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Japan’s Top Voice: High, Polite and on the Phone

December 18, 2013

在日本,语音话务员大赛比拼电话礼仪

礼仪2013年12月18日
大谷美香和超过1.2万名日本职员,参与了电话应答竞赛,竞赛体现了日本的礼仪文化。

大谷美香和超过1.2万名日本职员,参与了电话应答竞赛,竞赛体现了日本的礼仪文化。

Kentaro Takahashi for The New York Times

SENDAI, Japan — The contestants roll their shoulders and lick their lips. The audience holds its breath. At the center of attention on stage at an expansive convention hall: a single telephone.

日本仙台——参赛选手们活动着肩膀,舔了舔嘴唇。在庞大的会议中心里,舞台上最受关注的是一部电话。

It rings. The annual All-Japan Phone-Answering Competition for office workers has begun.

电话响了。面向办公室职员的一年一度的比拼,“全日本电话应答竞赛”(All-Japan Phone-Answering Competition)现在开始了。

“How may I help you today?” a young contestant in a checked vest and skirt uniform says in Japanese after she picks up the phone, her hand visibly shaking. She chirps through the salutations in the high-pitched voice preferred by Japanese bosses for decades. She nods and bows, smiles and then grimaces in what appears to be nervousness and sheer effort. “I’m always at your service,” she says.

一位身穿格子马甲和制服裙的年轻参赛者拿起电话时,手显然在颤抖。她用日语说,“今天有什么可以帮到您?”她以日本老板们几十年来一直喜欢的高亢嗓音,欢快地讲出一串问候语。她点头、鞠躬、微笑,之后又摆出鬼脸,仿佛既是出于紧张,又在搜肠刮肚。她说,“很高兴为您效劳。”

For over a half-century, office workers from companies across Japan have gathered each year to battle it out for the title of Japan’s best phone answerer.

日本各地的公司职员,50多年来每年都会聚在一起,争夺全日本最优秀话务员的称号。

The competition, which is dominated by women, is an impressive showcase of feminine politeness and eloquence, but it is also a reminder of the clerical positions Japanese women — often referred to as “office ladies,” or “O.L.’s” — still serve in Japanese offices.

女性在这场角逐中占据了主导地位,它很好地展示了女性的礼貌和口才,可是也在提醒公众,在日本被称为“OL”的职场女性仍然在公司里从事着事务性的工作。

This year, a record 12,613 office workers from across Japan sought to compete in the national contest. Sixty finalists made it, all but four of them women.

今年,日本各地报名参加全国比赛的办公室职员达到了创记录的12613人,最后60名选手得以入围,入围者中只有四名男性。

Now in its 52nd year, the contest has surged in popularity in recent years. That is a puzzling development in a digital age dominated by emails and instant messaging and one in which Japanese women — ever so slowly — are finding more opportunities in the workplace.

今年已经办到第52届的这项比赛最近几年突然人气大增,这着实令人困惑。毕竟在当下的数字时代,电子邮件和即时消息唱着主角,而且日本女性在职场的机遇也多了起来(虽然进步仍然缓慢)。

Organizers of the event, which now draws over twice the number of contestants as it did a decade ago, attribute that popularity to the enduring importance of politeness here, as well as a growing concern among some employers that younger Japanese are forgetting their basic manners.

竞赛现在吸引的选手人数比十年前的两倍还多。组织者认为,竞赛受到欢迎的原因在于在日本彬彬有礼一直很重要,而且一些雇主越来越担心,日本的年青一代正在慢慢忘记基本的礼仪。

The rise of outsourcing and professional call centers, now almost a 700 billion yen ($6.85 billion) industry in Japan, has created a new industry based on professional phone answering, they say.

组织者说,服务外包及专业呼叫中心的兴起,催生了一个以专业的电话应答为基础的产业。现在,日本呼叫中心产业价值7000亿日元(约合412亿元人民币)。

今年在仙台举行的“全日本电话应答竞赛”有12613名选手参赛,人数创下了纪录。

今年在仙台举行的“全日本电话应答竞赛”有12613名选手参赛,人数创下了纪录。

“Opportunities for voice communication are decreasing every year, yet the number of contestants keeps increasing. That shows Japan’s commitment to phone manners will never fade,” Masayuki Yamamura, president of NTT East, one of the event’s corporate sponsors, said at the opening ceremony.

这场比赛的赞助企业之一,NTT东日本会社(NTT East)的社长山村雅之(Masayuki Yamamura)在开幕式上发言说,“语音交流的机会每年都在减少,然而参赛者的人数却一直在增加。这显示出日本对电话礼仪的执着永远不会消失。”

Formal phone answering is serious business in Japan, with many rules intended to head off offensive or awkward moments. A search on Amazon’s Japanese website found more than 60 books specifically on phone manners, and dozens more on business etiquette in general. Most appeared to be aimed at women, like “How to Talk Like a Workplace Beauty.”

在日本,正式的电话交流可是一件很严肃的事,有很多规则用来避免冒犯别人或出现尴尬时刻。在日本亚马逊(Amazon)网站上搜索一下,能够找到60多本专门讲电话礼仪的书,此外还有数十本讲商务礼仪的书,它们针对的似乎主要是女性读者,如《像职场丽人那样讲话》。

A polite office worker picks up calls during the first or second rings; if, for unavoidable reasons, the caller is left waiting for three rings or more, an apology is in order. The conversation itself is carried out in a formal, honorific spoken form of language — peppered with exclamations like “I’m horrified to ask this request, but ...” At the end of the call, the receptionist must listen for the caller to hang up before putting down the receiver. Hanging up first is a serious faux pas.

礼貌的职员会在电话响第一声或第二声时拿起电话,如果因为无法避免的原因,电话响了三声或更久,那么就需要道歉。谈话本身也需要以一种庄重、尊敬的语体进行,句中穿插着大量类似于“提出这样的请求,不胜惶恐之至……”的表述。通话结束时,话务员要听到致电者挂电话后,才能放下听筒,先挂电话会十分失礼。

Some experts explicitly tell women to speak in a higher voice than usual to sound feminine and energetic. “Think of the musical scale — do, re, mi, fa — and imagine speaking in fa,” says Akiko Mizuki, a business manner expert on AllAbout.com.

一些专家明确告诉女性,要用比平常更高的音调讲话,这样才能显得柔媚、有活力。AllAbout网站的商务礼仪专家美月明子(Akiko Mizuki)说,“想象一下音阶,哆来咪发,再想象用‘发’的音高来说话。”

“It’s very difficult to be polite but effortlessly so. If you sound like a robot, you can’t put the caller at ease,” said Keiko Nagashima, manager at a call center for SBI Securities in Tokyo, which has been sending workers to compete in the competition for the last five years.

在东京SBI证券的一所呼叫中心担任经理的长岛佳子(Keiko Nagashima)说,“很难做到礼貌但又不刻意,假如你听起来像个机器人,就不能让致电者放松。”这家公司过去五年里,每年都派员工参加竞赛。

Ms. Nagashima’s protégé, Mika Otani, trained six months for the competition by writing out sample answers and practicing in front of a mirror to make sure she was properly opening up her larynx and articulating. But Ms. Otani, 26, does not plan to simply follow tradition. She considers herself a modern woman and shuns the high-pitched voice. As more women have taken on professional positions in recent years, she said, there has been a backlash against overly squeaky voices.

长岛佳子手下的大谷美香(Mika Otani)为了参加竞赛培训了半年,她写出答案的范例,然后对着镜子练习,从而保证喉咙张开到了适当的程度并且口齿清晰。不过今年26岁的大谷美香并不打算直接沿袭传统,她认为自己是一个现代女性,所以没有使用尖锐的嗓音。她说,随着近些年来越来越多的女性开始占据了专业岗位,人们已经对过于尖锐的嗓音产生了反感。

“I work at a financial institution, so I don’t want to sound like a cartoon character,” Ms. Otani said before the competition.

大谷美香在竞赛前说,“我在一家金融机构工作,所以不想听起来像是一个卡通人物。”

Her attitude is a reflection of how the Japanese office is slowly changing and of how difficult reforming it has been. The entry of more women into more senior positions in the workplace has been helped by a 1986 gender equality law, which, at least on paper, prohibited discrimination at work. Yet almost three decades later, women hold just 11 percent of managerial jobs in Japan. Phone-answering remains very much a woman’s job at many Japanese offices.

她的态度反映了日本职场正在发生怎样的缓慢转变,也显示出变革的来之不易。更多的职场女性之所以能跻身较高的岗位,是受到了1986年一部性别平等法律的帮助,这部法律至少在纸面上禁止了工作场所的歧视。然而将近30年后,在日本的管理岗位中,女性只占据了11%。在很多日本公司,话务员在很大程度上都是女性的岗位。

“We’ve seen a lot of progress in the Japanese office over the years. But many women still remain in more supportive, clerical roles, while men dominate leadership positions,” said Machiko Osawa, an expert in women’s work issues at Japan Women’s University.

日本女子大学(Japan Women’s University)女性就业问题专家大泽真知子(Machiko Osawa)说,“这些年来我们在日本职场观察到了很大的进步。但很多女性仍然处在支持性、事务性较强的角色上,而男性则主导着领导职务。”

At the competition, Ms. Otani is among the first competitors. She nervously takes her place at a desk on center stage where the backdrop is painted to resemble a Japanese office. With one hand, she clutches the receiver, while she uses the other to keep time and maintain her rhythm.

在比赛中,大谷美香是最先上场的一批参赛者。她紧张地走到舞台中央的一个桌子前,她的位置上。舞台的布景已经装扮成了酷似日本办公室的样子。她用一只手拿起听筒,同时用另一只手计时,保持自己的节奏。

Each contestant runs through a three-minute conversation. Judges scrutinize the conversations for impeccable Japanese phone etiquette: good tone, volume, speed, pronunciation, articulation and use of words. A strong contestant takes appropriate pauses between phrases, and stays friendly, but not overly friendly. Throughout, proper exclamations to signal attention and empathy must be used.

每位参赛者要进行三分钟的对话。评委则根据细致入微的日本电话礼仪对谈话进行评判,包括良好的语气、音量、语速、发音、语调、遣词造句。有潜力的参赛者要在句子之间有适当的停顿,一直要口气友好,但又不能太友好。从头到尾都要用适度的感叹来表达关切,也要一直体谅致电者的情绪。

Ms. Otani’s conversation goes off without a hitch. Still, she later laments: “I wish I could do that over again! I wasn’t entirely focused and I think it showed.” She comes in among the top 20.

大谷美香的交谈进行得很顺利。可是比赛过后她还是惋惜地说:“要是能再来一次就好了!我并没有完全专注,我觉得表现出来了。”最后她得以跻身前二十名。

Other contestants stumble on delicate phrasing or lose their cool and grind to a dreaded silence, eliciting sympathetic gasps from the audience.

其他选手则要么在微妙的措辞上卡了壳,要么没能保持冷静,哑口无言地冷场,不时令台下的观众们同情地倒抽冷气。

Hidekazu Ishigaki of Osaka, a male employee of the air-conditioning maker Daikin, puts on an impressively eloquent performance. Later, he says that gender divisions are slowly breaking down as more women fill managerial jobs. Over the last five years, the number of women in senior management at Daikin has grown more than 50 percent.

来自大阪的石垣英一(Hidekazu Ishigaki)是空调制造商大金公司(Daikin)的男性职员,他在赛场上以口齿伶俐的表现令观众眼前一亮。赛后他说,性别鸿沟正在慢慢地消失,越来越多的女性走上了管理岗位。过去五年里,大金公司的高级管理岗位中,女性的人数已经提高了50%以上。

The other contestants are no match for Kiyomi Kusunoki, a call center operator for NTT, Japan’s giant telecommunications company. Her tone, polite greetings and pauses all fall perfectly into space. Later, at the lavish awards ceremony, complete with searchlights and a samurai show, she is declared Japan’s best phone answerer.

但没有哪个选手能比得上日本电信业巨擘NTT的呼叫中心话务员楠清美(Kiyomi Kusunoki)。她的语调、礼貌的问候语,以及句子间的停顿,全都完美无缺。颁奖典礼十分华丽,有闪耀的追光灯和武士表演。在颁奖典礼上,她被宣布是日本的最佳话务员。

It was in many ways a choice from another era because she followed all the conventions and rules, several contestants said.

几位参赛者说,从很多方面来看,她仍然是按照另一个时代的标准选出的,因为她遵循了所有的惯例和规则。

But, at least, Ms. Kusunoki did not speak in a squeaky voice.

不过,至少楠清美没有用尖利的嗓音讲话。

 

翻译:王童鹤