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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Was it 7 or 8? A Little Miscommunication Among Friends.

I served in Guatemala in the 1980s. While there, of course, I attended countless, absolutely countless diplomatic receptions and functions. Most have long slipped from my memory. One, however, I always remember when December 7 rolls around.

Among others in the U.S. Embassy I got invited to an event at the Japanese Embassy in honor of the Emperor. You guessed it, the reception was on December 7. A couple of us joked about it, but, off we went. Japanese receptions were always among the best: superb food and drink; everything artfully and tastefully done; and their diplomats were nice, well informed, and seemed to like Americans. As the party was winding down, I slid over to one of my Japanese contacts and kidded him about the date, "You have guts throwing this event December 7."

He seemed perplexed, "We decided to hold it today instead of tomorrow, because of American sensitivities about that day."

Now I became the perplexed one, "What's so sensitive for us about December 8?"

My Japanese friend looked at me as though I were the biggest ignoramus on the planet, "You know, Pearl Harbor attack day."

I couldn't help but laugh at this bit of international miscommunication. I told him, "On this side of the international date line, the attack took place on December 7."

He, however, did not laugh. Mortified, he turned bright red. I thought he would order the entire staff to commit seppuku on the lawn. He was so embarrassed I got embarrassed. He could not stop apologizing for the error; I started apologizing for having brought up the matter. For weeks afterward, whenever he saw me he would apologize; I would apologize, too.

A day after the reception, the Japanese Ambassador sent our Ambassador a bottle of very expensive sake with a long note. Our Ambassador, a wonderful, rough, tough oil man--and a Marine in the Pacific during WWII--called on me in a staff meeting, "What the hell is this about? Why is the Japanese Ambassador apologizing to me?"

I explained.

He smiled and said, "Ah! Well, then this is yours." He handed me the sake.

26 comments:

  1. Fantastic story! :)

    - reader #1482

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  2. A lovely story. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. another variation of 'at sixes and sevens' perhaps

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  4. Interesting that despite the legacy of WWII, US and Japanese relations have remained pretty much on an even keel.

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  5. Just thought of something: for your Japanese contact, December 7 1941 would've been December 8 in Tokyo. International Date Line and all that.

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  6. Awww man! I feel sorry for those guys, trying so hard to avoid giving offense :)

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  7. I was in Guatemala '84-'86. When were you there?

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. When I was stationed in Dar es Salaam we had a similar experience. The embassy softball league had us scheduled to play the Japanese embassy December 7th. We all joked about it and were surprised the Japanese didn't postpone it. One of our members asked one of the Japanese players about it and learned the same thing you did: they think of Pearl Harbor as having taken place on the 8th.

    Oh, and as for events at the Japanese embassy or residence always being lavish and tasteful affairs, the diplomats taken hostage at the Japanese residence in Lima by MRTA terrorists in 1996 would disagree. I am forever thankful my senior FSN had chosen that day to give my wife and me a farewell dinner. We listened to developments on the radio. Some of the hostages were in the residence four months.
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  10. Well looks like I messed up and my comment got eaten. Try again, Though lamentable in some ways, it is good we can forget fairly quickly some things. If not we could end up like Albania and the "Law of Leke". Was the sake good?

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    1. I ended up regifting it. It apparently was a very expensive one.

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  11. My dad was a WWII vet, and fought in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese. He saw so much combat they let him out a bit early. Yet, after all that, in later years when he was working for the phone company, he dealt with many Japanese businessmen on the most cordial of terms, and genuinely liked them. Funny how that worked out.

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  12. For years the pacifists used to hold a demonstration at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on Hiroshima Day. Some of us would hold a counter-protest. Finally we decided to hold our own "protest," on December 7th, at the Federal court house in Dayton (traditional location for demonstrations). It wasn't really a protest, but a patriotic rally, although the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association did show up. By coincidence, the Soviet premier was visiting the US that day (that'll let you know how long ago it was). The local TV interviewed me. I told the interviewer that the Japanese of today had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, and they were our allies. The Soviet Premier picked a bad day to begin his visit to the US.

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  13. Absolutely awesome memory! Thank you for sharing.

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  14. Wonderful to read your accounts. Hopefully part of this is warming up for your Lavrov magnum opus!!!

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    1. Oh, yes, Lavrov. Have to think how I am going to do it as parts of it might yet be classified. I will have to fudge some details.

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  15. Oops, forgot to sign myself:

    --Reader 9

    :-)

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  16. Absolutely spectacular story. Thanks. So, what is perspective, if not almost everything?!!! Beautiful

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  17. Super story. In my experiences, Asians learn a plethora of ways to show respect, that I wish they were in our culture. It's built by parents, and confirmed by peers.

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  18. That's called having a sense of propriety... something lacking in most of the modern world, and increasingly lacking in our own society.

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  19. Just visited your blog for the first time and am impressed. I just linked your blog on mine (ttoes.wordpress.com). I love this story....will take the time later to read back in your blog.

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  20. I was stationed in pearl harbor for several years, and in 89 (I think it was) on dec seventh. I had a polite japanese couple come up to me (on the base next to the japanese sub, overlooking the arizona memorial on the other side).
    "So Sawwy, Sir, could you direct me to arizona memorial" and bows.
    I looked at him, turned and said, "right where you fucking left it..and pointed over the water.
    He could not stop apologizing and bowing. I laughed and said to him, "you have to have a sense of humor about the past sometimes."

    Leaperman

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  21. You got linked to Dip:

    http://hemiposterical.blogspot.cz/2013/12/time-zones-are-hard.html

    Via D&N comments.

    Arkie

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