Thursday, January 21, 2010

Foreign accents as the new must-have accessory

As is inevitable when everyone around you is reflecting back on the decade, I've been doing a little myself. I started in 2000 when I was 16 and have gotten stuck there, my mind refusing to budge forward from that sweet, sweet time. Still a fairly new transplant to Canada, I found that turning on my Kiwi accent was an excellent way to garner attention, particularly from the male sex. Neither of my two accents had availed themselves to me so favourably before but when I was 16, I used my adopted "foreign" accent to charm a handsome member of the football team and a university student who should have known better.

I don't recall whether it was ever a conscious decision, but from my first day at primary school in New Zealand, my five year-old self was acutely aware that I was not speaking the same language as the bare-footed children running around me. I don't personally remember the bare-footed part but have adopted this memory as my own after hearing my mom (mum if you will) recollect the mild horror she experienced seeing all the primary school children running around bare-foot in winter. We weren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The first time I had to consciously turn on my Kiwi accent was on Canadian soil, where I knew if I didn't concentrate, I would effortlessly slip into my generic North American one. Growing up it was a different story, at school I went native Kiwi and at home I used the same accent as my parents and it was only when they pointed out that they couldn't recognize my voice at a public-speaking event at school, did I become fully aware of my accent schizophrenia. I still don't know where I'm from.

For all the years spent unconsciously polishing my accent like the good silver, it didn't take long to give it up when I was no longer around people who don't pronounce "r" at the end of words. I dabbled in my Kiwi accent during the first year in Canada, but gave it up for good shortly after my sixteenth birthday. I don't know if that's what charmed the university student six years my senior and home on winter break, if I was just sooo cute with my quaint little accent from the South Pacific, but I never went out with him more than once. Either way, with the exception of probably very few, you must question the third-year college student who is interested in a 16 year-old high schooler.

It was easier to drop the accent, which had become a vestigial appendage in my new high school with lockers, no uniforms and lunches off school premises ("like in the movies" my girlfriends in NZ would say). I met my high school sweetheart and there was no need for a trendy foreign accent, we were so tangled up in each other.

I don't know if I would use ironic to describe my current situation, but speaking almost exclusively to my partner in a language not my own is certainly something. Fill in the blank. I do my best to not speak Japanese with a North American accent, but I highly doubt the beau finds my "foreign" accent sexy. There is nothing sexy about me speaking Japanese, for tell me, what does sexy in Japanese look like for members of the fairer sex? High pitched squeals? Certain Japanese men are damn sexy when they talk (have I mentioned my penchant for rolled r's??), but what about when they are speaking English? English spoken with an Asian accent is generally not romanticized by us in the West (it is the stuff of badly played stereotypes). Think about references to sexy foreign accents in film, books and conversations. The Europeans, British, Kiwis and Aussies have a monopoly on it!

Can you picture your friend saying, "his sexy Japanese accent made me swoon"? Her broken English may be cute, but do you think it's sexy? (Don't answer if you are turned on by the phrase "me love you long time".) In becoming accustomed to speaking another language, it is so easy to forget that you very well may have a foreign accent, dashing or not. While the beau's English is charmingly brokedown, I don't think of him as him on the rare occasion he attempts English; he becomes another person, with a new tone of voice and the dynamic of our relationship experiences a power switch as I become the language authority. This took me a while to figure out and in making this discovery, realized that while I can hold a conversation with him in Japanese, I'm the one speaking a second language, I'm the one making grammatical errors and sometimes butchering words. How can the beau stand this? I will be sure to ask him one day soon, for I don't know how tolerant I would be if the situation was reversed and it was the beau with the foreign accent. I'd like to think I would be patient and kind, but if I am honest with myself, I quite possibly wouldn't get involved with someone who loses part of their humor, intelligence and sexiness by simply speaking a language not their own.

While I have gained another foreign accent in recent years, it is with more trepidation that I consider it, for I will never be able to truly gauge just how much of me is being lost by living in Japanese with the beau, a compartment of my life where it is arguably the most important to be yourself. I am confident that most of me translates, if not through words then through non-verbal means, but I worry that I lose my funny quips in Japanese and my maturity, and that the beau will never be able to know the part that doesn't translate. On bad days, it feels quite tragic.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kimono blues

My kimono school Principal is taking me to a kimono wholesaler this weekend, and the wholesaler in question is opening only for our visit. I am shaking in my zori.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Being in the water trade, the beau knows some of the cooler movers and shakers in society, like traditional pudding makers and owners of kimono wholesale businesses. At the end of last year, a customer of the beau's in the kimono biz invited us to visit him in the new year and have kimono made. He promised to give a discount and not to pussy-foot around prices, something kimono wholesalers are oftentimes notorious for. This is obviously a fantastic opportunity but has yet to eventuate. Nonetheless, I have been looking forward to having a kimono made to my measurements. Whoever started the trend in guidebooks of stating that kimono are one size fits all should be shot. One size doth not fit all. If anything, having a kimono made involves the taking of more measurements than it would take to tailor a dress. Measurements you can't even fathom but that all come together to make a kimono that fits you perfectly and has a small amount of room to order preferences of collar width, etc.

Now that I have been at my school for almost two years, I feel guilty wanting to wear some of the used kimono I have, knowing perfectly well that the sleeve length is too short or the length unforgiving. I know I shouldn't, for if young people don't loosen the rules a little (and the older generation allow for this), the pleasure and custom of wearing kimono will simply die out. My school isn't strict per se, but if the subject of wearing colorful antique kimono of the wrong size comes up, my teachers say it's too bad (they too are too big for some older kimono) rather than bend the rules.

Where does this long preamble bring us? Ah yes, to my last lesson. My teacher had me agree to a date for my certification test and then casually drops that I need to be in formal kimono, because you know, I have at least 10 folded up and waiting in my closet. Upon learning that I don't have one (which frankly isn't much of an imagination stretch), she tells me to wait and discuss it with the Principal. This is where I quite possibly made a fatal mistake. Unthinkingly, I told both women that I planned to have a kimono made at some point this year, but as of yet hadn't begun thinking about it. I will never know whether if I had kept my mouth shut they would have come up with another solution for me, or whether what followed was simply inevitable.

The Principal immediately started talking about making me an appointment at a wholesaler to pick out some silk and have a kimono made for the upcoming test. Really, what could I say to that? In the real world, lots. In Japan, a whole lot of nothing. Before I knew it, I had agreed to meet the Principal this weekend and go to the wholesaler together to pick something out. It happened so fast I don't recall there ever being a point where I was asked if I wanted to make a kimono in less than three weeks, but I'm fairly confident there wasn't. Things didn't slow down until I asked the Principal how much I should expect to pay for a decent but lower end formal kimono. When she told me, things went into slow-mo and her voice suddenly got as low as a man's. Nearly 200,000 yen. I have to write it small so that I might stop thinking about how BIG it is.

That is more than one month's rent. A week-long getaway for two to Thailand. 110 trips to the cinema. 133 glasses of champagne at Orange. 2000 orders of small fries at McDick's. And yes, as someone will surely tell me, a lifetime of enjoyment wearing it. If I got married, I wouldn't even buy a wedding dress for that much! If I were to do a cost-per-wear analysis, I would have to go hungry on the days I wear the kimono, for my food budget for the day will have been eaten (haha) up by the money-killing monster kimono. THE HORROR!

All of this of course flooded into my mind as my school building receded further into the distance behind me. I waffled between stressing over what to say if I don't find something I like at the wholesaler and soft, polite anger at my teachers for not telling me well in advance that I would need a formal kimono, for not offering an alternative solution and finally, for assuming that I have yen sewn into my mattress with which to order a kimono at the drop of a hat. I don't blame them however, for I doubt they lay awake nights wondering whether I, lone whitie of the Kaisha and lacking a Japanese mother, have a formal kimono. I do question their sanity a little, in thinking that I will so easily have a formal kimono made for my test at the end of the month. It seems a few other students have done so in the past, but I have to wonder if they went hungry for the months post-test in order to pay for their new kimono.

Because kimono has become less and less common, the environment surrounding it has become a bit stiff in some regards and not a littly hoity toity. In my conversations, I've learned that there is a nervous aura surrounding a visit to a wholesaler or kimono store, which leads to women feeling pressured to make exorbitant impulse purchases. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the above alleged students felt pressured to buy something and felt they couldn't walk out empty-handed. My school is not commercial by any means, nor have my teachers given instructions on what to buy before, but the fact that the Principal seems to equate my visit to the wholesaler with a kimono ready to wear in three weeks has me worried.

I don't feel I should have to cancel this weekend, as the opportunity to visit a wholesaler is not one that comes along often, but I am a little wary of the fallout if I don't find something I would go hungry for. For that really, has to be the criteria when it comes to making such an expensive decision. Maybe if faced with square one again, my teachers will offer a less frenzied and expensive solution. And if not, I'll have another blog on my hands.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Meet Baby Mama

Or perhaps I should have entitled this, how to turn 100 yen into 100,000 yen

After some additional terse phone calls, it was decided that the beau and I would act as family ambassadors and meet with Baby Daddy and Baby Mama on behalf of the beau's parents. This obviously thrilled me to no end, for who would scoff at a chance to become involved in a family drama that is not one's own?

I took my role very seriously and in an effort to project an appropriate level of welcome-to-the-family hotness, went with a new little black dress, purple peep-toes and a fur-trim cocktail coat. If there was one thing I wasn't going to be apart from Japanese, it's out-dressed. We had heard from BD that the future mother of his child is very pretty and as he said in Japanese, a girlfriend one can be proud of. Being from Saitama, I figured this could go either way (apologies yet again to anyone in Saitama).

Before heading out to meet them, the beau held a last minute conference call with his parents, and from his answers I can only assume they were telling him to find out every last detail they wanted to know.

Well, find out we did. The beau allowed us momentary pause after the first kanpai before he kicked off the interrogation. Questions were asked and answered, allowing us to ascertain BM's age, occupation, the occupations of her parents, marital status of her siblings, food dislikes and religion. That last bit was found out rather by fashion accident, for in addition to a simple cotton black dress, BM had adorned her chest with a crucifix, which made the beau feel entitled to ask if it meant she was Christian. As I'm sure you have guessed, she isn't and we were informed the cross has no meaning. My memory is a bit hazy but I may have even echoed this sentiment with murmurs of assent, or even ACTUAL WORDS to the effect that this is what the girls are wearing these days. My sparkling wine must have been spiked, for as you can also guess, I am not an advocate of wearing crucifixes (crucifixi?!) unless you want to reference your homeboy JC. We'll call it a Madonna lapse for now.

Apparently one sunny day not so long ago (literally), BD met BM at the liquor store she works at and that was that. Baby made, wedding planned. Charming story really. I will give BD some credit however, for he did present BM with a ring on her birthday which, even if it wasn't then, is now an engagement ring. This is before the unimmaculate conception so at least we know they kind of like each other. I really couldn't care less whether their baby is born out of wedlock or not, but it is of some comfort to know they are not getting married simply because you apparently can't tell a 27 year-old to get an abortion (more on this fascinating fun fact in a later post) .

We had quite a pleasant evening actually, save for a harshly worded soliloquy by the beau strongly urging BD to stop acting like a pussy and arrange for his parents to meet those of BM. I admit I was quite taken with the speech, and had to agree that BD needs to grab this situation by the balls and begin acting like an adult. This includes involving his parents and ensuring they don't feel completely left out of everything way up in snowy Aomori. I feel for them, for BD expects them to listen, nod and show up at the wedding with bells on, without allowing any room for the inevitable shock that set in upon receiving that first phone call.

BM seems nice enough, although I really didn't get much of anything from her, which is to be expected from a first meeting under the circumstances. She doesn't like vegetables and is far too thin for someone growing someone else (not acceptable and average Japanese woman size, but bones-visible size), but apart from that I didn't glean much else from the meeting. I could snarkily break down her face for you, her dress sense and her overall demeanour, but really, what's the point.

The conversation did take an unexpected and juicy turn when the beau suddenly began asking about the technical details of this unimmaculate conception. Not just whether a condom was used or not (negative, as if you even need to ask), but whether BD forgot to pull out or JUST EXACTLY WHAT WENT DOWN. A lengthy and extremely scientific discussion ensued, whereby I learned that the sex of babies is determined by how far into a woman the sperm is deposited. Lovely imagery there as I am eating small deep-fried white fish while by this point, sucking back the wine.

Although the wedding date has not yet been set, I have been invited, which is fairly exciting given partners are often not invited here. If I had a laptop that wasn't a heavy-breathing monstrosity that can't hold up its own screen, I would blog live from the inner depths of the wedding, where no unwed whitie has gone before. This is going to be exciting people! BM in true fashion, does not want to have the wedding in some hall in Saitama, but would prefer a hotel wedding in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. If I could get past the yen signs, I would stare straight into her eyes and tell her maybe she should have done a little family planning 8 weeks ago if she thought she wanted a hotel wedding. In less than 3 months. In Shinjuku. Japan. Overpopulation. Must reserve well in advance. You get the picture.

If you were to peel back the snark, you would find that I really like BD, and always have. Ever since meeting him, we have gotten along famously and he is always quick to make sure I am well fed and taken care of at his parent's house and his restaurant. His lolicon did have me worried at times but at the end of the day, I just want what's best for him, even if it comes in the form of someone questionably younger (which BM is not). I'm not against shotgun weddings or babies, but as someone who believes strongly in the use of contraception by those with access to it, I can't help but find this whole situation a bit ridiculous. The choices that people make are theirs alone and while I do truly hope this thing works out for BD and BM, I will unfortunately have to continue with my running commentary. It's simply too good to pass up.

I will now leave you with an equation representing this situation as it directly relates to me:

A + B = C, where A is the decision not to spend 100 yen on a condom, B is the decision to have unprotected sex, and C is a monetary value of 100,000 yen that will be given by the beau as a mandatory wedding present, a kind of fine if you will, for the irresponsible stupidity of his brother. More on the joy of giving money at Japanese weddings next!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Please bestow your favour upon me this year too

Happy New Year, dear readers. I have been waiting for Tokyo Metro to upload their new manner poster and even tried to snap a picture of one as I drunkenly and yet deftly hopped on the train after a double date plus one. As I discovered upon inspecting my phone once the doors closed, my attempt was a failure. Nevertheless, I present to you the January edition of the subway manner posters.

The creepy-sweepy couple still figure prominently and are as horrified-looking as ever at the depicted yoho's utter lack of social graces. I say at least he doesn't smell like rotting garlic from the previous night's yakiniku piss fest. Any one else think the young hooligan's crossed ankles look a tad unnatural?

I've gotten away relatively unscathed from the incessant New Year's greetings at the Kaisha because, as I pointed out at the end of last year, apparently ostracizing me is still very 2010. I also don't think befriending me figured too highly among weight-loss, marriage and pregnancy on the Secretaries' resolution lists for the year of the tiger. Ho-hum.

For those of us at the Kaisha whose social interaction consists of more than that with the computer, Sound Princess and elevator, one must bow and wish a happy new year to every one they know the first time they meet in the new year. And then implore their favour in the coming year. It's all fairly awk and looking at the wave of relief on people's faces when this quaint little exchange is over, you would think they had received a royal pardon from being executed. I did the dance with a couple poor souls, but the big surprise was the spitting-distance Secretary who only deigned to give me and our other quad-mate a good morning! This really did surprise me, neuroses aside, as despite her possible horror at having to truly breathe the same air as me, not greeting people in the prescribed manner is quite the faux pas. Familiarity has nothing to do with it either I have found, as I observed the beau's parents and his cousins on their knees and bending to the floor in bows one January 1st.

As with many Japanese companies, we were all knocking back sake at 9am the first day back at work. This isn't as bad as it sounds, I just wrote that for shock value. It's marginally better. Every year there is a small ceremony in the morning, where six lucky Secretaries are dressed in furisode and instructed to flank our venerable shacho (company president) as he delivers the opening speech of the new year. They then do the kagami-biraki breaking open of a cask of sake (more like a drum) and we all toast to the new year. I opted for some juice but happened to notice some bottles of Asahi Superdry so I don't doubt that someone was sculling back free beer under their desk before noon.

Over the break I got to meet Baby Mama, so stay tuned for that shebang. May your 2010 be filled with good manners!