Some where in the archives of the local television station in Nou Machi Japan is a video of me losing patience with a long speech.
To understand why, you have to understand that although the Japanese are not particularly good at giving speeches, they are surprisingly fond of them.
A typical, formal Japanese speech involves a steady monotone that reminds me a great deal of Poet’s Voice. The speaker also reads directly from a text and rarely, if ever, looks up at the audience. This style happens at school opening and closing ceremonies, graduation and even New Year parties. To make matters worse, in the case of graduation, there are actually a number of speeches: The Principal’s Speech; the PTA Head’s Speech; the Student Leader’s Speech; and the Special Guest’s Speech.
In the case of Nou Junior High School, the guest speaker was the principal of one of the local elementary schools. He blathered on about Indonesia and the Asian Financial Crisis and a list of things his mother had served him for breakfast since he was five for about 20 minutes. (Well, maybe he didn’t talk about his breakfast but it actually was that long.)
At minute five I began to get restless. At minute ten I was repeatedly staring at my watch. At minute fifteen I was making a show of staring at my watch. By minute twenty I was shaking my head in exasperation and tapping my watch.
Mercifully, he ended (or he’s still talking and my brain snapped somewhere around minute seventeen and I’ve only imagined my life since then). A week or so later, at my adult class, some of my students commented that they’d seen me on television. They said I looked restless and impatient. I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed the camera being aimed at me; of course, I was too busy staring at my watch.
A couple month’s later I taught at the speaker’s school. He was cool, but polite and I got the impression everyone was watching us to see what was going to happen.
Luckily nothing did; mostly because he didn’t have to give a speech.