This was all very funny until I realized that it is, in fact, spot-on. After a few months in Japan, if I'd seen my principal brandishing a squirt bottle at the school's potted plants, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised. I don't know what his official job description was, but I assume his employment contract would have said something along the lines of "Screw 'em. You're the principal--do what you want."
At my base school (I call it my base school because that's probably where I'd go in the event of a zombie apocalypse) I got a new principal at the start of the new school year. Unlike American teachers, Japanese teachers rotate schools instead of staying at one place for several decades. The Board of Education usually moves them to a different school every three years or so. The reasons for this go right over my head, but I assume it's something to do with making sure that no one ever really knows what they're doing. Wouldn't want people getting too comfortable, would we? That's a recipe for laziness if I've ever seen one. Principals, vice principals and office staff are transferred too, so my completely ineffectual principal went off to some other school and we got provided with a new one.
The teacher transfer system is kind of a crap shoot. Sometimes you trade out a the guy who doesn't like to shower and you get someone great as a replacement. Sometimes your favorite teacher gets swapped for someone who frequently burps in the staff-room. In the case of my principal, we traded out someone who was essentially a piece of furniture with a comb-over for an insensitive jerk who looks like Elvis to an impressive degree.
I'll let you be the judge of which one is preferable.
I could go on for days about this guy, but I'll pick out a few of my favorite stories to share with you. When I say he looks like Elvis, it's not just because he has the characteristic Elvis hair--slicked close to his head on the side and coiffed a bit on the top--he has the swagger down too. According to my co-teacher (I don't think I have the security clearance to ask how she came by this information) he was quite the lady-killer in his youth. A honey on each arm, one might say. I believe it whole-heartedly, because he swaggers through the staff room like someone who has full confidence in his own sex-appeal despite the fact that he's sixty-five if he's a day.
Nice to Meet You.
"My name is Allison."
At this point, he looked around, spotted another teacher and yelled across the hallway: "Hey! How do you say her name?"
I have a lot of students who seem to be allergic to English. Anyone who works in a teaching capacity probably knows what I'm talking about. Any time they think someone is going to interact with them in English, it's like they go into shock. They freeze. They forget whatever English they might have crammed into their brain and look for the first possible opportunity to escape--politeness be damned. And...I kind of get it. English is hard, and some people have a hard time with languages anyway, but I truly believe that anyone can do it if they really apply themselves. Saying "I don't speak English!" and fleeing the scene isn't terribly productive.
My principal is allergic to English. When I was pronouncing my name, he probably heard something like "Holy crap she's making me speak English" instead of "Allison". Is it weird that I expect a bit more sensitivity and effort from the symbolic head of my zombie apocalypse base school? I wouldn't have thought so.
A lack of effort in conversation and no cultural sensitivity to speak of are key symptoms of an English allergy, so I was able to diagnose him immediately and move on with my life. If he was anything like the last principal, I figured, I wouldn't have many reasons to talk to him anyway.
The Curious Incident of the Mysterious Foreigner
Of course, I'd been expecting this for awhile. I assumed it was some prestigious Indian movie director who'd somehow discovered my beauty and charisma and had come to sign me onto a Bollywood contract.
My co-teacher and I rushed downstairs, chatting excitedly about who would want to visit our modest rural junior high school. We passed by a couple of Japanese people working on the electric box near the entrance and hurried toward the principal. He looked like someone with a nut allergy who'd just eaten walnut-laced carrot cake.
"Where are they?" we asked, perplexed by the lack of foreign movie directors.
He pointed a shaking finger toward the electric box.
As it turns out, the "foreigner" was an obviously Japanese woman who worked for the electrical company, something that would have been immediately obvious if he'd actually spoken to her--which he'd been too scared to do.
"I saw her and thought 'Crap! I don't speak English!'" he said with a laugh. "So I went and got you!"
Directions to a Funeral
"Oh, yes. Vice Principal. As you know, I'm on my way to the funeral..."
"It appears that I'm lost."
"Yes. Can you tell me where I am?"
"I don't know where you are, Sir."
"Well, I need to get to Yatsuo, and I don't know where I am."
"Do you see anything? Some kind of marker?"
"Well, maybe you ought to ask someone."
"I am asking someone!"
"Someone who actually knows where you are, Sir."
"Yeah. But he accidentally squished it with the door."
"Sounds like him."