Thursday, May 28, 2009

Name Calling

I am aware that what I am about to say is going to leave room for you to call me a bee-atch. I'll take my chances. There is a Secretary who has been emailing me recently and calling me Green right off the bat. This niggles at my innermost core and honestly just pisses me off. Right up there with the whole come-to-my-desk-to-ask-me-to-do-something-and-not-even-say-hi-let-alone-introduce-yourself move that seems to be a favourite among some Professionals. Not very professional if you ask me, but what do I know, I'm just a salarygirl. So back to this Sec. I've never met her and she's all up in my face with "Dear Green" instead of "Dear Geisha-san," which I would really prefer seeing as I take the time to respectfully use "-san" with everyone I work with and would never call someone by their first name except for this one Sec who I am actually friends with. Who incidentally enough, is the one Rude Sec is copying. You see, the emails from Rude Sec are strangely similar to Friend Sec, leading me to believe that Friend Sec sent Rude Sec an example of the kind of email you can send to white salarygirl down the hall.

But instead of using her brain and thinking just over the edge of the box, she has taken the liberty to call me Green, when she should be calling me Geisha-san. Phew. What a fucking mouthful! In a perfect world we would all go around calling each other by our first names at the Kaisha but that's not done so I'm just playing by the rules. I guess since I am the exception to the rule at the Kaisha the rules don't apply to me. I tried signing my name at the end of an email "Green-Eyed Geisha" to give her a hint but no-go. Sec's head might explode if she tried to divert at all from the example email Friend Sec gave her and of course she couldn't possibly analyze the email content and decide that calling me by my first name wasn't really appropriate. CAN YOU SAY ROBOT LAND?! OK enough caps, I'm not Kanye.

I have learned many things about name calling in Japan, or rather the way you address those around you. I tried explaining it to my brother and his girlfriend last month in Paris when we were talking about how one would do such things in French. I ended up realizing how very muddled it is and even when you know it, you don't. It's like a fucking free for all that always manages to show you exactly where you stand among those around you.

When I first started with Japanese we used anata in simple sentences to mean "you", much as we would in English. While in Japan my teachers would discourage us from using it most of the time, claiming it could come off as rude and that we should be referring to someone in the 2nd person by using that person's name, essentially referring to them in the 3rd person. This would sound like we were talking to a child or the elderly in English. During this time I had anata used on me at places like the city hall when questions were being asked or by polite old people. Fast-forward to my first trip North with the beau where I discovered that family members often use anta among themselves and very liberally. Then there are the annoying women in soap operas who use anata with their husbands/lovers/boyfriends, which makes me want to vomit for some inexplicable reason.

The beau calls me Green-Eyed or honey, while I call him Beau or darling (and a host of pet names you don't want to know). Among Japanese couples it seems honey is used by the guy while darling is used by the girl but I don't know why or when this distinction was made (the movie "The Break-up" is called "Honey versus Darling" in Japanese). I get called omae when the beau is mad or is talking down to me. He knows it drives me crazy and I know it doesn't have to be offensive but I resent it nonetheless. I have taken to calling him omae on the last couple occasions I was mad but it just sounds stupid so I have since stopped. If I am being honest with myself I actually kind of like it when the beau calls me omae because I can pretend I am in some old-skool and patronizing relationship with a man who orders me around. I see the beau using omae with his younger brother and the part-timers who work for him when he wants to say you in a rough and emphatic way. I have seen the beau's mom call him and his brothers omae. I saw a guy in an elevator once dressing down his male assistant and snarling omae at him.

Big shock, many people here can't figure out which of my names is my first name and so when they should be calling me Geisha-san, they call me Green-san. It doesn't help that I introduce myself and sign off on emails using my first name when I should be using my last but I prefer people to call me Green.

I get introduced by the beau to his customers and others as Green-chan. I obviously don't call these people -chan although I do use -kun and -chan with the beaus friends in the same way he does. My place is obvious when people I barely know call me Green-chan but I guess it is kind of endearing so I should just shut-up and act cute. I introduce the beau to friends as Beau, although I always get a bit stuck introducing him to colleagues or people not in my posse. Luckily in Japanese I can usually say This is my boyfriend and the beau will then introduce himself using his last name. Why do I get stuck? Because it would sound weird introducing the beau by his last name since he is in my posse but I would expect those non-posse people to call him by his last name, just as he would them.

I call the beau's parents otousan and okaasan if I have to call them anything. But luckily I can work my way around that in Japanese most of the time. I call his younger brothers by their first names and the whole family calls me Green-chan. The beau's younger brothers should be calling him onii-chan but the one with loli-con calls him Beau because he has inferiority issues as the middle child.

The same loli-con brother once dated an ojou-sama which made us think his loli days were over. Obviously we were wrong. What do I mean by ojou-sama? I mean she was a "young lady from a good family" and what I really mean is that she acted like a spoiled put-upon princess. Anyway, she used to make steam come out of my ears when she called the beau onii-sama. I almost vomited all over her frilly white dress. I came this close to slapping her and explaining that she should just call the beau Beau-san or onii-san. She also spoke in a high-pitched voice and ordered the brother around like a small dog. Bitch drove me crazy, what can I say. I have never used -sama with anyone.

Last but not least I have seen young women referring to themselves in the 3rd person, which makes me want to cry tears of red hot scorn. In case the reason behind this is beyond you (it's beyond me), it is apparently cute and endearing to refer to yourself by your own name. A Japanese friend once explained it, calling the girls who did this Bri-chan. I think she said this Bri person was a famous celeb who had the above mentioned annoying habit and lucky for us, passed it down to Japanese girls everywhere. Either that or it has something to do with Britney Spears. Would you still read Green's blog if Green starting writing like this??


Lisa said...

Oh boy, I'm sure I have left a wake of offended people behind me in my two trips to Japan.

jo said...

at my old job, i made a conscious effort to address everyone with -sensei, even those younger than me or those who started working after me, but somehow being the foreigner meant i didn't get the same in return. sometimes i tried to convince myself that it was some indication of the "friendliness" of our relationship, but even on my most optimistic days, i knew it was a "foreigner thing."

if i'm calling you whatever-san, i kind of expect the same respect back. it does get fuzzy when you add in the senpai-kohai thing, where maybe it's natural for them not to use -san when referring to you. but, older teachers always added sensei when addressing younger teachers, just not when addressing me. hmph.

and even times when it was SO obvious i got shafted; all the teachers' names would be listed (with sensei attached) and then there was my name, sans sensei. (ooh, there's a good pun in there waiting to happen...)

anyway, yeah, it's such a double standard.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Lisa - I wouldn't worry, we get the gaijin get-out-of-jail free card which can be applied to most situations.

jo - I feel your pain. Is it a lack of respect or does our foreigness throw them so far off they can't remember basic social graces? I am truly at a loss as to why the same courtesies are not extended to us and how much of it is a conscious decision...

B said...

You could reply to her mail by using her first name, too...unless that is too much for the work situation.

Is that Bri thing same like "burikko" (women acting below their age)?
Burikko is supposed to be coined after Matsuda Seiko, but there are several theories (and a wikipedia entry if you want to read more lol)

illahee said...

these days i hardly notice. i tend to avoid actually going into banks or other offices, though, so no reason for my head to explode. when i was teaching i made a point of 'going by' my last name and was mostly howe-san, -sensei, and by the end of the second year or so, -chan. that last one was a bit weird.

yoshi and i use names. i mainly use his brother's name (as well as his wife--first names, but then they're younger). the in-laws, i try not to address them directly at all, but mostly i use okaasan and otousan. neighbors are good at calling me 'japanese last name'-san, so no complaints there.

now that i have small children, i often get called okaasan. i'm actually ok with that for the most part. and the other day at a BBQ with the family i got called 'okusan' a lot. i didn't feel talked down to, people were getting drunk and i think it's easier to remember someone's 'job' than their actual name in that situation!

as for women using the third person, totally agree with you on that one. i'd heard that it's cute because very small children often refer to themselves in the third person. yeah, nothing like making a grown woman into a child again to make the men feel all manly and in control and stuff. gag!

kathrynoh said...

It's so damn confusing.

I reckon people referring to themselves in the third person in any language is just wrong!

Anonymous said...

interesting..there was this japanese kid who talked in 3rd person... guess "Bri-chan" was the reason..

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

B - I actually did the opposite, thinking that if I called her "-san" maybe her brain would click. And thank you for the burriko note, that is exactly who I was talking about.

illahee - That's nice you and your husband still use each other's first name. I've seen a few families where the parents lose their first names after having kids and call each other mama/okaasan and papa/otousan..which would not go over so well with me personally. I wouldn't want to use those names with a spouse.

selena said...

I haven't run into this as much as the whole aisatsu thing.

I've been working at the same place for four years and there are STILL people who don't aisatsu me. I greet them; they look nervous, and stammer out a response as they look away.

I don't work in a big ass company, either. At any given time there are no more than six people in the office.

Social graces, indeed.