Smack my bitch up

So, recently, my normally clinically undemonstrative boss, has taken to smacking me on the arse as he passes by. This change of pace in our working relationship has given me a little pause for thought. I'm not particularly shocked or offended by the new dynamic, nor do I think that my boss has in any way 'turned' (with me being the catalyst who converted him), but I simply can't help but be curious as to why the change has come about. Why that? Why now? And why me?

It has happened enough times now, that I know how I feel about it (fine), and how I feel comfortable reacting to it (turn, smile, greet, let it pass as normal behaviour), but I do find myself wondering about this thoughts as he goes through his little ritual; what is the intention behind the act? How does he feel as he smacks me? And how does he expect me to respond to his gesture?

In answer to the first of those questions I should say that, contrary to what you might think, physical contact between Japanese men who work alongside each other, is not uncommon. It does, however, usually happen away from the office. Japanese 'salarymen' work closely with their colleagues (it's all about teams here) and they often socialize together too, heading straight for the bar together after working late together. And it's there, and on the subsequent drunken walk to the station, where the physical contact usually occurs.

In considering why my boss had just smacked me (the first time he did it), I quickly realised that he wasn't chastising me, in lieu of no 'naughty corner' to send me to. Neither was he coming on to me, as surely he would have done so in a setting that would have allowed him to transmit his message less ambiguously, and given me a chance to respond with equal candour. There was no suggestion either, that this was some kind of power play, and it was one of his bitches that he was smacking. That's not to say that he doesn't engage in power plays (he does), or that he doesn't have 'bitches' (again, he does), it's just that he doesn't 'smack them up,' nor am I really one of them.

What I am though is a foreigner, in a foreign land; a guest worker, both a part of and apart from the company I work in. And my boss, as well as being my boss, also happens to be a caretaker, and one who really likes to take care of his staff. That includes me and all the other guest workers. He just wants his staff to integrate and gel, and having worked overseas himself, he knows how difficult that can be for some. So, just as we try to fit in, he tries to make us feel at home. His way of helping me fit in, among other things, is to come across to the water-cooler, smack me on the arse, make a comment about my team's performance at the weekend, and depart while telling me what a great job I'm doing. Fine. There are plenty of less satisfying interactions people have with their bosses, I reckon. If he's not embarrassed, I'm not embarrassed.

But I did wonder if it was just me he was easing through the trauma of integration. Fleetingly I thought I was the golden boy, but as soon as I started looking for them, I saw the signs that he was taking care of all us. David got a pat on the back and a comment about the family, Lee (the new boy) got his hair ruffled and some jibe about his not needing to shave yet, Adrian got a couple of questions about something techie and a friendly punch on the arm... and so on.

It turns out that I wasn't being slapped after all; I was being encouraged, included, vindicated, motivated, accepted. And anyway, I really can't complain. In the grand scheme of things, a slight sting in the tush, is way better than a poke in the eye or a kick in the nuts... or nothing. The sad truth is that some people never get their arse slapped. Luckily for me, I can only imagine the sense of alienation they must feel. Whether I'm your bitch or not, slap away I say.


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