Monday, June 05, 2006

Why we Japanese are (sometimes) superior to you fecking round-eyes

Several of my blogpals have (jokingly) (I think) accused me of finding Asian women attractive just because they’re tiny and submissive, and therefore easily dominated. First, I think that’s just a very broad cultural stereotype and is inaccurate. The Japanese in particular are very polite (both men and women) and try to avoid giving offense to the point that most Westerners view their roundabout way of communicating as fawning and subservient, but that’s just due to the typical American combination of ignorance and arrogance. For the record, I once stated that I thought Asian women were, on the whole, physically more attractive than any other women, but I preferred American attitudes. After I said that, I realized that I hadn’t really thought it through. For the last couple of months, I’ve been looking at attitudes from around the world, both in the people I see in real life and you psychos that share cyberspace with me, and I’ve identified a major flaw in what is currently the average American attitude.

But before I impress you with my sagacity and powers of observation, let me first mention my last Japanese class. It’s a language class that focuses on getting us conversational as fast as possible (a little too fast for my tired old brain), so we focus on being functional instead of truly exploring the language and culture. After I finish this course, I may go back and get a minor in Asian studies to tack onto my IT degree. I’d like to fully explore the language and culture, and I like the thought of getting college credit for watching Suicide Club.

Still, it’s impossible to teach the proper use of the language without teaching some of the culture. Last Saturday we were taught how to invite people to do the limited things we can say (I can now invite you golfing) (except I don’t golf), as well as how to confirm and refuse. Confirmations are easy: “Okay, let’s go.” Refusals take more time. Simply saying “No, thank you” beyond refusing food or drink is considered rude and will ensure that you will not be asked again. The standard way to refuse is to say “Unfortunately the condition is not good.” You can also thank them for the invite and / or supply a custom excuse (e.g. “Thank you, but the Giant Atomic Chickens are due to rampage any minute now, I’m quite certain.”), but that’s how the basic polite refusal is handled.

In most cases when I compare our two cultures, I think the ideal behavior lies somewhere in-between. I like Japanese manners, but “No, thank you” should be polite enough for most situations and should not be taken as a permanent refusal; that’s what “Feck off!” is for. Sensei admitted that she had grown accustomed to the American way of direct communication and now gets irritated when she has to talk to a Japanese person and deal with their roundabout way of speaking.

As another example of Japanese oversensitivity, I found a restaurant review site with reviews on Umezono, my favorite restaurant. The food and prices are great and the hospitality is better than any other restaurant at which I’ve eaten, even though it would appear the service has become slightly Americanized (like the portion sizes, which are definitely too much). In the reviews, most people (Japanese and American – you could tell the difference from their descriptions) said they loved Umezono and highly recommended it, although the Americans found it to be too small and cramped. Two J-peoples said they didn’t recommend the restaurant, both because of the poor service. One said she had made a reservation on her birthday, but when she arrived the waitress said “We don’t have your reservation, but I’ll see what can be done.” The customer found that horribly offensive, left immediately, and wrote her scathing review. That’s the J-version of being rude – a minor mistake coupled with an attempt to immediately rectify the error. Note to J-peeps: try my local Denny’s if you want to see real rudeness in action. “May I have a menu, please?” “Feck off, honky!”

Which brings me to the flaw in the American persona. The Japanese are overly sensitive, but are also extremely polite so that works. Many Americans have two things in common: 1) they are overly sensitive (although not by Japanese standards), and 2) they lack manners. This is a bad combination.

One of my fellow J-students, a high school girl, embodies this Americanized combo. She seems nice, but can be abrupt and caustic while joking. She likes to call me Geek since I’m an IT guy, which doesn’t bother me even though I barely know her, but she would likely get upset if I called her a name in return. She’s also easily offended. Once, while walking toward the classroom door, another man didn’t see her coming and shut it in her face. She loudly complained about his actions so he could hear; five minutes later, she was still griping to the class about how unbelievably rude he had been.

Final note (thank the zombie Jebus!) – don’t confuse manners with kindness. I still maintain that Americans are the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met on the planet. I’m not willing to admit that Canadians are nicer because I haven’t personally met enough to be considered a valid sampling of the population, and the only two Aussies I’ve met in real life were total arsebiscuits. I’ve been to a few countries in Europe and the Middle East and have spent considerable amounts of time with Brits, Scots, and the Irish, and although all had better manners, none were as nice. I often hear people grumble about immigrants in our country, especially the ones who can’t or won’t speak English, but I’ve rarely seen people shout at them or make rude gestures just because they’re not from here or because the Americans disagree with the policies of their home country. In Europe, even in countries supposedly allied to the U.S., it wasn’t uncommon for people to shout insults or aim various gestures at me (no, the middle finger is not universal) once they had established my country of origin. Some of you may think that’s justified because America is such a horrible place with an oppressive regime, but even if we are loud and rude and have a redneck xtian fundamentalist for a leader, that doesn’t excuse their behavior. I once read that a person who is good to you but rude to the waiter really isn’t a nice person. Likewise, if your attitude is “We’re nice, just not to Americans” then you don’t really understand the concept.

20 comments:

annush said...

I am nice but I hate people equally regardless of their manners or place of origin :P

SJ said...

Great post esp. I liked the last two lines.

A joke here is that most Indians living outside return here so that they can scratch their privates in public without disapproval :)

For the most part we find Americans formal and polite so you can imagine ;)

Tai said...

Funny thing Grant...I just wrote about being polite to the point of putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation.

Perhaps it's safe to say that this lil' Canadian is "inanely polite"?

fatty ~ said...

haha hmmm lets start with this - personally i think that aussie's are pretty nice kinda people. Sure we have our fuzzies but they're not that bad. Secondly i think you find aresholes in every culture.

Do note, though it may seem that why i dont actually hate americans. I've known quite a few and though i wouldnt say they're the nicest people in the world i have nothing against them as a whole.

My mum - having travelled to tokyo quite a bit, says that the beef hot pot you've often described comes with one small/regular dish of thin-sliced beef. This may cost up to US$20. Umenzono must have to work hard to provide as much beef as you claim so cheap.

While aussies tend to be uptight compared to Europeans, we demand the everyone deals with offence and if you can't take a joke at your expense you're no fun. So we don't get offended easily.

Blue said...

I am only rude to my friends :-)

PBS said...

This is an interesting and thought-provoking post. My Mom and I once had a discussion on over-sensitive vs. touchy. She claims that over-sensitive is to other people and touchy is over-sensitivity about oneself. I agree with that distinction but over-sensitive is commonly used to mean touchy!

Manners are very different is different parts of the US, too. It was a mild cultural shock when I moved back home from Florida. Even though I grew up here the people (in general, not all) seemed abrupt, cold and yes, a bit rude.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Excellent post, Grant.

I try really hard to be nice to everyone I meet...unless you're not nice to me first. Then the gloves come off...;)

The Stiltwalker said...

Grant, what do you think about black women?

patti_cake said...

Grant you are killing me with the Denny's/Feck Off Honky comment! Sorry I just can't get beyond that, and I can't stop laughing either!

hellbunny said...

I think in general if your nice to people then most people will be nice back.

Grant said...

annush - me too. I'm proud to say I hate everyone equally.

sj - you think we're polite? That's kind of scary. :p

tai - I read your post, and you haven't achieved Japaneseness yet. Of course, the Japanese would never impose on someone's hospitality to that extreme, so they're safe in being Japanese in Japan.

fatty - I'm beginning to suspect both countries are encouraging their jerks to migrate to the other, so we're cancelling each other out.

bluebolt - that's good. Keep it amongst yourselves.

pbs - I've found manners to be more common in the South, but not that far South. I called a friend in NY and got his wife instead. He loved her and said she was nice, but I found her to be incredibly rude and abrupt.

pq - mean people suck, and they should all be killed.

stiltwalker - I have an interest in Japanese culture, plus I think the combination of yellow skin, dark almond eyes, and glossy black hair is a nice one which makes them overall more attractive (or in the case of my dentist, a goddess). All other races are the same to me, although I wouldn't reject anyone for being non-yellow.

patti_cake - thanks. I tossed that in because Denny's refused to serve me last Xmas. Fortunately Umezono is open every day of the year, so I know where I'll be this Xmas.

hellbunny - most people are like that, although I've found Americans are frequently insulted for being American in many European nations.

messiah said...

a friend of mine holds similar views (alright, maybe not very related) but she always claimed you could just the overall cleanliness of the restaurant from the washrooms.

as for the aussies - some really great people, but you have to remember - it used to be a british penal colonly ;)

messiah said...

a friend of mine holds similar views (alright, maybe not very related) but she always claimed you could just the overall cleanliness of the restaurant from the washrooms.

as for the aussies - some really great people, but you have to remember - it used to be a british penal colonly ;)

messiah said...

a friend of mine holds similar views (alright, maybe not very related) but she always claimed you could just the overall cleanliness of the restaurant from the washrooms.

as for the aussies - some really great people, but you have to remember - it used to be a british penal colonly ;)

Kira said...

I'm blunt to the point of pain, but I'm a very nice person. I don't know how to do polite very well, but I can fake it...sometimes. I was raised in Florida. The people in SC are TRYING to teach me how to be polite, but it hasn't caught on yet ;)

messiah said...

(blogger glitch. i rarely think i have anything worth saying - never mind doing it more than once)

GirlGoyle said...

you like the japanese women because it's in their culture to be freaky in bed. fess up!!! LOL

Goddess said...

Grant, Having lived in Korea and Europe, I will say, the people have better manners BETWEEN THEMSELVES than Americans do, per say. However, when it comes to us, the Americans, it doesnt matter if you have done anything at all. You could be standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the little man to turn green, (although there are no cars coming, and havent been, for 3 minutes, but to cross the street when the man is red is declared ILLEGAL!) you get yelled at, spit at, crazy stuff shouted at you, some jerk wanting to ask you how you feel about your country killing babies, and all other sorts of things that they would never do to EACH other. Not nice people at all, I am afraid. I find them all fake and I choose not to associate with fake people. Actually, most people with insane manners are fake.

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