Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Chotto Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank You Very Little)

OH MY GOD, I have a Japanese midterm tomorrow. Or, Ashita test-o wa desu. That sucks. I'm getting ready for a major systems installation at work, and also trying to prepare for a 4-day weekend trip next week (even though the base called me yesterday and told me I was on an international legal hold because of my speeding ticket from November, and couldn't leave the country for a few more months. We eventually got that little snafu cleared up.) Then there is this little thing about moving -- the base called me today (it's Tuesday here, people) and asked if I could sign the contract on Moku-yobi (Thursday) and move on Kin-yobi (Friday). Today I hired a moving company, after meeting them at my house to survey my crap. Then I called the phone office to see when they could transfer my phone. Tomorrow I deal with the Internet people, television people, water and electricity people (all in Japanese -- that should be really easy and not at all frustrating), and there's something else I have to do...what is that? Oh yeah, work. I facilitate a staff meeting and a leadership meeting tomorrow (which I have yet to plan -- quick, what should I say in my staff meeting?), and then I lead a group leadership meeting on Thursday (is this getting boring to anyone yet?) This ain't right.

Speaking of my long weekend coming up -- I don't think we've gone over this yet. A couple of weeks ago I went to buy a ticket to Shanghai for the 4-day weekend. I went to China a year ago and really fell in love with it. I went back last summer, and I have two trips planned there in the next month. It's just the coolest place. More on that later.

I took my travel dates to the Japanese agent and asked for a flight out of Hiroshima. She left, did some checking, and then came back to give me the details. Right away I could tell something was wrong -- she was acting weird, looking down in her lap and kind of mumbling. After some prompting, she said quietly, "small problem." I pretty much knew what was about to happen (it happens about 100 times a day), so I took a moment to adjust my patience-meter and began to coax it out of her. Speaking quietly, I said, "What's wrong?" "Oh, um, small problem" "Ok, what is the problem?" "Um, well..." (miscellaneous Japanese noises -- "eto, ano, nani...") she finally whispers, "Too short." "I'm sorry, what?" (All of this is in half-English and half-Japanese.) "Eto, too short. " "What is too short?" "Time too short." Yes, friends, the agent didn't want to sell me the ticket because she felt that my time in Shanghai would be too short. I wouldn't get to "see everything." But she didn't want to come right out and tell me, because that would be like telling me that I'm wrong, which is impossible to do in Japanese culture. This is called saving face. You have to dance around the facts here -- you can't say what's really going on. Stall, lie, do whatever you need to do, but don't say the truth. It's like one big, long game of charades. Or like my family when I was growing up. (Hey, I knew that felt familiar!)

This went on for a very long time, but eventually I explained that it will be my second time to Shanghai, so I don't need to see everything. So the TIME, I told her, is just perfect. After hearing that, she felt much better and sold me the ticket.

I know you don't believe me that this kind of crap happens every five minutes here, but it does. I know you also won't believe this: an American friend was having dessert at a restaurant (this was a while ago) and ordered apple pie and ice cream. He asked that the pie be served heated, but the waitress let him know that was not possible. Thinking maybe there was a language barrier going on, he explained again what he wanted, only to have the waitress tell him no. Being a somewhat stubborn person, or maybe just really wanting that apple pie hot, he eventually spoke to a manager to give the manager his request. The manager also said that it wasn't possible, but offered a (perfectly logical) explanation that the waitress had left out: if the apple pie was heated up, it would not RETAIN ITS SHAPE. Yes, folks, it would not look the same on the plate, and that is why the apple pie could not be heated. Get it? Welcome to My Life In Japan.

Now I'm getting all worked up.

More crazy Japanese stories later. For now, back to studying! Wish me gambatte kudasai! (Rots of ruck!)

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