Monday, July 16, 2012

Country Handbook

I have an American friend who lived in Japan for several years because her husband is in the Navy.  I am not certain how much of this is common knowledge but US Navy and Marine Corps reside in different parts of Japan--when I mentioned this to a coworker she said, "that's creepy." I had to clarify that US is not occupying. It is protecting Japan from places like North Korea (among other things which are not the point of this post). 

Anyway,  this friend once sent me a card she got from the Navy to carry around that said:


It is conveniently on two sides-one in English and the other in Japanese. I am not certain how they are going to understand any directions given by the native who can only read the Japanese side nor do I understand why they list a phone number on there as if to say people who get lost don't know how to use a telephone and need to ask a native to dial. This card is now posted on our bulletin board next to some comic strips.

Needless to say, I was delighted when the same friend now moving for the second time in US since returning from Japan sent me Country Handbook: A Field-Ready Reference Publication. People, this is a good read. If you want to know Japan in a nut shell, this is the way to go. I have only thumbed through it and have learned a lot about my own country. It has everything from history, culture, geography, religion, government and politics, you name it. But the one I laughed out loud was "Gestures." It says:

The Japanese indicate "come here" by waving the open hand with the palm facing downward, much like Americans wave goodbye. Failing to realize this causes frequent confusion among Americans. It is impolite to make this motion toward a superior. 

This is true. My husband noticed this watching my brother call his daughters. I did not realize this until he pointed out. Then it says:

The American sign for "OK" forming a circle with thumb and forefinger, means "money" in Japan. The Japanese sign for "no" is to wave the open hand in front of the face, as Westerners do to clear an odor from in front of their faces.

Well the "OK" thing is half true. We know it stands for that but it is also true that we use it to indicate money. The waving thing is dead on.

When referring to themselves, Japanese will often point to their noses, much like Americans point to their hearts.

I still do this. Can't change it. Again, this is something I didn't realize I did until my husband pointed it out.

Pointing is considered offensive. Spitting, sniffing or blowing your nose are also considered impolite. Laughter is frequently construed as evidence of embarrassment or nervousness rather than amusement. The shrug, used in the United States to imply indifference, means nothing to Japanese. Neither does winking.

Allow me to point out that while it says spitting is impolite, Japanese men spit freely on subway platforms far more than I've seen Americans do. I would add to this list by saying burping is considered impolite and Americans burp far more openly than Japanese.  I can't tell you the number of times Americans said to me "don't you guys consider burping a compliment to your cooking?" "No, that's you" I want to say. And the shrug and the winking thing--it's not that we don't know what those are. We've seen it in movies. We do it in OUR movies. People just don't do it. If you do (and you are Japanese) you would be chastised for "trying to appear cool" and are therefore a dork. 

Another thing that made me laugh was the section on Prime Minister.  It has a picture of Shinzo Abe, who was indeed the Prime Minister in 2007 when this book was published. However, if you know Japan at all, you would know NEVER to commit to doing such a thing because we are notorious for Prime Ministers who quit. Since Mr. Abe, we've had five Prime Ministers.  Five. In five years. "We have proven that we don't actually need a Prime Minister to run the country" My brother uttered once.

Might I add, nowhere in this book do they say "under any circumstance, DO NOT PUT CHOPSTICKS IN YOUR HAIR." I clearly need to write for them.