I find this with the dragon stuff a lot. None of it is instinctive (except for those blessed stories when it is.) Everything has to be considered and accepted or rejected. I have never been a dragon or a king, which isn't a problem. But I've never spent any time considering what the world looks like to a dragon or a king- or, in this case, a king's cousin. The automatic western assumptions don't work, which is a problem when I'm trying to show intimacy of feeling between people who speak with a superficial formality of language. Servants I can do, because I know how servants used to speak in the west. Kin of differing rank I can't do, because really the only models I have are Shakespeare's history plays and a handful of better historical novels. And the trouble with those is that even there nobody is speaking the English version of keigo except in the public scenes. Intimate English for intimate moments is our default. It's not the Japanese one, where well-bred wives can have husbands who ossharu when they say things. (Of course there's the paradigm where the politer a wife becomes about her husband the angrier she is at him, but that's a different situation.)
This kind of segues into something I was thinking about N's novel that happens in A/U ancient Egypt with a different set of cultural assumptions. Her character doesn't express outward defiance of the social order and thus may come off as wimpy.
But the assumption we have is that when we feel an emotion we must express it or suffer from repression (ahh the monsters freud created.) So if a character opposes some aspect of authority she states her opposition in words- defiance- or states it to herself- burning determination to do what she wants- etc etc. But consider a society like Japan where /expressing/ emotions or defiance makes you hideously uncomfortable: like giving details of your evacuations to your boss. "So how was the BM this morning, Ms. Johnson?" Equally a society that isn't as adversarial as ours. 'This is wrong thus they are wrong thus I will show them how wrong they are.' Or as individualistic-- thhere being separate from the group or different from the group is like having a physical handicap: you aren't entirely whole. In Japan you aren't entirely yourself when separate from people. It's not that your marvellous individualism is constantly subordinated to and constrained by the group, as here. It's that you operate best and most happily as an individual when part of a group. I'd say 'like family, and think how awful to be totally without family' except that here being without family doesn't phase a lot of people at all.
So one could have a character who dislikes certain aspects of the society she finds herself in but who deals with that without opposing those aspects. Agrees quite happily with what is said (as do we all in Japan because after all, what do mere words matter?) and goes ahead doing whatever she wants to do and /doesn't see that as a contradiction./ The Japanese never tell you why they do things. They don't have whys. They don't think it necessary to justify what they do in terms of motivation or circumstances or whatever. They just do it. Ask them why they did and they apologize- assuming Why did you do that? means I am angry! and not Why did you do that? becausew hwy would anyone ask why. Drives gaijin batty. Try reasoning with a Japanese student and you come up against the blank wall of a smile and an apology and a continuation of the nuts-driving behaviour because you haven't addressed the situation in terms that make sense to her. Which seemingly are any terms but the ones we think important.
agh work must run