Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sumimasen, Gomen-nasai

I`ve learned two new phrases in Japan:
1) sumimasen (excuse me, sorry, thank you for your trouble -- like the Cantonese mm-goi); and
2) gomen-nasai (I`m sorry).

Actually, I knew these before -- I just didn`t know how often they would be said -- and how it has crept into my brain as I interact more and more in Japanese and with Japanese people.
While Fukuoka/Kobe/Kyoto/Nara were fun, and I was having an awesome and carefree time with Ricky, his bride, and her sister -- both of whom were very easy-going. After a day of getting-used to these new travel partners, we developed almost instant rapport -- joke after joke, being silly -- chorusing `Itadakimasu` in a ramen restaurant to the joyous approval of the restaurant staff; practising our limited Japanese with a man on an uncrowded subway, resulting in Ricky apologizing for disrupting his travel even though it looked like he was enjoying talking to us. "Sorry they`re having fun. Sorry they`re asking you questions which you shouldn`t be obliged to answer, even if it looks like you`re having fun."

An old man and stranger at a tight-sitting 500-person festival picnic, sitting almost right next to us had a fluttering, long (3 second) fart -- I thought I was the only one that heard it, as when I looked at the man he seemed quite and unremorseful -- but then another long and fluttering fart cut forth as he stared off into the blue sky. I then looked at a Taiwan friend sitting next to me and realized she had the same reaction -- and the moment of private embarrassment became less private, which became even more public when her sister noticed the expression on both our faces -- then when I knew she knew, the 3 of us (in a party of 8) erupted into huge laughter. It was one of those moments.

But what I couldn`t quite grasp (though I guess I do) is if it was necessary to apologize and feel awkward for our laughter. Stifle your laughter. Don`t be too funny.

Another time, I was in a Tokyo izakaya/bar restaurant when someone in our party asked the waitress for the soy sauce for our sashimi appetizer she had just brought. I, though, instantly found it behind the menu holder and brought it out. But when I brought it out, the waitress apologized. For what, I wondered? That I found it? That it wasn`t placed more appropriately in the middle of the table in the first place? Or that because the soy sauce was out of sight, and she hadn`t reacted more quickly, that the person asking for it might have become embarrassed about it. My Tokyo friend and I were puzzled as were most of the others for the apology. But in Japan, I think this type of thing is common. `Sorry that my son is not a capable English learner and that he has imposed his learning disability on you in Toronto.` said mother of Yusuke. But no, I was thinking, I`m friends with your son because we enjoy talking whether in English and Japanese and he is very capable and smart.

So -- let`s all find a reason to say sorry. I have started to do so whether I want to or not. Sorry I troubled you to get me a glass of water. Sorry I was 2 minutes late for our meeting. Sorry I was laughing too hard. And sorry that I like to joke around and that people are laughing when I say something exaggerated, or unexpectedly funny. And sorry for making you read this blog. I will not be so verbose in the future.


Anonymous Denise Tan said...

This is really funny!!!!

Sorry for actually reading your blog. And sorry for posting a comment. And sorry for finding this post funny!

Hahahahaha... =)

It really looks like you had enormous fun this time round. =)

11:26 AM  

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