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).


Michael Hawk said...

Here's a funny question, one I thought I'd never say. How do Canadian's say cock? Wouldn't it be koh-kawn and not cock-on (kawk-ahn).

Jessica said...

I just ran across your blog and have been enjoying it as the former employee of a Kaisha of my own! Also, as one half of an international marriage "Kokkon" is pretty awesome. I am tempted to start using that myself...

BiggerInJapan said...

"cock-on" is a stayer. If only this word had existed in my days - why, what a wedding that would have been.

Rob said...

Wow, you're on a roll coining terms. Would it be コーコン or should I use kanji? I'm definitely going to use it to confuse friends.

Also, whatever you end up doing, please let it involve you riding off into the sunset in a white stretch limousine.

RMilner said...

I'm a 16-year+ veteran of a kokkon.

Fortunately my wife speaks pretty good English (better than my Japanese) and our daughter is biligual, so there is always someone on hand to translate at this sort of event.

When families on both sides are basically good people, the feelings are somehow conveyed properly even though the words are difficult.

So don't worry!

Japan Australia said...

Can't say I am a big fan of the new term Kokkon, but can see it taking off!!

Sarah said...

There so needs to be a shortened version. Perfect.

After a Christmas in Vancouver full of half-translating (for a boyfriend who half-understands English) I can commiserate. Somehow my father just couldn't accept that his humour just did NOT translate... Sigh. Now I dread taking the "in-laws" to Canada like they are begging...

Sarahf said...

コッコン! Love it! Sounds like the night was a roaring success, I mean Dad jokes don't work in any language, do they?

Generic Jen B said...

Bitch! You cray cray!

medea said...

I like Kokkon. After a few years in a 100% Yamato marriage, I think we are all aware that the only place the Kok will be on is the soapland.

I've never met anyone who enters into a 100% Yamato marriage without there being a bun in the oven. I've heard tell (mostly at the infertility clinic), but have never seen this for a fact. 12 years in this country, 16 weddings attended, and still none in the flesh. If there was no shotgun wedding in Japan, I don't think anyone would get married at all.

aimlesswanderer said...

Maybe you should teach the beau some more English? Or would that just complicate things?

My little bro can't speak Cantonese, despite us being genetically Chinese, so he can't communicate with his wife's parent. So she does all the translating (also including filtering and censoring, the equivalent of the Ministry of Information and Propaganda).

This actually works out well, as there are much fewer misunderstandings.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Michael: I'm glad to be the catalyst for these pressing questions. This Canadian would say kawk-ahn, but maybe the kind of Canadians who use the word "hoser" would say the former...

Jessica: So there is someone who has made it out to tell the tale! Please do use it, and liberally!

BiggerInJapan: I appreciate the endorsement and hope one day you will share your own cock-on story with me!

Rob: I was thinking コッコン but maybe the longer vowel more closely resembles kaaawwk? If we are going to use kanji, it will have to be clever and dirty. Lastly, that stretch limo is on my list should I ever need to ride off into the sunset.

RMilner: Thank you. And I agree, the sentiment gets translated even if not through spoken word. Maybe a child is the way to go with this, why hire a translator when I can give birth to one?! (Have you started saving for your daughter's sejin-no-hi outfit? I seem to recall you mentioning it before...)

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Japan Australia: What about it is unappealing? Suggestions are welcomed if you have a better idea! :)

Sarah: I read all about your adventures and have yet to make a belated comment! If you do take them to Canada, luckily they will be so overwhelmed that words will likely fail them, cutting down on your responsibilities!

Sarahf: They really don't do they? Trying to translate them makes them seem all the more absurd!

Jen B: Finally, the voice of reason!!! I was waiting for that.

medea: Good call on the whole cock/soap thing. 16 weddings, you must be a pro at this point. Or incredibly bored? Those are some very interesting numbers...

aimlesswanderer: Well that is the million dollar question. We have grand English plans but ultimately, I don't even know where to start with him (and am not particularly interested in teaching English). We're getting down to the wire though, so hopefully this will be the year some non-dirty English gets absorbed.