I’m not exactly sure the date of this story, but it happened when I was a teacher at Numazu NOVA, so May seems like as good a place as any.
Jenny was a difficult person to get along with. She was one of those people who always had a chip on her shoulder both inside and outside the office. I had very few interactions with her in person, but I had heard a lot about her from other teachers.
According to the rumour mill, Jenny had been working at Fuji NOVA and was having trouble getting along with the supervisor. Before her annual performance review, she contacted the area manager claiming that the supervisor didn’t like her because of the colour of her skin. Since intensive HR training and conflict resolution are likely not mentioned at all during NOVA’s barebones manager training, Jenny was simply transferred to a nearby branch to solve the problem.
The other thing I had heard about Jenny was from her former roommate Angie, one of my good friends and someone I trust. Angie was a lot of fun to work with, to hang out with, and everybody liked her. Well, everyone except Jenny. Apparently they had some kind of roommate disagreement which resulted in Angie’s new computer being being damaged after liquid had been poured inside. Angie had no direct proof, but with Jenny being the only person with access and motive Angie was convinced that Jenny was responsible. She went to NOVA and demanded a new apartment because she didn’t feel safe living with Jenny anymore.
I had worked with Jenny a few times, and had attended Charlie’s farewell party with her last year. I was always a bit wary of her because of Angie’s experiences, but I tried my best to be professional and play nice at the office. Sharing a cramped teacher’s room with people you don’t get along with makes for a very long day at work.
On one particular day, a branch manager from a nearby school was visiting Numazu. Jenny was at Numazu on a shift swap. The two of them were talking in the teachers room between lessons. Teacher’s room conversation is usually open to anyone in the room, so after I had gotten ready for my next lesson I joined the conversation.
“Excuse me! EXCUSE ME! This is a conversation between A and B, so you can C your way out of it” yelled Jenny with an angry look on her face.
I was shocked by her rude response; it came completely out of nowhere – I had no indication that she had any problem with me before, and even later I still can’t think of anything I had done to provoke such a strong reaction. Usually I could let something like this go, but I think Jenny had caught me on a particularly stressful day with one too many kids classes. My response was quick and probably more harsh than it needed to be; I decided to borrow the words of Ricky from Trailer Park Boys. Yes, this Ricky:
I looked directly at her and asked “Hey Jenny, do you have any offs that need fucking?”. She responded “What?”. I answered “FUCK OFF”.
This immediately had two effects: the first was that all of the other teachers in the room said “WHOA” at the same time, likely because nobody had ever heard me talk to anyone else in that way before. The second effect was that Jenny never said another word to me again. Not during the day, not on the train, not at another branch, never. Jenny’s silence did not, however, have a negative effect on the rest of my time in Japan at all.
Standing up for yourself is important, although I probably could have handled the situation better. I’m not proud of jumping directly to Ricky quotes, but looking back on the situation I also don’t have any regrets.