I’ve collected some stories again over the past week. Gotta catch ’em all 😉
I’ve talked to Alex over MSN about Japan. Although I think I’ve already gotten the point across that Japan is “different”, there’s plenty more to tell. Alex thought they wouldn’t have something like the weird floor mat (first picture in “Trip to Nara”) “cause it’s the land of hush hush”. Actually, they’re really open about some stuff, in a strange way. For example, I’ve been told that being ‘friends with benefits’ is pretty common here, so it’s not all hush hush. Same goes for reading porn on the train (even when your girlfriend is sitting next to you). It’s not publicly announced, but it’s no secret either.
There are a lot of weird contradictions here.
Did you know that a Japanese minister had to resign once, because he had a mistress? Here’s the punchline: He had to resign because he underpaid her, not because he had a mistress. The entire country wouldn’t have said anything about him having a mistress, but when they found out she was underpaid it was an outrage.
So, where’s all the politeness?
Well, if you’ve read some stories here, you should have a basic idea of what I’m talking about. Next week, a piece for the university’s paper/magazine (Cursor) will appear with me in it 🙂 and I’ve included some information about Japanese culture there, as well. Basically, it’s a double-layered culture. On the surface, you should behave, be polite and act as you are expected to act. But knowing that, you also know that nobody will say anything about your misbehavior. Because then they would be impolite to you. Which is the weird paradox…
About men touching women on trains: I’ve told you about that before, right? A guy told me the other side of the coin.There have been women suing men for touching, while the guy actually didn’t do anything. This ruins the guy’s life: he’s a disgrace to his company, his family, everyone. You can read a news article HERE (I’ve created a PDF and uploaded it to my blog, because the article may disappear, this is the original link)
Yesterday, we went out for dinner with the research group, a farewell-dinner for one of my French colleagues, Pierre-Marie. I ended up sitting in a corner surrounded by French people and, as Pierre-Marie repeatedly pointed out, I have been making fun of my lack of practice in French, so that wasn’t the best place to sit. However, this time I could understand reasonably well what Hélène was saying, because she speaks in a calm manner. So maybe my French will improve a little during my stay here? I’d like to think that…
Some of the things I’ve learned from them:
- If you’re in France and want to recognize the French tourists, look for the people that aren’t smiling.
- Etienne was drinking sake and the glass was standing on a saucer. In fact, when he received the glass, it was filled to the rim. This is a way to make sure you always get a full glass. Whatever you spill into the saucer, you pour back into your glass (so, unlike with coffee, for example, you pour it back and it’s not considered wasted if it’s spilled onto the saucer)
- The chopsticks you see are actually expensive. I didn’t know either. They’re made from bamboo and when you break them apart, this means that you’ll get a clean break-line. With cheap wood, you often won’t succeed in neatly breaking the chopsticks apart, you always end up splitting the wood in an ugly way.I didn’t even know that in Japan they would have these breakaway sticks, I always thought that in Japan they would always use those beautifully decorated sticks. So anyway, breakaway sticks are normal :o)
I’ve been told that things like the breakaway sticks already occurred in the Heian period. Apparently it was common to throw away all utensils after a meal: sticks, plates, even the table sometimes. I’m guessing that this only applied to the rich, who could afford to buy a new table on a regular basis.
Some other things:
- I have been talking to Damien, who’s also staying at the International Student House. We’ve had some fun conversations. One of the was about a dancing party that’s going to be held at the house on the 12th of June. At some point everyone was mentioning dances, and he suddenly said
I’ll look up the zoekmachine
My response was along the lines: What? How do you know that word? Did you search online for Dutch words? He, in turn, was surprised at my response, because in fact he meant “zouk machine”, which is a dance. Also, there’s apparently a wrestler or professional fighter whose name I first interpreted as “man, ik pak jou”. Actually, it’s something like manipakjau, haha.
- Wednesday I went to Bar This Way and I spoke Dutch for the first time in… Well, I don’t know exactly how long, but it was long enough to make my Dutch sound really really weird. The first two or three sentences were awkward and I had to pause a lot….
- A Japanese housemate has applied for an exchange program in Utrecht and he wants to learn Dutch, so I looked up some lessons. Listen to this, it’s hilarious: HERE and HERE. (Only first few sentences, entire files are too big)
- In daily life, Japanese people don’t use autographs (handtekeningen) to authorize things. Instead, they use stamps or seals. If you want to read, HERE‘s the Wikipedia page. (Yes, I’m lazy right now.)
- About food, and places to eat:
- If, in the convenience store, you buy a lunch or dinner, and they ask you if you want to eat it, they actually mean if you want them to put it in the microwave. (What do you mean “do I want to eat it”? Of COURSE I want to eat it! Haha)
- Most (lunch or dinner) places have signs outside, most are chalk boards. I haven’t seen any that were thrown over or messed up.
- Most places have their food in plastic in the window, so you can see what you’re going to get (and you can order-by-pointing as well 😀 ). Also, the price list is shown outside. When you see a restaurant that doesn’t have a price list: Don’t go in there. Not having a price list outside means that their customers don’t have to worry about such trivial things like money.
- It’s really normal to go out for lunch and dinner every day.
- When you receive your food, often the receipt is given already as well, but it’s placed up-side-down.
- Lastly, something about the elderly here. You’ll see a lot of old men and women that are bent over so far that they are looking at the ground almost constantly. This is most likely due to lack of calcium in their diet and osteoporosis setting in at a relatively young age.