Speak up, gaijin-san! Don’t be shy.

What is better than a talking dog? A talking dog that performs for an audience. Welcome to Japan, we hope you like performing. 

If you’re a Foreigner With a Job, chances are that you’ll be called upon to hold impromptu speeches for your Japanese colleagues, bosses, friends, and their cats. Why, you ask? Because your Japanese boss likes nothing better than to show off his domesticated gaijin to his peers.

It was such a day that saw me accompanying my boss to a high school entrance ceremony. We caused an immediate stir – nothing unexpected, mind you – just the regular gaijin gawking.

Being a hardened gaijin-in-a-small town veteran of one year, this level of attention didn’t faze me. Not even close. My unsuspecting self smiled at the little high schoolers, recalling my own high school years with a certain measure of unease (let’s just say I wasn’t the best of students).

As the tedious ceremony dragged on, I let myself be lulled into a false sense of security. That is, until the MC said something that immediately caught my attention.

“…foreigner all the way from Sweden!”

I felt the world shift into focus as 900 pairs of eyes turned to look at me. Gulp.

“…and it’s my honour to welcome her up on stage, as she has kindly agreed to share her experiences and give you life advice.”

What? Life advice? Me? I shot my boss a desperate look, but his insincere smile and icy gaze quickly quenched any hope I may have had.

“Stand. Up,” he said through clenched teeth, “and don’t you dare make me lose face.”

Only 900 people. No biggie.

The well-groomed gaijin that I was, I stood up to obey. My legs walked slowly towards the stage while my brain was frantically trying to piece together a speech in 30 seconds. In Japanese. My fourth language.

Moreover, I am not what you’d call an inspirational person. For one, I failed high school and spent the subsequent year locked inside playing games. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But there I was, expected to ignite the hopes and dreams of 900 Japanese high schoolers. 15 seconds left to find the inspiring TED talk angle…10…5…

I grabbed the mic and just like that, my inner mythomaniac took over. I don’t remember a word of what I said, but I must have sprouted some quite impressive lies because at the end of it, my boss’s grin assured me that his face was intact. Saved, in fact.

After that highly unpleasant experience I learned my lesson: always be prepared for danger – you just never know when a gaijin speech will be required.

But after a few drinks, you might forget this important truth (especially when you’re on mandatory happy hours with your colleagues). And after yet another round of drinks, you might even forget why you are there. But it is not until you are completely smashed that your boss will call upon you to hold a you-know-what.

The best part about the nomikai speech is that you’ll probably be too drunk to be nervous. The worst part is that you will eventually sober up and remember it.

So what is a shy gaijin with stage fright supposed to do, then? Well, as a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to praise Japan – a lot. Can’t go wrong with that. And even if you do manage to say stupid things you’ll end up regretting for the rest of your life, your audience will probably forgive you. Because let’s face it, even a talking dog is just a dog at the end of the day.

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