Friday, February 02, 2007

Loosely Based on Gender

Every day I drive to work while putting on makeup, balancing a coffee in between my legs. It makes me feel like a real working Japanese woman, except then I’d probably have green tea between my legs and I’d also be wielding eyelash curlers. I work almost exclusively with other women, and honestly it’s kind of a weird environment. They’re career women, among the most independent and progressive you could find. That doesn’t stop them from perfecting the shrink and giggle, and speaking in almost incomprehensibly humble Japanese from time to time.

I can understand people when they talk to me. However, I spend most of my days surrounded by women talking to each other. The feminine speech register in Japanese, I’ve discovered, is difficult to understand. And it has nothing to do with those “sentence final particles” all those linguistic articles obsess about. It’s the amount of words they use. They’re just so much more verbose and polite in their speech, always taking the indirect route to saying anything. One who studies Japanese knows that the more polite your speech gets, the lengthier and more complex the verbs become. I often have to settle for not really knowing what’s going on.

So this leads into a big metaphorical experience I had that reflects my feelings as a foreigner trying to work in Japan. I was at work, sweeping the floor with a dust mop, when a woman dressed in a flight attendant-like uniform entered the office (the flight attendant get-up isn’t uncommon for women in service positions), and Sayaka rushed over. The following is a rough translation of the exchange that followed:

Flight attendant: [I’m being rude!]

Sayaka: [No, no, no, I’m sorry! Please.]

Flight attendant: [I’m sorry, would you be so kind as to, um…]

Sayaka: [Of course, you must be tired!]

Flight attendant: [You must be tired!]

They exchanged some more chatty, feminine pleasantries that were largely apologetic in tone, when suddenly, Sayaka turned to me and said, “Give her your mop.”

“What?” The words she was saying just didn’t make any sense to me in the context. She repeated what she said, sounding a little irritated as if I should know exactly what to do. I tentatively handed the woman my mop, and she quickly turned it upside-down, detached the mop head and extracted a new one wrapped in plastic from her flight attendant bag. She unwrapped it and re-attached the head to the handle, and gave the mop back to me. She then inched toward Sayaka to sign some paperwork, the two exchanged a few more exclamations of “[You must be tired]”, and she scurried out to her official-looking company van, old mop head in tow.
The absurdity of this situation, and the expectation of others that I would understand it is my main existential dilemma at the moment. That and some education things I’ll talk about soon. But let’s talk about feminine speech some more!

While studying Japanese, I learned that the most feminine mark of speech is adding the particle “wa” to the end of a sentence. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just softening and beautifying. I expected to hear prissy, make-up J-girls say it from time to time, but either I’m missing it somehow, or it’s so feminine it’s almost taboo. In fact, I’ve only heard it twice since I’ve been here. Once was from the seventy-year-old tea ceremony woman who was in full kimono. It would make sense that she would be all about traditional, feminine, florid language. The other time I heard it was on TV, used by one of the Morning Musume. The sentence was “Hazukashiiwa”, which is “[I’m so embarrassed] wa.” If that doesn’t properly reflect her douche-iness, her appearance did. She literally looked like a five year-old playing dress-up. She was wearing a giant striped t-shirt thing down to her thighs, leggings, long, chunky beads around her neck, awkward low heels and a ponytail coming out of the top of her head. If you don’t know the Morning Musume, they’re a bunch of obnoxious young girls who look anywhere from 16-25, but are probably around the 20 range, and they’re pop singers or something. However, I know them only for their television appearances, in which they are put in sadistic situations that lead to them screaming and crying. Watch:

Kimodo dragon attack

Polar bear attack

Sadako attack

I wanted to have an additional link entitled “Giant black man attack”, but I couldn’t find it on youtube. I swear, though, it’s real and I’ve seen it. So there’s my disjointed blog-like post, complete with links. I wanted to only post somewhat polished, chronological essay-type things, but as I’m discovering again, it’s better to post crap than nothing at all.

4 Comments:

Blogger Clayton said...

Couldn't find the Bob Sapp video either. Maybe it got deleted; about 30,000 Japanese TV youtubes did.
See you around hopefully

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Eileen said...

I feel so bad for that lizard.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Pretty darn interesting! I love the stories you tell/show about living in Japan. I agree that you should post more often, even if it's not polished. Even your unpolished work is enjoyable to read. Along the same line, I wonder if I should start posting again? Would you read it? I want to take pictures with my phone camera for the blog.

I agree with Eileen. The poor lizards! I think that any of you American girls would have ducked out, then tried to capture the dragon...um...are they poisonous? That might make a difference on whether I'd try to capture them.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Pepper said...

Strange! Well I saw the Bob Sapp video. It's still up on you tube, just search Bob Sapp morning and you'll probably get it.

8:32 AM  

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