Thursday, April 8, 2010

Learning how to talk nice

This past weekend I went to see the annual geisha dances in Kagurazaka, a yearly ritual I have had since moving here. The beau even decided to escort me this year, despite feeling the same way about Japanese dance as I do his fishing game - meh. When it was finished we went out to a couple places in the area and happened to run into his kimono wholesaler customer, to whom I went for advice when I was purchasing my kimono a few months ago, at a bar. The beau was on a bathroom trip when the Wholesaler arrived, so he greeted him and affirmed that yes, that was his girlfriend sitting across the bar. When he returned, the beau, in true paternal fashion, told me to go and greet the Wholesaler, thanking him for his previously sought advice.

Now, I am not a child, and I like to think that despite my potty mouth and otherwise occasional questionable behaviour, I am pretty good in professional settings and around parents. My mouth and manners clean up real nice, so to speak. When it comes to Japanese however, I am constantly thinking about the wording I use with VIPs, and fretting that I'm not being polite enough. I wasn't even sure if the Wholesaler knew who I was, our visit at his office being so brief.

In true Japanese fashion, I wasn't even properly introduced to the Wholesaler when we went to him for advice. The beau had spoken of me to him before and he knew who I was, but there was no Wholesaler, meet G, G, meet Wholesaler. Because of this, I felt like I was in a don't-speak-until-spoken-to relationship with the man, and wasn't going to get up and brazenly interrupt his intimate conversation with his geisha companion just to say Whassup. I figured if he acknowledged me I could then start kotowing. Apparently this is not the case and the beau kept insisting that I get up and go over there. I eventually made him come with me to smooth out my entrance, and I launched into my politest thank you so much for the other day - thanks to you I was able to buy my kimono. A family sale? Why yes, please do me the favour of letting me know about it and I will certainly come by. Tra la la. My lovely friend who was with us also popped up and according to the beau's later assessment, led an excellent segue that landed her an invitation to the family sale too.

Later than evening, I asked the beau if my greeting had been appropriate. He said it was fine but this led us to further discussion on the ins and outs of etiquette here. I explained to him that had we been in Canada, I would have jumped up right away and said hello to the acquaintance, but this being Japan, I was unsure of how to act towards someone I had half-met once and as a result, felt it better to be seen and not heard. Apparently I was way off and should have immediately made my way over to him to pay my respects. I'm not sure what it is that paralyzes me but I think part of it has to do with feeling like my "respects" might be shaky to begin with and not wanting to bother the person, I wait until I'm spoken to. I would call this the "less is more approach." I now see the errors of my ways.

At another point in the evening I was struck completely by surprise when one of the geisha I know who had danced earlier that day, asked me if her performance had been OK. What do you even say to a professional like that? I was a bit dumbfounded and managed to mangle out a response, assuring her that it had been fantastic. Here too, things are a bit murky for me. At the dance she gave me profuse thanks for coming and I thanked her for arranging my ticket and told her that the dances had been great. Beyond this, how much am I to compliment her without sounding like a blithering idiot? This is one of the things I will just have to learn with time but I'm thinking I need to start being a little more vocal when my inner voice is telling me to shut up. For now, I can only dream of the day when my Japanese manners are so flawlessly executed it brings a tear to even the most steely polite Japanese woman.


Julie said...

Such a pleasure to read your posts now that you are posting more frequently again!

Sorry to sound so fangirly but I did go around read the entire archives in two days when I first discovered your blog!

I'm a Canadian girl living in Thailand, and so many of your stories of little details and everyday paranoias make me nod my head in recognition. Anyways, I enjoy reading everything you write. :-)

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Thanks Julie! I'm not sure how long I will be able to keep it up. I'm going to check out your blog now, it's always interesting to hear about women in other Asian countries!

Miss A said...

Hi(: I understand what you mean by not knowing how polite one should be when speaking / thanking someone. I've been studying Japanese and it used to amaze me when the Japanese would thank their seniors over and over again.

I like the Japanese culture, do not get me wrong. I like how the younger generation shows their respect to their elders / people more senior than them. Coming from an Asian country, I think that respect is important part of our culture and yet at the same time, it has to evolve slightly in the modern society (: [With that, I do not mean becoming slack.]

Western culture is more open and free. I think it has its good points too (:

Perhaps, you should try to relax a little more when expressing your gratitude. Let the words flow naturally instead of thinking too much. I'm sure you'll become more familiar with it after some time.

I really enjoy reading your posts and look forward to your updates(: It helps me to look at the culture of East and West and see things from a different perspective. I'm grateful for that. Thank you!

Apryl in Wonderland said...

Oh, to be so polite!

I've only been in Japan for 8 months - and did not learn the language I am at a disadvantage.

Usually I just try to put on my "grandparent" manners and be extra smiles and nods.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Miss A - Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I agree with the respect thing, not just for seniors but other people. However, I think with the respect, they lose spontaneity and genuineness. I will try to relax more and stop stressing - knowing the language/culture is one thing but giving up your own personality/heart to follow it religiously isn't good.

Apryl in Wonderland - Body language works, especially smiles. In fact, I think it conveys much more than the rote phrases do.