“Honorable customers, sorry to have made you wait as it is a burden for you.” The waiter is holding two plates and our ticket. We’re in one of many family style restaurants that offer food low on cost and atmosphere. The waiter continues:
“One order of cream sauce pasta with asparagus.” I raise my hand and bow slightly. At least I think I do. Maybe I blink my eyes and nod, or raise my eyebrows and say “hai.” I can never be sure anymore, but rest assured I do something awkward in an attempt to be polite. The waiter then one-ups me by standing hesitantly with the second dish.
“One order of hamburger steak with cheese.” Chiaki isn’t paying attention. She’s engrossed in her cell phone, reading some email. This strange standoff lasts only a second but it seems longer to me. He looks at me and can’t seem to put the plate down without some kind of confirmation. Maybe I look hungry, like I could use an extra entrée. That’s probably the truth. Finally I motion to Chiaki. He nods. Just as he suspected, the dish was hers.
This interaction seems absurd but is often the reality of living in such a polite society as Japan. As in this exchange, I’m often baffled by how much common sense is abandoned in the name of politeness. If one person has claimed the pasta, one could deduce that the remaining dish might go to the remaining person at the table. But what if he were wrong? Can you imagine the shock of the customers and ensuing embarrassment?
Everywhere in Japan you can observe how people go to such extreme lengths to tip-toe around each other. Here are a couple tips to observe to help you through your day:
1. Constantly mutter “sumimasen” (excuse me). A slur of indistinguishable sss sounds will suffice. This will give you a “polite buffer zone” if anyone should come out of nowhere and become offended by your innate inadequacies.
2. When driving, all passing should be done at no more than 3km per hour so as to not startle drivers who choose to turn. Bicycles should be given 2-3 meters of space at all times. Try to completely enter the lane of oncoming traffic if possible when passing bicycles and pedestrians.
3. Whatever you do, don’t believe your eyes. If your looking for someone, and you think you may have found them, it’s best to ask another person if they are really there. I learned this trick from the kids at my schools. Everyday they enter the teacher’s room, look straight at me, and ask if the English teacher is there. I say I am indeed there, and we head off to English class.
4. All rules and politeness are suspended when on a crowded train. Groping even seems to be okay in this situation! You also needn’t worry about any niceties if you’re drunk or you are older than 70 years of age.
Please lets enjoying Japan! !*(^o^)*!