The Return of Mr. Etiquette
Max Danger, as a service to the ex-pat community in Japan, recently published several examples of proper behavior in the sea of politeness surrounding us all. (“Never bow from the waist whilst standing against shoji,” etc.)
The response to those bits of wisdom has been overwhelming — assuming, of course, one can be overwhelmed by a dozen or so letters. Recognizing his debt to loyal readership, and appreciating his own sensitivity to matters of a “civilized” nature, Max herewith replies to those correspondents with “special” concerns.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: A lady named Yuki phones me in the office every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 11:30 and asks when she’ll see me again. She is apparently employed by “Araby Nights — Sex Meetings with Whiskey and Song.” I don’t know the lady, and I don’t know the establishment, unless it’s connected with Kentucky Fried Chicken. What should I tell her? Signed: Perplexed
Dear Perplexed: Some terrible person, some absolute reprobate, has clearly made use of your business card in what can only be called a dastardly scheme to discredit you in the eyes of your friends, relatives and business associates. Unless you can remember who you gave your cards to since your arrival in Japan— which is usually not possible after noon of the day of your arrival—you have no direct recourse. Instead, explain to Yuki that you will “do your best” to make it next Thursday. Don’t go, of course—people who phone the office can only mean trouble—but out of curiosity ask for a map. You never know what Head Office Visitors will want to do.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: Does “come over to my house some Sunday” mean the same if suggested by a Japanese as it does in the States? Signed: Haven’t The Foggiest Idea What Is Expected.
Dear Haven’t The Foggiest: No. Yes. It depends on the relationship. Common sense dictates behavior. In the States, one clears the nature of the invitation several days in advance. (“We’ll be in your neighborhood next weekend. We’ll drop in with steaks—you find beer somewhere.”) In Japan, “clearance” is a matter of months, not days. And bringing food is an insult. Japanese delicacies, supplemented by Chinese dishes and an occasional pizza, will be painstakingly prepared. This takes time. Also, conveniences to every-day living must be moved to the walls (or put in storage) to accommodate the space taken up by foreigners in the house. Parking, for a piece of machinery the size of a Nissan President, must be arranged in the neighborhood. Children, who left to their own devices would probably manage, must nevertheless be instructed on the nuances of Western etiquette. “Dropping in” on Sunday is O.K., but clear it way, way in advance. And don’t eat for a day or two before.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: Was that the same old lady on the subway who pushed me out of the door-way, elbowed me violently in the ribs and tripped me with her umbrella, but who earlier in the week conducted the tea ceremony class which my wife and I attended? Signed: What’s Going On Around Here
Dear What’s Going On: Yes.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: My teenage son, who now has blue and green hair, never returns from his classes at the American School until sometime after midnight. Is there something happening that I don’t know about? Signed: Indecisive in Azabu
Dear Indecisive: I can’t imagine what you’re talking about. The streets at 3:30 p.m. are full of kids eating junk food, looking at movie posters and buying cute notebooks and magic pencils. Maybe your son is on the wrestling team. Or maybe he’s the doorman with blue and green hair at “Araby Nights—Sex Meetings with Whiskey and Song.” Ask Yuki.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: As a responsible corporate citizen, are there any charities, worthwhile causes, educational programs and/or social movements around town which I have not heard about? Signed: The Problem is Appropriation
Dear Problem: No.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: When confronted at a funeral with a pot of burning charcoal, a pile of incense and a great deal of genuine feeling for a recent departed Japanese colleague, what does one do? Signed: Spiritual But Not Into Fake Displays
Dear Spiritual But Not Into Fake: What you know will send the departed’s soul straight to heaven — the 23rd Psalm and a tender homily by Reverend Smith— doesn’t work here. Hum and say those things quietly to yourself. In the meantime, handle the incense routine precisely as the guy in front of you handles it. (He’s only watching the guy in front of him.)
Dear Mister Etiquette: My wife and I have been invited to 57 cocktail parties in the last 30 days. Are there standards for turning down these things? Signed: On The Fence
Dear On The Fence: Not if you risk the real possibility of becoming a social outcast. Accept them all, but develop a repertoire of stories about sick children, Head Office Visitors, bullet wounds, community charity endeavors, business trips to Korea and get-togethers with the Royal Family to cover yourself in the event of your non-appearance. As a point of interest, menstrual cramps and early appointments the next day tend not to work in this community. Arriving late from Jakarta does.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: My husband says “hai” when he means “yes,” “dozo” when he means “please” and “so desu ka” when he means “no shit.” Those are the only Japanese words he knows and quite frankly it’s driving me up the wall. Signed: On The Wall
Dear On The Wall: Doesn’t he know “domo“?
Dear Mr. Etiquette: The superintendent of our building has A) let me into the apartment when I’ve forgotten my key, B) started my car when the battery was dead, C) collected my mail and newspapers when I’ve been out of town. Since tipping in Japan is not an acceptable practice, what do I do for him? Signed: Grateful But Confused
Dear Grateful But: Tipping in Japan is not, repeat not, an acceptable practice. Don’t contemplate it. However a case of Suntory Very Fine at New Year’s will get your leaky faucets fixed.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: When all is said and done, aren’t the Japanese exactly like us? Signed: Wondering
Dear Wondering: No.
Dear Mr. Etiquette: When all is said and done, aren’t the Japanese exactly like us? Signed: Not Certain
Dear Not Certain: Yes.