. I guess it’s a “lost in translation” issue. Sometimes I’m shocked by the things Japanese people say to me in English because it comes out sounding really harsh and abrasive (e.g. “you need to call home because your grandfather died” ::cricket, cricket::). I’m aware that I have the same problem in Japanese and I’m actually getting to the point where I’m kind of used to it, but I guess the language barrier feels particularly insurmountable when you’re trying to convey important things; when you really want to understand and really really really don’t want to be misunderstood. Plus, this wouldn’t be the first time when I didn’t think something was that big of a deal and then it turned out to be a huge issue.

But I’m catastrophizing again.

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