Thursday, November 10, 2005

International Business 101: Learning the Hard Way

At dinner last weekend, Chris regaled (yes, regaled) us with stories of his business travels overseas, especially within Japan. Every International Business 101 student has a theoretical understanding of the role of food in business in Japanese culture: trying it equals respect. And in business in Japan, respect is everything.

What they don't tell you, though, is just how far you might have to go to earn that respect. As Chris said, Fear Factor would have nothing on his job. Apparently every small town in Japan has some sort of raw fish specialty, and the Japanese like nothing better than to intently watch foreigners choke down their local delicacy.

Chris tried that potentially deadly blowfish, but that sounds like nothing compared to some of what he's had to endure. My favorite story was of a business dinner in a small town, somewhere in Japan. His hosts were excited to present him with the towns three delicacies. His translator (and friend) was equally excited, it sounded like, to laugh at him while he muddled his way through. What I want to know is: how exactly do gelled bee larvae, raw horsemeat and still squirming squid become delicacies? Who tries it first?

The best part of the story had to have been the squid. Raw squid seems pretty easy to eat, in the grand scheme of unfamiliar food. But not when it is so fresh that it starts squirming around in your soy sauce...and suctions itself to the inside of your cheek. Pure comic relief, really.

Listening to Chris' stories I felt a) happy that I'm not in Asian market sales and b) a little embarrassed that I play at being a foodie, but have no real desire to get all that experimental. I've read that Japan is a cook's paradise: amazingly fresh ingredients, purity of taste, etc. etc. But maybe a little too fresh for me, I'm thinking.

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