Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm in Your Debt

Not long after returning to the States after 15 years abroad, I decided it might not be a bad idea to get another credit card.  I only had one, which I got just before going overseas, one that I didn't even use that often. But as we were trying to scrape out a new life on a very limited bank balance, I though that having a new card might help ease the pressure, if only for the moment.

To my surprise, I was turned down by the credit card company.  What was even more puzzling was the fact that I was applying for an REI card, the very company that I was working for at the time.  They had immediate access to my records, knew exactly what I was bringing home as pay, yet I was still deemed a risk. 

It didn't make sense. I had rarely used the one card that I did have, and was always careful about making payments.  In fact, for the last five years, I'd been paying my balance off in full every month. Before leaving for Japan in 1994, I wanted to leave clean, and had been diligent in paying off my students loans and in not owing any money to anyone.  This didn't make sense.

Then my wife was turned down for a card. As was another friend from Japan.  They too didn't owe any money either.

Then it dawned on me.  It was exactly because I was debt free that I was a risk.  This seemed pretty sick to me.   It's like you need to have a chain around your ankle before you ask for another to be put on your wrist.  I was back in a society that expected you to be live beyond your means.

And I saw an interesting parallel in how American's handle their personal relationships.  It comes back to the same instant gratification.  Americans need to win.  We see it in road rage, in the fist pumping chanting at the Olympics, in our entertainment, where insult and put down are used as the highest form of bon mot.   Yet a victory now will have to be paid back later in the form of time invested in healing a damaged relationship.

Back now in Japan, I've noticed that good relationships are an important part of doing business.  Whereas an American company will dump a business partner if things aren't financially lucrative, a Japanese business will note that the relationship isn't working well, and will attempt to work together to find a way to improve the situation. Even outside the business sphere, that oft criticized concept of tatemai, is a means of keeping good books in personal human interactions.

On the turntable: Beat Happening, "Jamboree"
On the nighttable:  Liza Dalby, "The Tale of Murasaki"

No comments: