So then…he says, “How about sushi?” and I respond enthusiastically, “Sure!” – because how could I not? He’s the interviewer and I’m the interviewee.
Even though I’m 25 and live in Manhattan, my experience with raw fish dining is severely limited, since I was raised mostly down South where we prefer our meals cooked, battered, and deep-fried.
However, Ted clearly loves authentic Japanese fare, since he’s ducked into a dim-lit little restaurant whose patrons are all Japanese, except us, and whose menus are all in Japanese with no English subtitles. There are pictures though — and I desperately look for something that appears to have collided with flame at some point.
We sit at the counter. There are a few tables, but all in all, it’s a pretty small place. Ted passionately describes how fresh the fish is, how inventive the chefs are, and how the restaurant is so genuinely Japanese, the staff doesn’t even speak English. It’s clear he enjoys the cosmopolitan aura.
When the sushi chef comes over for our order, Ted lets loose an impressive list of exotic Japanese names for various raw fish.
I point to the picture of the chicken teriyaki.
While we wait, Ted asks about my current position, education, and interest in changing industries. I try to appear intelligent, dedicated, sophisticated, and witty.
He’s about 10 years older than me and has been working in the field I’d love to join, so I have lots of questions for him too.
When the meals arrive, Ted gleefully surveys his colorful platter of bite size sushi and deftly begins plucking away with his chopsticks.
My chicken teriyaki is in one large piece. It has not been pre-cut into thin little slices.
There is not a fork in sight. Nor a knife.
A quick scan of the restaurant confirms that no one here is using a knife and fork – and that such a request of the sushi chef would probably result in deep shame, loss of honor to family, and possibly hari-kari.
I’m too embarrassed to mime “knife and fork” to the chef, so I gamely pick up my chopsticks and try to corral the chicken into my mouth, while simultaneously answering Ted’s interview questions.
I manage to spear some thinly-sliced cucumbers which appear to be garnish, but I still can’t make any headway with the chicken. Finally I stab the chicken with one chopstick and start sawing off a piece with the other chopstick. I manage to make a little progress, but then suddenly, the sawing chopstick snaps in half with a deafening “CRACK!”
Time stands still.
Everyone in the restaurant turns toward me, sees my broken chopstick held aloft, and every self-respecting Japanese person shakes their head, rolls their eyes, and whispers “Gringo” to their companions. OK, maybe not “Gringo” literally – but whatever the Japanese word is for “dumdum Yankee who can’t even dine properly; someone bring her a Big Mac.”
I feel like such a hick. I turn bright red, but Ted, without even skipping a beat, just picks up another set of chopsticks and hands them to me, while continuing his next interview question.
I am so relieved! What a prince!
We finish the interview – I even manage a few bites of the chicken – and we walk back to his office. I collect my briefcase, hand him a clean copy of my resume, and thank him for the interview.
He smiles and says, “Yeah, it was really fun. Maybe we could have dinner together some time?”
This takes me by surprise. I was trying to exude the “please hire me” vibe – not the “please sex me up” vibe!
I shoot a look at the photo on his desk with his arms around a woman and two young kids.
I say, “Yeah, that’d be great. Will your wife be able to join us?”
His face falls and his eyes narrow. He’s trying to decide if I’m being deliberately obtuse or if I’m just genuinely naïve.
He coughs and murmurs, “Um, she doesn’t get into the City much.”
I want to say, “Well, I guess not, since you’re so busy dating.” But I hold my tongue.
I just smile cheerfully and tell him I look forward to hearing from him about the position.
I don’t get the job.
I do, however, learn to use chopsticks.
And I also learn to more nimbly thwart unwanted advances from current or prospective employers.
I find that a slightly regretful expression, combined with a heartfelt, “Oh, my fiancé’s so possessive about my evenings” is a fabulous face-saver for the colleague. It shuts down future invitations since I’ve just informed them of my pending nuptials – and it allows them the delusion that if it were not for my jealous fiancé, they would totally have a shot with me.
The only problem occurs if you get the job and after a while, someone asks why your fiancée doesn’t ever attend the company parties – in which case you’d have to consider hiring a fake fiancé for the events which is, of course, a rom-com in the making. So do that.
— Darcy Perdu
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(Can you share a story about an embarrassing dining experience? A job interview gone wrong? A boss or interviewer who asked you out?)