In the tech industry here in the US, there is a term for the stone-cold experts that local teams call in to present new concepts or address problems a customer is having: ‘Rockstar.’ In the heady days before the 2008 financial crisis, rockstars were flying all over the globe. Technology was changing fast in my industry and we were selling customers on the Next Big Thing, which changed every year.
I’d never been anywhere except to Germany in the Army and then, as someone with deep knowledge of a narrow field that often proved troublesome, I found myself in the mid 2000s becoming one of those rockstars. And, as The West Coast Guy, I was getting sent to Tokyo or Shanghai on a few days’ notice. This was usually to apologize for a screwup and to huddle with the locals to find a solution. Sometimes it was to present new technology to the locals. And in my travels to Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong and India, I learned a new use of the word ‘seagull.’ That’s what they called us Americans who, they said, flew in, shit on the locals and flew away again. None of my team-mates would ever say that I was a seagull of course. This is something that is very different when comparing the U.S. to the Far East. Despite my many mis-steps navigating Chinese and Japanese culture, they never once criticized me. Well, not to my face, anyway. Maybe I got a pass because they could see I was trying. I found my Japanese and Chinese colleagues fairly forgiving. (We never mixed much in Korea, during my two brief visits, though the local merchants were friendly.)
I say this is a big difference between the Asian countries and the U.S. as I see Americans as much more likely to ‘call’ someone on a misdeed. Heck I had a boss who would come to dinner at my house and make snarky comments about my gardening, or state of home repairs. A guest, no less. I miss the politesse of the far East and India. Perhaps I was in a Foreigner’s Bubble, but I’ll never know. Even when I asked my colleagues outright if I was blundering, they would never admit to my face that I was blowing it. And I knew I did sometimes, because I would see micro-expressions registering when I stumbled. Okay, there was one exception, in dealing with a partner company, those guys told our translator, with deep conviction and with some detail, that they thought we were complete idiots. I was certain from tone and body language. The translator of course told us a milder tale. But I digress.
One thing I learned was the ease at which a traveler can stir up unintended consequences and become a seagull. I used that idea in my novel (which I should have ready for pub this Fall). In it, the protagonist, Pat Hayden Jones travels to a far-off place and makes a horrible, horrible mistake in his eagerness to tweak the tail of his overlords. And although there is some foreshadowing that this act will come back to haunt him, the forewarning is subtle. So, this post is my stake in the ground: yes, the author recognizes the transgression. The character does not–yet. He will, in the third book in the series.