Nailed it! The Daily Battle of a Cross-Cultural Worker

I’ve been going through my old photos recently and I came across this. It’s some cookies that I made for a friend on his birthday a few years back. Can you guess what it is?


Yup, that in fact is a gingerbread version of the Fellowship of the Ring. I’m sure you’ll agree that I totally nailed it! Or possibly just in the ironic Pinterest use of the word.

Now if I am honest, this didn’t exactly turn out the way it looked in my head. I think the height ratios are roughly correct, and I am quite pleased with Gimli’s beard. But besides that… well, let’s just move on!

I’m sure you’ve had similar ‘nailed it!’ experiences? If not then you can leave now! Besides from those annoying super-competent folk, we all have those occasions where things don’t go as we planned. And especially so if you’re living in a new culture.

What does this mean? It means that for the cross-cultural worker everyday is a battle to nail incredibly simple and mundane tasks.

Take for instance the first time I tried to withdraw some money from my Japanese bank account. I’d only be in Japan for a couple of weeks. My bank account had just been set up, so I had a temporary bank book, but not yet a bank card. My cash was running a bit low, so I decided it best to go to the bank and take some out in person.

A fairly simple task. And yet it didn’t go quite as I imagined it would.

I did a quick recon mission to get the layout of the bank in my head, noting where the relevant forms and counters were (in hindsight, they may have thought I was planning a heist). The next day I took a few minutes at my apartment to go over the Japanese I would need for this task and set off.

I marched confidently into the bank, went to the cashier and told her in my polished Japanese, “I would like to withdraw some money please.” She helped me fill in the form, handed me an envelope with my requested amount of cash, and I sauntered back to my apartment.

Getting money out of my Japanese bank account? Nailed it!


It turns out that I had managed to communicate my desire perfectly…. Apart from the word ‘some.’ That’s right, as I counted out the money in my envelope I realised that I had withdrawn all of the money in my account.

Being a man I decided to do the honorable thing and pretend like that was my intention, storing the wad of notes in a teacup for easy access. Frankly, I don’t know why more people manage their finances that way.

But total disaster was averted by the fact that:

  • I had, thankfully, not closed down my account.
  • Japan is a cash-based society, so I had no direct-debits to worry about.
  • Break-ins are fairly rare in Japan, and I lived on the 6th floor.

In between that bank escapade and the aforementioned cookies I have had quite a number of ‘nailed it!’ experiences, both in Japan and the UK. I imagine they will continue.

The difference is that my UK ‘nailed it!’ moments tend to be when I try something special (OK, sometimes I throw the teabag in the sink and the teaspoon in the bin , but we all do that, right?) Whereas in Japan it is doing the unavoidable stuff: banking, shopping, traveling, making friends… these basic building blocks of life turn into bake-off challenges when you’re in a new culture.

Now these stories are generally quite funny. In hindsight, if not at the time. But I think it is easy to underestimate the stress they place on cross-cultural workers. When I used the phrase ‘daily battle’ in the title I was not going for dramatic effect so much as trying to convey the way it often feels to live in a new culture.

Anywho, more on that next time. For now I will just invite you share your own ‘nailed it! stories (photos welcome). If nothing else, it’ll make me feel less bad about myself!


10 thoughts on “Nailed it! The Daily Battle of a Cross-Cultural Worker

    1. Sando

      Oh there’s worse. I know *some people* who put the kettle on, take a teabag and once the kettle’s ready find themselves staring at an empty mug, wondering, “uh?? where’s my tea bag? pretty sure I got one out… Right, it’s Monday morning, so, let’s check the bin… *tadam*”


      1. beautifulsilliness

        That’s brilliant Sandra! My best one was getting butter out of the fridge, buttering my toast… And then throwing the butter straight into the sink (full of hot soapy water) as opposed to the knife… That could potentially have also been a Monday morning! 🙂
        This sharing session is making me feel a whole lot better! 😉


  1. Sando

    Can’t believe you’ve been hiding this baking beauty from us for so long. Also didn’t know there was a ghost in LOTR. (?!)

    On the actual topic, I’ll never forget the first time I got to work in Doncaster. I needed to get one of those super expensive buses in the morning and felt pretty confident as I had managed to get a weekly pass thing all by myself from the ticket office the day before. So I got on on the bus, said hello and went to find myself a seat when the bus driver yelled at me in a very thick Yorkshire accent (I understood about four words of what he said: “mate!” ticket” “show” “me”.) I apologised, told him this was my first time on an English bus and didn’t know you had to show passes to the driver. He wasn’t impressed and replied “Yerrr. I can see that.” (rude) Anyway I felt a bit stupid and I guess didn’t have time to tell him that my dad was a bus driver and that I’d spent my chilhood riding buses with him just for fun so I knew a thing or two about buses!!! Haha. I did learn something useful though, so all in all it wasn’t such a bad start.

    But yeah, when you live abroad attempts to achieve even the smallest everyday life things can be very intimidating.

    I just remembered a happy gaijin time when Cheriel and I decided to cross the road at a very quiet green traffic light in Japan, shouting “Proud to be a gaijin!!” (or something, whatever our “motto” was from that song?) The best part was the smiling Jpn cyclist behind who decided to follow us. 🙂 Also every time I managed to cycle my way to Karin’s place/OMF centre/Hokudai/tube station ALL BY MYSELF without getting lost or knocking someone/teammember off their bike, I felt pretty good too. ^_^

    Ps. If anyone is interested in reading about cross-cultural stuff I recommend a book by Sarah Lanier “From Foreign to Familiar”. Very insightful with some really interesting and funny cross-cultural stories.


  2. Helen C

    Levi, that bank story is hilarious! Getting onto a bus in Leeds once I saw the driver was looking at a piece of paper which had a bit of a map on it and an address written at the top. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but I said something like “I know where that is” and the driver handed me the map and said “Great! Can you explain to that guy where he needs to get off.” and pointed to someone. So I paid for my ticket and confidently sat down next to… the wrong guy… with this address in my hand, and told him he had to stay on the bus for two more stops and then get off!!! Oops. (Happily the right guy was in the row behind and so the puzzlement didn’t last long…)


    1. levibooth Post author

      That is also quite a brilliant story! I vaguely remember having experiences where I misunderstood who I was meant to talk to in Japan. At least you know you helped out one dude, and gave another a good story to tell his friends.


  3. Pingback: 5 Things I’m Praying For My Friend As She Moves Out To Japan | Reversed Thunder

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