Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Won't Miss #505 - being seen as incapable

AKB48, a manufactured girl group (with over 90 members) that discards members when they get "too old". They are clearly the product of a highly sophisticated culture. If you don't appreciate them, it is only because you are to simple-minded to comprehend.

In my previous post, I mentioned that the Japanese readily forgive foreigners for their bad manners or cross-cultural ignorance. If you take a business card and cram it in your pocket instead of looking thoughtfully at it and then placing it on the table such that you can view it, they won't be offended because they figure there's no way you could know their customs in this regard. While this may come across as tolerance, that is not what is really going on. It is more often than not the case that they feel that their culture is too complex, sophisticated, and difficult for someone from a less byzantine culture to comprehend. You are not seen as merely uneducated in their ways, but incapable of knowing them. This is why simple mastery of things like basic greetings in Japanese or using chopsticks are so highly praised. By acquiring even rudimentary Japanese cultural skills, you've overcome hurdles they thought you could never begin to vault over. It's like you are seen as a child who stacks blocks together to make a rudimentary house who receives praise for his efforts. 

When it comes to cultural understanding, many Japanese people operate from an unconscious (or conscious) sense that foreigners lack the sophistication to understand their ways. They believe you are the cultural equivalent of a developmentally disabled person. I will not miss this expectation that I lacked the capability to understand and follow Japanese customs. 


  1. Hate to admit it but I am a prideful person and that attitude would tick me the heck off. I would have to use patience and tact (which are skills I am just not acquiring in my 30's) to deal with being treated like a developmentally disabled person. I reminds me of people speaking loudly to someone who is disabled. They aren't deaf!
    Also the business card thing just makes me think of American Psycho when they are discussing business cards, how mundane. My tiny mind just can't grasp that concept.

  2. And the funny thing about the attitude is that Japanese culture is the opposite of Byzantine or opaque: it's merely initially foreign to us. My comment will anger a lot of people, Japanese or Nipponophile, but you cannot compare the depth of culture a Japanese native has to navigate with the depth of culture anyone in multicultural Europe, N.America, Brazil, etc. has to navigate. Never mind the multiculturalism, many of these individual cultures have more than one 'aisatsu' for each occasion, more than one way of responding to a situation... but I will stop.

  3. Totally necroing topics here, but yes I've seen this as well. Something to simple and mundane as reaching out to pick up a sauteed mushroom with my 'hashi' had been met with surprised gasps and exclamations... "You can use chopsticks?!?!?!" I then calmly and patiently tell them I'd been using them since before my teens (I'm now 39 so I've had some time to get used to the action), and that knowing how to eat with chopsticks wasn't the least bit uncommon in America. ^^u

    At first this kind of excitement over the accomplishment of everyday tasks struck me as charming, but it's begun to wear on me as the veil slipped and I saw that I might be more like a 'lesser'.

    Even some friends here in Japan that have known me for a while get amazed when they learn that I can also read their language in addition to my basic speaking and listening skills.

    Japanese language and cultural nuances certainly aren't incomprehensible or un-learnable to outsiders... Hell, in Europe it's not unusual for a person to know 3-5 languages fluently. As an American who only knows one well, and the other poorly I feel like a slouch!


Comments are moderated and will not show up immediately. If you want to make sure that your comment survives moderation, be respectful. Pretend you're giving feedback to your boss and would like a raise when you're speaking. Comments that reflect anger or a bad attitude on the part of the poster will not be posted. I strongly recommend reading the posts "What This Blog Is and Is Not" and "Why There Were No Comments" (in the sidebar under "FYI") before commenting.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.