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.


Japan Australia said...

Really depends on what your relationship is like. I have quite a good close one, so feel comfortable using informal language in most situations with the in-laws.

Generic Jen B said...

I've always felt that you didn't need to worry about your standing with his parents.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Jen B: They do love me but I have this horrible "number one or go home" attitude with the whole thing. It was all butterflies and rainbows when his brother was bringing home underage girls...

Sinttu said...

Hajimemashite, GEG.
I've been lurking here for a while now and thought I'd finally say 'hi'.
I just love your blog, especially because I'll be moving to Japan in couple of years.

I'm studying japanese at an intermediate level and only stayed in Japan for 3 months at longest. I find it really hard to decide how polite language I should use in different situations. Thanks for this insight into a japanese family and politeness :)

Rydangel said...

if you really want to trump baby mama produce a grandson first.they say gender doesn't matter, but after my grandfather got his first grandson after 8 granddaughters,the difference in grandparently affection is quite noticeable. but at least any bad manners on your part can always be blamed on your gajiness and the fact that you can't be expected to know any better, at least when it comes to japanese customs. whereas as baby mama is born and bred in japan and can offer up no excuses. plus she must must really be hating the fact that she is older than you, had a shot gun wedding, and is married to the younger son and will always be the low man on the totem pole.i wonder if she has a blog where she rags on
her not even her sister-in-law yet, but is just her brother-in-law's uppity white girlfriend. but to maintain peace and harmony in the family try to start thinking of her as sister-in-law and the baby as your her up by being the loving,doting, aunt.especially since you're not ready to reproduce. you can gain major brownie points for being the good aunt.and at least you'll be the only aunt. it's tough when you have 3-4 to compete with. claim your status as the favorite cool aunt early.

wakanai said...

I can't believe it! This boy is only a toddler, and already hooked on 中学生 in sailorsuits!

(this comment is actually already for the new March Tokyo Metro poster :)

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Sinttu: Thanks for stopping by! The different levels are difficult even for native speakers, but after you come here and see it used in different contexts, I'm sure you'll get the hand of it!

Rydangel: So many good points, many of which tend to come to me in moments of clarity (those times when I'm not feeling like a total biatch). I do dote on the little baby, because really, how can you not? I can't wait until she gets older and I start really expanding her horizons.

wakanai: Subtle hint there. :) I'm on it...