By Sofie Coldenhoff
At the Front Office of Le Méridien, we have several collaborations with travel agencies. One of them is Japan to Malta. In my first week I helped with a checked-out of two Japanese women. As in the usual procedure, we asked them how their stay was at our Hotel & Spa. Then they suddenly did something I did not expect at all…
They started bowing with a big smile on their face, and my colleague started to bow along with them. I didn’t know what to do, I quickly decided to just join. And there we were: all together bowing at the front office. It had really a funny side for me what we were doing. But I kept professional, didn’t burst out laughing, and after a few seconds it came to an end. When the concierge guided the two women to their transport, the whole situation began to sink in slowly.
I was very curious about the meaning of this bowing, so I did some research. It’s believed that bowing in Japan started during with the introduction of Chinese Buddhism. According to those teachings, bowing was a direct reflection of status – if you met a person of higher social standing, you would put yourself in the more ‘vulnerable’ position of a bow.
In the modern Japanese society, bowing serves a variety of functions that go beyond this original intent. The correct Japanese bow can be a very complex matter. Social stage, age, experience and job position, all come into play into how deep and how long to bow. It conveys different emotions and serves a variety of functions, like for example greeting, thanking or apologizing. Fortunately they don’t expect foreigners to know about all this complex meanings and forms.
Some weeks later, I learned during an allocation training that status and hierarchy is extremely important in the Japanese corporate culture. This comes not only at expression with bowing. My manager told me that the Japanese guests with a higher social status, don’t prefer a room that is on a lower floor than the other Japanese guests. So for example, the tour leader is someone who works for the group so he/she is not allowed to have a room on a higher floor.
Looking back to my ‘funny’ experience, I did a good job by bowing along with the two Japanese women at the Front Office. Despite of the fact that the Japanese won’t expect you to know all the intricacies involved, with a small bow at the waist, you show them respect and appreciation towards their culture and beliefs. Luckily this was exactly what I decided to do in the moment. Who had ever expected that I learned so much about Japanese culture here in Malta!