Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Courtesy and Culture

There was more training today.
The session was about living in Japan. It covered logistics and culture. I found the logistics part to be very helpful. They told us where we can go to get our alien registration card, how to buy cellphones, how to sort our trash, and many more things to keep you out of trouble, or manage your life. Ben and I had no Idea for most of them, so it was really helpful.

The cultural part was frustrating, and for me ineffective. I would have liked to know things like when you go to a party, what it is customary to bring, how do you invite someone to your own birthday party, and other nitty-gritty specifics of Japanese culture. Unfortunately, I thought their training would have more aptly been deemed “the universal basics of human interactions.”  A lot of foreigners who come to Japan have a very limited media from which they have come to know Japan, i.e. anime and video games. They are often quite socially awkward in their native culture, so a very formulaic breakdown of Japanese cultural dos and don’ts may have been very useful. I mostly found it tedious, and although I have only been here a short while, nearly all of the things covered are quite obvious. There were so many things that they deemed unique aspects of Japanese culture, but in fact they were just basic universal etiquette.

One of the things they portrayed as a Japanese cultural nuance was that, in Japan, someone who is your senior will often give you unsolicited advice. It is customary to say thank you, and then use what is useful to you. I have never lived in a country where this wasn’t the case. People who are completely unfamiliar with the task you are going to undertake often tell you how you should do something. When Ben and I were getting ready to move to Japan nearly everyone who knew about our move gave us some form of advice, from the people who loved us it was a way of telling us they cared, from those who didn’t even know us, it was a way of keeping a conversation going. 

We were told that it is considered very immature here to get angry easily, especially in the work place. I cringed inside when they said this. If by the time you graduate from college, this is not clear, I’m not sure how to catch you up with social norms.

I found it a bit worrying that this was the sort of training necessary. Social norms rarely take the form of rules. There are local customs for manners, and different cultures set rules to emphasize different social values, but when you speak about any culture in terms of their values, they all boil down to the same things.  I was so glad Ben was there with me, his knowing glances, and suppressed giggles made me feel like the world still had hope. There was at least one other foreigner who might give the Japanese a good impression of Americans.

1 comment:

  1. Katie and Ben. You found the etiquette training tedious and obvious because of your excellent upbringing. When I was in Europe for a summer back in the seventies, I couldn't help but notice how rude and overbearing many other Americans seemed to be. It got to the point that when Englanders would guess that I was Canadian because of my accent, I did not correct them.