mjj (flemmings) wrote,

"I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you."

My Japanese classes in Tokyo were a pretty mixed bunch. But one term the class split pretty much into assorted-white-westerners (American, Australian, a Brit and me) and Koreans (a 40ish man, a 30ish man and a 20ish woman.) Eventually I started noticing something.

This was an upper class, so there was lots of free discussion and language practice. The teacher would give us a printout of a news item or op-ed and after we'd read and reviewed it, invite our thoughts. The westerners would jump on the topic like a soccer ball and kick it around for a bit- and I'd be one of the first to jump, having learned the age-old lesson that what a woman feels is the proper pause between question and answer is twice what a guy is comfortable with, and it's either talk before you're psychically ready or don't get a chance to talk at all. When we'd all stated our views there'd be a pause. Then the older Korean man would speak. Then the younger Korean man. Then the Korean woman.

Whatever you may think about this in theory, in practice I slowly started to feel that us 'My Opinions: Let Me Show You Them' westerners were acting like children, and that adults wait before waving their thoughts about. So I started waiting before talking. I can't tell you how hard that was. It really is counter to everything I'd picked up here. It got worse, actually, with various Japanese and Korean and Chinese friends, when it began to sink in that with them, opinions aren't an automatic response to a phenomenon, and that even should you have one it's bad manners to go shoving it at any but intimates. My students once complained- 'The teacher we had before kept asking us what we *think* about things, and then she made us say what we thought. It's so difficult!' All I could say was, that's how American culture at least works. Opinions are a reflex: whatever it is, we must have a reaction to it. And some of us must express that reaction or burst.

I've always admired the kind of person who doesn't see the need to speak their mind on any subject at the drop of a hat, for the same reason I admire people who can draw: because I can't.

Ic tō sāþe wāt
þæt biþ in eorle indryhten þeaw,
þæt hē his ferðlocan fæste binde,
healde his hordcofan, hycge swā hē wille.

(Google for a translation if you need one: all I can find are PDFs. Friends don't make friends read PDFs.) Yeah, well: nice trick if you can do it. Practice, I suppose, is the way to start: just keep silent. Say nothing. Possibly then there may come the master-level when it stops being a necessity to have an opinion about anything at all: bliss I can scarce conceive of.
Tags: fandom, japan, language
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