Wednesday, May 23, 2007

...or what?

I've written a post or two mentioning the attitude of the Japanese workers around where I work, and how their behavior, attitude, and conduct would really not fly in regular Japanese society. This has become more evident as I've had to deal with them in situating myself with married life, and because my wife routinely points out how unacceptable their behavior is by Japanese standards. The biggest problem (and maybe the culprit) leading to this behavior is the idea of someone becoming "Americanized". Apparently, if a Japanese person is "Americanized", they're allowed to be rude, because hey, Americans are such rude barbarians when compared to the gentle, oh-so-polite Japanese, right? And if they're "Americanized", it's not really their fault, it's the fault of Chimpy McBushitlerburton's imperialistic exportation of American culture, which oppresses the poor Japanese and turns them into materialistic assfaces against their will, destroying more than a millennium of tea ceremony, rock gardens, and Mt Fuji appreciation.

Well, I don't accept this, and will gladly respond to "Americanized" Japanese workers with some good ole' Americanized confrontation, which most "Americanized" Japanese people who work here do not have the stomach for. The women who work here are especially bad, because so many of the older guys here are in semper sniffus mode and would rather pet them and give them food pellets than put their foot in their ass. Not this roundeye. Not on my watch.


There are certain things we do when we speak or write or generally communicate to add additional meaning to what we're saying, i,e. pragmatics, which has always been really fascinating to me. A lot of this attached is lost online, but when we're face to face, it's usually pretty clear what people mean when they're saying something even if they're not explicitly saying it. Context is also really important. There are also certain things that we can add to the end of a sentence or certain words we can add to dramatically change the strength of the meaning of a simple statement, like:

"Are you kidding me?"
"Are you fucking kidding me?"

For native speakers of a language, these little "rudeness markers" are intuitive and almost involuntary, though people like to pretend they aren't. I'm not really interested in native speakers today, because I'm griping about some of the Japanese staff around here. For non-native speakers, these little rudeness markers are learned, making their use very intentional. As native speakers, we throw things into our spoken language almost unintentionally, depending on our mood or what we think about someone, but even for really good non-native speakers, usage is still intentional and deliberate. At some point in their language learning career, they learned what certain grammatical patterns mean and what their nuances mean. If I want to imply something or come off harsh or like a jackass in Japanese, I know how to do it because I learned it either in class or by seeing it done by native speakers. Yes, people can make mistakes, and when I was learning I made mistakes, like the time I told someone to basically "shut the fuck up" but didn't intend it to come out so harsh, but for advanced language practitioners, particularly people whose job is the language, they don't really have an excuse. They know what they're doing.

So today a Japanese person had a question about something, and she punctuated it with "...or what?"

Notice the difference between these two sentences:

"Are we leaving?"
"Are we leaving or what?"

Small difference? I think not.

I've discovered after working here for a while that the only way to deal with a so called "Americanized' Japanese person is to deal with them in "American" terms. They've come to think that being rude and excusing it as "Americanization" is acceptable, because a lot of Americans around here feel they have to be overly polite and respectful to the Japanese staff because that's the Japanese way (even if they're being rude, apparently) or, as I said before, they're on the sniff. So here's how the conversation today began:

[She enters my office]
Her: "Did you want me to do this from now on or what?"
Me [incredulous, surprised expression]: "Or what? What's that mean?"
Her: I was just wondering if you wanted me to do this from now on,
that's all.

The entire exchange was very fast. When people come at you like that, they're trying to take you off guard a little bit, so it's important not to hesitate when you respond. If you had a pair of special glasses, kind've like IR glasses, but instead of IR filters they had like a "pragmatics filter", here's how the conversation would look:

Her: I'm asking a question in a rude manner.
Me: I'm expressing my disapproval of your rudeness.
Her: I acknowledge your disapproval and that I am out of line, and
shall restate my question in a more appropriate and professional manner. Communications restored.

During these exchanges, I try to maintain pressure on whoever I'm dealing with with my tone and body language, but gradually go back to my normal relaxed self as the conversation continues, so by the time the conversation ends, we're all having a good-hearted belly laugh like at the end of an Airwolf episode. This way everyone leaves happy and no one's mad, except for me of course, even if I'm not showing it.

Americanization: No seriously, you don't have to be a jerk

While America has its share of bitches and assholes (present company not excluded), Americanization to me is more than acting like a fool in public -- it's about confidence and assertiveness born of freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and the knowledge of one's unalienable personal rights granted by none other than The Almighty Hizself (regardless of whether or not you believe in any almighty). Here in Japan where confidence and assertiveness are seen as disruptive to social harmony (i,e. rude) and personal liberties play second fiddle to group harmony, it's not a huge surprise that to them Americanized behavior generally = Rude, and therefore Rude generally = How Americans roll. My official response: Hogwash! I deal with men and women every day who somehow manage to be confident, assertive, and decidedly not rude. I could go on endless metarants about how every country has pros and cons, and how the USA and Japan have great points and bad points, but I'll simplify it and just make you a deal: If you take personal responsibility for your own rude behavior and don't attribute it to being "Americanized", I won't call it being "Japanized" the next time I see a morbidly obese 35 year old gaijin taking pictures of highschool girls' skirts and reading pornographic manga on the train. Thanks.

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Blogger Jeremy said...

Hey there, Paul, if that's your real name...

I happened upon your blog, we're living in the same area of Japan. I thought your posts were well-written and entertaining. I certainly understand your feelings. Keep up the good work, hope I run into you some day here in tiny Kanagawa.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

Jeremy looks like he's ready to kill himself.

Or wants somebody else to do it for him.

Just my $.02. I'll crawl back in my hole...

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Paully, it's like he's accusing you of being a nefarious cartoon bad guy; "...if that is indeed your real name.")


It reminds me of the Arab students we get here that put Islam on hold for a year and turn into absolute B Company style alcoholics and Gangsta rappers.

"What? It's America, right?"

Right, Sharif; Biggy Small is very apple pie.

(And I got the wedding invite/announcement a while back from your Iowa contingent; a thousand thanks - and at least as many congratulations.)


3:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tough crowd in here...

On a side note. You made a comment about morbidly obese gaijin. I was wondering about the fat factor out in Japan. Are we exporting our waistlines as well as our ancient and wise culture? I ask because it's a bit of a hotpoint in Tampa right now.



10:46 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I'm a teacher, that's why the face. It's the sadness that these ingrates won't remember anything they learned in class except that I've got blue eyes and speak Japanese like a 2 yr-old.

7:48 AM  

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