Thursday, March 5, 2009

On being both sorry and thankful

I remember a discussion in a class somewhere, sometime, where we talked about apologizing for things, things that did not require apology, and how this was particularly prevalent among women. If there is one word I say more times during the day at the Kaisha it has got to be "sorry" (sumimasen to be precise, which can be used in a whole variety of exciting ways). The only other thing I say just as much is "thank you". I guess that makes me real fucking polite, a regular Polly Prissy Pants. No, it just speaks to the ridonculously large amount of times these words can be overused at a Japanese company (household, etc). I use the whole sorry-thank you combo so many times I have forgotten whether I am actually sorry, thankful, or neither of the above. It's turned into a catch-all phrase for me. Ask my secretary to do something? Sorry-thank you. Someone holds the door for me (in my dreams)? Sorry-thank you. The cleaning lady moves away from the sink so I can get water? Sorry-thank you. I'm opening the door from one side while someone is doing the same from the other? Sorry-thank you. You get the picture.

What's more, it is said in such rapid-fire succession and with such a sense of embarrassment. What's to be sorry, let alone embarrassed, about when you run into someone in a small hallway closed by doors on each end at your workplace? It's not strange, it's not sexy (oh, fancy meeting you here!), it's just inevitable. And yet I find myself hurrying through doors and thanking-sorrying people all day long with an imploring look in my eyes. I'm a great actress. It's exhausting. I wish we could be my definition of normal and just smile, say hello and move on. There is no reason for my day to be so excessively punctuated by apologies and thanks, where one could normally just smile, say thanks, or throw out a casu-friendly "sorry" when the situation requires it. Or instead of apologizing for something that requires thanks, simply thank the person bestowing the favour. Thanks for reading this. And sorry.


Reannon said...

Yeah......I feel your pain on that one. I hate it...always appologizing. Or worse, people always appologizing to me (it makes me so uncomfortable!) I feel like even though it's faked (on my part at least...what do I have to feel sorry about anyway?) after a while I find it wreaks havoc on my self-esteem. I've noticed that I'm not as confifent as I used to be. I feel like I'm appologizing for my mere existence, like, "I'm sorry for being alive".

I think it's worse with friends (or casual acquaintances that I had assumed were friends) because when they appologize for something trivial or insignificant I feel like it puts up a barrier, creates a distance. It's so formal...friends shouldn't have to appologize to one another all the time.

Anyways, from your blogs it seems like working for a Japanese company is just plain awful. Is there anything you like about it? (I don't mean that sarcastically...just curious). What makes you want to stay and live in Japan (besides your boyfriend?)?

Kira Petersson-Martin said...

I apologise instead of saying "thank you" on a regular basis. It's very frustrating for my partner.

"Why are you sorry?"
"For inconveniencing you?"
"Ugh, that's so annoying."

But a sorry-thank you... That's a whole new level of polity.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Reannon: I try not to keep it all on the surface, both when doing the apologizing and when receiving it, although I find it extremely frustrating to accept compliments the way you're supposed to here, by being self-deprecating. I think accepting compliments graciously is much nicer.

I think I need to throw in some positive posts! Negativity and sadness just lends itself more to humour and sarcasm than "nice stories" I guess. As for the Kaisha, all my fronting aside, I am grateful to have a good job and it is a means to an end for me, as I will be going back to school. I like Japan, I love Tokyo as a city, but there is still so much shit that bothers me and due to my overwhelming lack of close girlfriends, this blog is my outlet for that.

I'm not here permanently, although I suspect I will live here again in the future. I'm here for my job, improving my Japanese, the food and the attention that is paid to seasons here. What about you (I'm not being sarcastic either)?

Kira: Think of it this way, you'll fit right in when you come!

Julie said...

I love your blog so much. This is really true... I also loved when you wrote a long time ago about the little run that people do in office halls to show that they are really, really busy.

"Someone holds the door for me (in my dreams)? Sorry-thank you."

Katie Muffett said...

These posts have been very interesting to read. I'm just beginning to learn Japanese, primarily because I want to understand films and literature on my own (English translation doesn't cut it at all).

It's funny, a lot of the behaviours that seem frustrating/exasperating on here, I am completely used to by living in the UK. I'm an American/British dual national, and I've completely gotten used to apologising/expressing excessive thanks for everything. And the self-deprecating thing, particularly with compliments, is completely second nature. It's just kind of funny.

I think this would make it easier for me in Japanese culture than if I went there straight from America. The level of reserve (in British culture) and formality even in years-long friendships was a bit difficult for me at first, I adjusted to it fairly quickly. It seems like Brits and Japanese both do a lot of between-the-lines and unspoken communication, which definitely took some learning on my part. I think I'm a pro now! Also, I was never a very outgoing person anyway which likely made it easier.

There isn't the kind of constant, regular recognition of friendship as in America, but to be honest...I've actually found my friendships here to be deeper than back in the US (except for my American best friend). But again, I operate pretty quietly anyway.

Apologies if you're British and this doesn't tally, but I got the impression you were American or Canadian? (haha, just realised I apologised for that)

I also want to apologise for monopolising this comment in favour of my own British/Japanese comparisons...but I think you might justifiably hit me. Sumimasen!!!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Julie- I have actually started employing that run into my daily routine.

Katie- Interesting take on the British-Japanese parallels. I have definitely seen a lot of apologetic and thankful Brits but they didn't seem particularly uncomfortable or embarrassed, which is the feeling I get here.

What you said about reserve in friendships there also surprised me! One of my best friends is British and we are a little too unreserved together. I guess living there you get a better sampling!! As you can tell, I'm not British, but Canadian...kind of.