Thursday, February 24, 2011

A lesson in communication

or was it compassion? I get the two so mixed up these days.

It's a well known fact that I am a territorial ho and have been feeling a little put out recently to hear Baby Mama talking to the beau's parents using informal language, even going so far as to call them mama and papa. If you held a truth gun to my head, I would tell you hearing her address them in that way makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Despite my interpreting duties at our recent international conference, I tried to keep one ear on BM to gather more evidence in my favour. I haven't yet worked out how exactly this is in my favour.

In our post-conference debriefing, I lamented for the annoyingth time that BM was all up in their informal grill and woe is me the left behind whitie who will never truly be part of the family. Why the beau decided to finally set me straight on the subject, I will never know, but I have a strong inkling it's because I am so persistent, if not an annoying motherfucker, on the subject. I won't lie and say that I don't know why I feel so done wrong by - I am an accomplished young lady, docile when I want to be - because it's pretty obvious and fairly pathetic. I've been trumped by a baby. The wedding was one thing, the official signing of papers does nothing to one-up my history with the beau, particularly since I haven't given anyone the impression that I am gagging to get my kokkon (read cock-on). So why this feeling when I don't even want children of my own at the moment? Because I can't beat a granddaughter at this stage without producing one myself. The beau sits at the top of a line of boys, each one expected to be a girl. The beau's parents were dying for a daughter and while I am an OK substitute, a granddaughter (and her mother) is some tough competition.

So there we were, me whining like a door coming off its hinges and the beau setting me straight. According to him, BM's casual form of speaking and address is her strategy for getting in with the family. I've had years to do so, but as someone suddenly married and producing offspring with no prior contact, she uses informality to try and get closer, faster. And to show that she is a kind and easy-going person. Does this mean I should have been employing informal language all along? No. It was then pointed out to me that the beau's parents get that I take pains to speak politely to them and realize what a challenge that is, which now that I have heard it, I wonder why I would have ever thought otherwise. Of course they understand the implications of the way I address them, they are Japanese of a certain generation. Just because they aren't giving me a running commentary on what they are taking note of while we are all together, they do see what's going on.

Now, should I continue on in the same way when I speak with them? Not necessarily. The beau thinks they would be thrilled to be addressed by me as mama and papa, because it denotes a certain closeness. While okaasan and otoosan is fine and perfectly appropriate, I can get away with the more informal versions. How to do this without feeling weird? If they were so attuned to my utterances before, would this not seem like a sudden move? I do not know. But I have made a point to start addressing them this way when I email them, and when we are in person, I am going to start making an effort to use informal language, even if it feels wrong at first.

I had always wondered at what point it would be appropriate for me to speak casually with the beau's parents, mostly because they are so laid back with me and it feels utterly awkward to be the only person in a group using polite forms of Japanese. We'll see how it goes. I have to say that at the end of our conversation, I felt a little bad for BM, she's just trying to make it through what is a pretty fucking awkward situation - god knows what's going through her head - and her communication style speaks to the pains she is going to to ingratiate herself with everyone (granted, I prefer to be called "princess" rather than "G-chan"). The beau's parents brought an amazeballs gift for my parents, which I will talk about another time, but suffice to say, neither BM or her family is getting anything similar. This, the beau told me, speaks to his parents' affection for me - that they would offer such a gift on meeting my parents for the first time (and no ring on it). This could not have failed to make an impression on BM, so I think it's time to cut her some slack. I certainly won't be dialing down the snark, but I will try to be a little more thoughtful when it comes to viewing her as someone to admonish.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's a family affair

In last week's Last Word from Metropolis, Tokyo's purveyor of all things cultural and hip to today's generation of expat taste makers, the author in his post-apocalyptic vision of Japan predicted: "The number of international marriages will explode, leading the mass media to coin a cute word for them." How can there not already be a cute word for international marriages? They are the hot new way of the future, aren't they? I put forward to you "kokkon," which is an interbreeding of the words "kokusai" (international) and "kekkon" (marriage), pronounced cock-on. Feel free to pepper your speech with it, dear readers. I don't expect it to garner the widespread use that Dan Savage's "Santorum" has, but we can still try to fertilize the shit out of our conversations with it. Alternatively, if you have a better idea (which won't be super hard), holler at me in the comments.

And speaking of kokkon, families beau and geisha did sit down as planned and try to hammer out a deal for the transfer of one white disobedient office ho'. Me, in other words. It wasn't half as barbaric as I expected and they didn't even look at the size of my ankles when deciding on a fair price. Weddings and concrete plans were hardly touched on at all in fact(thanks for attending BM and BD!!), and the conversation remained fairly close to the surface most of the time. I can barely remember what we talked about, which is the occupational hazard of the sole interpreter in the room ("yes dad, let me just explain to them that you were only joking about going to a sento together"). Instead of thinking about lulls in the conversation as awkward, I simply took the opportunity to suck down some more alcohol, which the beau was sure to ply me with as well as securing a steady supply of food to my plate. I'm surprised he didn't just start feeding me from his chopsticks quite frankly. The one time I snuck off to the bathroom, I came back to the whole table trying to look up "Saitama" in my old crusty electronic dictionary (definition: don't go!) and debating the finer points of whether a yakiniku joint should be called a restaurant or a yakunikuya-san ("yakiniku joint"). As you can see, there wasn't much time for emotional chow-chow about the future.

A few notes my addled brain managed to take:

-Do not sit at the end of the table when you are the centre of attention

-DO sit between your parents so that one doesn't miss out on entire chunks of conversation

-DO eat at a restaurant where dishes are shared

-DO drink alcohol

-Do not allow babies, unless you want to provide a cute focus for conversational dead air

-Do not not discuss seating arrangements beforehand

-Do not worry about what the fuck you are saying in Japanese, trust that whatever mangled shit you've pooped out will have to suffice

-Do not plan to bring a photo album of snaps of you and your lover from the past few years (both as conversational fodder and an old "fuck you" to those in the family who may have had a shotgun coupling) and then run out of time to make one

-Do explain to your parents beforehand that any comments not satisfactory to the interpreter will be censored out (see: comments about naked communal bathing)

-Do think of a few conversational topics to interject with if the need arises

-Do not beat yourself up about it when those topics fly out the window as soon as you start translating for everyone

-Do come to peace with the fact that some stuff once processed through your dirty and perfunctory mind and mouth will simply not sound as interesting as it did in its original language

I really wish the beau and I could have attended the much more sombre and official Meeting of the Parents 2010 for BM and BD, just so I would have some frame of reference for what one of these affairs might look like for a 100% Yamato Coupling (trademark pending), minus the oven bun and plus way more time getting to know each other. I entered into this wondering whether it would be easier or harder being a mixed couple with no language crossover. It seemed like it could go either way: harder because of those language and cultural barriers that bring people who share them together, or easier because of the same differences and freedom from having to act according to the dictates of Japanese manners and decorum. I now see, and probably could have foreseen then, that none of that really matters, much of it depends on how naturally people gel with each other. Still, I find myself fervently wishing that there was a magic language potion. My family is incredibly dear to me and it's deflating knowing that in the future, new members of my family will not be able to communicate with the original members. I suppose though, that I could just as easily have ended up with someone from a family of royal assholes, in which case speaking different languages would seem like a blessing.

I came away from the evening with about a thousand feelings all nattering away inside my head deconstructing what could have been said, what wasn't, and the meaning behind what was. I'm not really in a fair position to judge the evening, it wasn't for me after all, and if I were to go by the glowing reports from each side received later, I would say it went very well. There's nothing specific I would have changed (the inclusion of BM and BD maybe, and that's a very big maybe), except maybe my great expectations. I didn't think we would all go riding off into the sunset together in a stretch limo but I did have some private inarticulated expectations about the evening. If I can try to look at it with some distance, it did go well and I'm not sure what kind of amazing experience and conversation I thought would take place by putting these two caring families together with no common language for one night (one night only!), not to meet again for the foreseeable future. It can't all be accomplished in the space of three hours and you are a fool to think it can.

The only true fail part of evening was at the very end when the beau and I were seeing everyone off before we could run back inside to drink away the stress and dissect the evening in detail. My dad had taken it upon himself as we were getting up from the table to issue some kind parting remarks (with no prior approval) to the beau's dad, which I tried to approximate. Maybe this would have been the time to say "official goodbyes" before we went outside for photos and cabs. All I know is that the photos were done, I was having a word with BD and BM, and I turn around to see the beau's parents running into the middle of the street for a cab without a word. I think the beau had told them to hurry up because taxis were scarce that night but it was a little disconcerting to then have to explain to my parents that "I guess we had said our goodbyes."

In the days following, I passed along my parents' regards to the beau's mom and she in turn said how well it had all gone. When I mentioned that it would have been nice to have more time together, she suggested that next time, we all go to an onsen for a few days, which I couldn't help but laugh about as it would mean my dad realizing his ongoing joke about both families visiting a public bath together (yes, I come from one of those families).

After reading everyone's supportive comments on the BM/BD debacle, I started to feel pretty bad. Granted, I'm glad I didn't get any "bitch, you cray cray" comments, but it did give me pause on the whole thing. In the end, it wasn't ideal having them there, but with such a small window of time, I did want my parents to meet everyone. I will say though, that having less people and no baby may have encouraged a different conversation, simply because there are less faces around the table. We had planned a dinner the following week with my just parents and BM/BD, but ultimately had to cancel it. I found out later that when the beau had cancelled, BD had said that BM's parents had been slated to join the dinner! THANKS FOR THE NOTICE BUDDY BOY!!! And thank fuck we had to cancel anyway, because obviously I would have been tha-rilled to interpret through a dinner with a set of parents I don't even know. The beau admonished me for saying as much, as did my mom, because wasn't it just obvious that BM/BD were trying to pull out all the family stops? Yes, yes I do have a black heart. So there you have it, no major international incidents were caused or treaties terminated. I have a slightly new perspective on things now thanks to a later conversation with the beau and although I am still a jealous biatch who wants to be number one at everything, I am working on being OK with there not always being a number one (more on this later).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Untitled 2/12

I was kind of hoping there would be a poster this month specifically targeting the Secretary next to me, the quiet one, who has developed the unfortunate habit of letting out single coughs throughout the day without covering her mouth. It brings to mind the brilliant character in Little Britain who does the "computer says no" routine. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.

I'm not too much of a priss when it comes to germs, but really? Not covering your mouth during a cough? Just bad manners. I even cover my mouth when I am coughing whilst enjoying Mavis's leather saddle. I keep semi-glancing over at the Secretary when she coughs hoping this will instill some fear or shame, but to no avail. This is the Secretary who tries not to make even the smallest amount of noise when hanging up the phone or opening an envelope. How is it that we have ladies gargling (presumably to fend off colds) at the sink at work in the morning, really getting into it and making all sorts of disgusting sphincter-tightening sounds, and then we have people walking down the street coughing and hacking openly at unsuspecting passersby? This is definitely one of those "Japan is an enigma" moments.*

Thoughts on the poster? It actually looks like Creepy was getting ready to play grab ass and this poor woman who works for Subway corporate HQ is just putting some physical distance between them utilizing the objects at hand, like any good salarywoman would. We all know if it was me, I would be actively ramming the suitcase against his shins without a second thought.

*If the sarcasm was not apparent, you should probably get out while you can.