Saturday, February 24, 2007

I'm so NOT sorry

I was on the train this afternoon when it happened. Something I worried about. I wondered just what my reaction would be. Would I say something like "You
f**king prick," or would I be Japanese-like and just pretend everything was fine?

Now you have to remember that in Japan we sneeze and cough all over everyone and everything. Well, maybe not always, and MAYBE not everyone does it everywhere, but one gets the feeling after seeing it all the time that it is not uncommon. Folks often wear masks when they have a cold, flu, or an allergy so that they need not use a handkerchief or tissue. That would be "troublesome." So we cough and sneeze and it blows the mask away and snot and spittle and germs fly out the side. It's OK though, for this is Japan and germs are different here than those in dirty foreign countries. Japan's germ are, like Japan, pure. Of course there are other ways to avoid handkerchief use. Let's say you are in a book store browsing magazines. You feel a sneeze coming. In Japan, we NEVER stifle a sneeze for it is dangerous. (I am not joking here). No problem---just put your face into the book you are looking at and sneeze there. (I have seen that many times. So I never buy a magazine from the front. I always grab one from the rear. Don't like paying for snot, there is enough given out freely here.)

Anyway, I was sitting on the train from Futakotamagawa to Jiyugaoka (Oimachi line) when a fine young gentleman to my left looked my way and suddenly lost control of his mouth and coughed directly in my face from less than 12 inches away. He immediately looked away, coughed once more into his hand and then pretended nothing happened. Amazingly, he did not apologize! Forgot he had no mask? Imagine that, no apology from a citizen of the country with the most polite people in the universe who are always apologizing, did not do so!!!! I was so shocked and confused. I was tempted to say something less than polite (because I am a rude, dangerous, inconsiderate baka gaijin) but I didn't because I knew if I did there would be no benefit to it. In fact, others around me may have thought that I was being the typical, rude, troublemaking foreigner for saying anything. The most I MIGHT get is a pretend apology to avoid trouble. And besides, why should a foreigner care since he/she is already full of germs and diseases.

It got me to thinking, just how often do people apologize to me here? One would assume that since the Japanese are the politest folks on earth, and since they apologize so much more often than anyone else that I would have noticed it in reality. I have people who come late to a meeting and apologize. Then come late again. And again. We once lived next door to a woman who had her noisy barking dog out walking it every morning at about 730. It barked at everyone who walked near her. She apologized every time, every morning. Dog still barked every time, every morning. I have people who apologize for making a mistake when speaking English in a class. Why? Of course, if money is involved (I am a customer) apologizes are offered for every little thing. Very sincerely, of course.

I rarely get apologies when people run into me on the sidewalk, in a store---crowded or not---in a train at any time, or even when I am hit by an idiot on a bike, or when some cuts directly in front of me and everyone else and forces us off the sidewalk...I can only remember a few times at the most when someone has as much as muttered a "sumimasen." And, yes, it is such a rare occurrence here that I should remember it. Generally folks slam into me and then pretend that they aren't there. Or I am not there. Whatever, there ain't no sorry involved. Although in the grocery store, I have noticed that some women will intentionally run into someone lightly with their buggy, then say gomen nasai or sumimasen. I don't know, but it seems that rude, ill-mannered foreigners tend to say "excuse me" when they want to get by you before hitting you.

It is really confusing because I can't understand how folks can be so polite and apologize so much without being polite or apologizing much. Perhaps they are generally polite by Japanese standards. If so, many of those standards would not pass for polite at all elsewhere. Could it be that the Japanese are no more polite than anyone else? Now think about it. Even if you are an ill-mannered, self-centered non-Japanese, wouldn't you be as embarrassed as hell and apologize profusely if you coughed directly in someone's face? Wouldn't you be truly sorry? And you aren't even a native of the country with the world's most polite people. How could this be?

I am sure that it's because I am a clueless foreigner and can't understand Japan. You see, rude is different in Japan. It is really polite. (I actually read something like that on a website once. It had something about the Japanese language being so polite that even being rude was polite. Wish I could find it again.)

I don't know. Japan is so misunderstood. Why the Chinese, and the Koreans, and now the even the U.S. Congress (!!!) don't believe Japan's very sincere and heartfelt "apologies" for doing the bad things it really didn't do in WW2.

Poor Japan, victim again. Maybe I should go apologize to the f**king prick who coughed in my face.

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