mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Musing on something that took me back a few years--

I've never understood the attitude among certain of the Japanese-domiciled that being complimented on your use of chopsticks is a mortal insult. 'They think we can't use chopsticks!! If *they* can use a knife and fork why shouldn't *I* be able to use chopsticks!! They think westerners can't use chopsticks because it's a seekrit spesshul art that only Asians can manage!! Hmphh!!!'

I sometimes detect a certain 'You have dishonoured my cosmopolitanism. You must die' kung-fu trope at work here. (I am *so* not a hick from Smalltown USA. I can use *chopsticks*!) Sometimes I think it's fall-out from WWII, because you know, I never heard that particular song and dance from people whose countries didn't fight in the Pacific War (she says, only half-joking.)

But mostly I think it's the professional aggrievedness of certain foreigners in Japan, outsiders by definition, who are determined to see slights where none exist and ascribe feelings of superiority to the Japanese that they don't hold. (As Asian cultures go, the Japanese are the ones famously prone to inferiority complexes. OK, I won't speak for the Filipinos. But I've yet to hear 'we must become as good as the Americans' from a Chinese or Korean. 'They've got it, we want it' is rational. 'They've got it and so their culture must be superior to ours'? Uhh- no.)

Yes chopsticks are doubtless now a part of middle-American culture. Only somehow you don't see people using them regularly in, like, TV sitcoms and adventure films: which is what the Japanese see of us. Equally, the one or two people who ever handed me the O-hashi, o-jouzu desu ne line were of an age to have lived through the Occupation. When, I assure you, most GIs didn't use o-hashi or didn't use them well.

Come to that, I'm of an age to remember when chopsticks *weren't* a part of non-Asian NAmerican culture. Up to the mid-70's no-one knew them and no-one used them; eggroll Chinese food places gave you forks, and round-eyes rarely if ever went to actual Chinese restaurants. It was the mid-70's to early 80's that saw real Chinese food (Szechuan, by default) become popular and with it the yuppie need to demonstrate that you too! could use chopsticks and hence weren't an egg-roll eating prole. Is how it worked in my city with its sizable Chinatowns and sizable yuppie population. YMMV.

And I do wonder if the hashi ga jouzu remark really has any meaning to the Japanese themselves. It could be an automatic politeness thing, like asking someone on their way out the door Are you going out? Maybe a leftover from the many decades when o-hashi use wasn't jouzu at all. Or even worse, it could be on the lines of Nihongo ga, o-jouzu desu ne. Which, as we were assured by Sanada-sensei from the Asakusa shitamachi (and by that definition, more direct than most Tokyoites), means your Japanese is pretty punk. "When you actually get good at Japanese, the Japanese will do this:" (drooping like a mortified flower.)

So maybe O-hashi o-jouzu desu ne means You manage them like a seven year old. Certainly I do, and I don't think I've ever met a fellow gaijin who had the dexterity of someone who's used them from childhood. We think if we get the food to our mouths without dropping anything we're using our chopsticks like anyone else. They may expect a bit more grace than that. (Or even that we hold them differently, because there seems some variation in finger placement in my observation.)

And face it, it isn't just chopsticks that surprise them. Gaijin reading Japanese throws them for a loop; gaijin sitting seiza; gaijin good God writing Japanese. But no one gets into a fearful offender about 'He said my Japanese writing was good! Hell, if he can write romaji why shouldn't I be able to write kanji and hiragana and katakana??!! He just thinks writing Japanese is a seekrit spesshul art only Japanese can manage!!' Though I happily wait the day when people *do* get into a fearful offender about this slighting of their writing skills because hmph! any gaijin can do *that*.
Tags: japan, japanese, wank

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