If you are a frequent reader of The World According to Mitch then you know that I very often take experiences that I have had (or observations that I have made) and apply them to the world of IT. For a change, I thought I would take this opportunity to go the other way.
This morning I was caught in a security trap in my corporate desktop. I downloaded a number of (rather large) files on the desktop, and was going to then transfer them to the laptop on which I need them, but which I was in the process of configuring and was rebooting several times.
Once the downloads were complete I plugged my handy USB hard drive into the Super Speed port of the desktop, selected my files, and clicked Copy.
“I’m sorry Mitch, I can’t let you do that.”
What do you mean? It read like a permissions issue, but after about fifteen seconds I realized that there must be a GPO (Group Policy Object) preventing users from copying files to external drives. I have in the past suggested this as an option… I had even heard that it was a policy here, I just wasn’t thinking. It is a decent (if not infallible) policy for preventing sensitive data being removed from the company.
I was speaking with a North American colleague at lunch and he asked if I wanted to try a few ways of bypassing the policy (rather than waiting the several hours for the files to download again). I said thank you, no… I am in a country where people follow the rules, and I am not going to go against that.
It is true… Japan is a country where people seem to do everything ’by the book.’ Some people jaywalk, but the vast majority of people do not… and most of the people who do are foreigners (gai-jin), or have at least spent time abroad. They do not spit on the street, and there is hardly ever any litter. Again, I have seen discarded cigarettes and pop cans and such, but it is invariably in an area where a lot of foreigners congregate.
In Canada you had better look both ways before you step into the road when the light turns green… too often cars are going to speed up and follow the three-second-rule of red lights, and you may be putting your life on the line. Not here… I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, I just haven’t seen it happen yet.
The Japanese culture is an ancient one. While they have come a long way from the days when ‘peasants’ could have their heads lobbed off for not bowing to a samurai, there is no question that they are a people who follow the rules and do things by the book. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so at all. Funny, because there was a time in my life when I completely ignored the rules… I lived by my own rules, and even broke those when it was convenient.
I like a society where things are orderly and predictable, and not because of any militarily imposed regulations (fascism and communism both produced a number of cultures where people followed the rules not because they wanted to, but because they were afraid not to). I like that here people greet you (although I am still trying to figure out a lot of the greetings, and can only assume they are not making fun of me). People bow, people it is the polite way to greet people (and because they do not seem to like shaking hands, unless you are a foreigner at which point they seem quite insistent on it.
Having worked in security firms before I am amazed by the security guards here… each one’s uniform is pressed and their shoes are polished; they are always standing and always look you in the eye. They greet you as well, and help if needed. I had to ask someone to confirm that they were not all in the military, because many of them seem to stand with a pride that North American security guards just don’t have.
There seems to be an order to everything here, from the way people behave in the elevator (there is always one person closest to the panel who immediately presses and holds the Open button until everyone getting off has done so and then people getting on have too). Walking in the stairwell at the office (which we have to do because the elevators only stop on certain floors) people going up are on one side, people going down on the other. The only exceptions to this again are the foreigners… and mostly only the recently arrived ones, because the way things are done is conducive to people wanting to learn.
I am not saying that there are not people who are not as accepting of foreigners… I have seen a couple of sneers from people on the subway as they mutter quietly to their friends. However overall I have had nothing but positive experiences, and patience from the people who know that I obviously do not speak the language.