Friday, November 02, 2007

Awkward moments 気まずい瞬間

Awkward moments. We all had our share of them and they won't stop coming anytime soon.

When I was in Japan, a combination of cultural differences, Japanese language deficiency and my not-so-refined (read: vulgar) nature have caused me to endure some of the most awkward situations ever. Below are some of the situations which I masterfully put myself into. Read on!

The thing I enjoyed most in the first homestay day:

During the first day of homestay, after a fairly eventful day, we were having lunch at some restaurant in Osaka. Homestay big sis came to the restaurant and joined us and after we left the restaurant, while walking outside, since I had a long day and we barely met, she asked me the million dollar question:

"what was the thing you enjoyed most today?"

At first I hesitated. Y'know, I met homestay dad's rich friend, ate a fancy homemade lunch and went to a lot of places, So, I paused and - it pains me to say - thought about it. Then after consideration, I dropped the bomb:

"The electric toilet."

..... You know, if I had said it on impulse, it would have been not half as bad, but I paused and I thought. I went to Kishiwada castle, Danjiri hall, a Japanese game center, met and got acquinted with a guy who owns 20 malls, a personal jetplane and God knows what else, ate lots of new delicious homemade Japanese dishes, ALL for the first time, and what did I tell homestay big sis? The damn electric toilet!!

How awkward can things get!!.. I mean, what if her parents hear this? what would they think?

But in my defense: It was the first time ever to enter an electric toilet and the one I entered had 'extra options'. You see, I saw all these buttons and I started testing them, and while I was testing them, I was smiling all the time as I imagined 'how will I tell my friends in Amman about this', and I was really amused by the volume-like control of water strength, but what really cracked me up was that there was a 'move' button, after I tried it I started laughing! But I didn't stop there. I wanted to see the thing that sprayed the water and so, I pressed the button while looking at the urinal and nothing happened. Then I noticed a sensor, and put my hand over it and pressed again. A small flat stick electrically expanded exactly like the stairs come out of the landed spaceships we saw in cartoons and started spraying water on me.

This was a very culturally shocking and amusing experience for me. So, while my answer was stupid and vulgar, I can't help but think that there was some truth in it, in terms of impact.

Annnyways, the very next morning, during breakfast, I waited for a moment when only I and big sis were on the table and quickly rolled out my apology and expressed my shame, and how my answer was incorrect and it was because of the culture shock. All the while she was saying 'daijoubu' and 'wakaru' (it's okay, I understand).

Too bad I didn't take a picture of the electric toilet.

My homestay family's son's husband!

I have this kind of mental bias in my mind, which I think a lot people also have but to a much lesser degree, that makes me group every two similar words or words that have something in common and interchange them by mistake, even though I fully know their meanings and the difference between them. A famous example of this is when people mix between left and right. The problem with me, is that sometimes I don't feel that I switched the words. For example, I would say 'left' and think that I said 'right' in my mind.

In the homestay photo-fest post, I recounted how I met my homestay family's son-in-law by accident in Nanba, and how he guided us to Dotonbori, where we met Mie-san and her Japanese friend, also by accident (all pictured in the post below).

At first I introduced Tomoya-san to my Egyptian and Yemeni friends and said "My homestay family's daughter's husband" and again when I met Mie-san and her friend "My homestay family's daughter's husband". Everything was fine until I was alone again with my fellows. They said "Samer, what's the problem with you? you said 'homestay family's son's husband twice, when you introduced him to us and then to Mie-san". Of-course, my white face immediately became red with embaressment. And they continued "Everytime you said, son, he would correct you and say daughter. At first it was okay, because we were all guys, but then with Mie-san and her friend, he got red faced and corrected you again 'daughter'. I didn't hear him when he corrected me at all.

A little explanation: Son in Japanese is 'musuko' 息子 and daughter is 'musume' 娘, but because musuko ends with 'ko' which means 'child' and because the same 'ko' also comes at the end of many, many Japanese female names (like 'Youko','Masako' and 'Mitsuko') I keep confusing musuko and musume, but after this episode I don't think I will ever confuse them ever again ever...

While we were going back to the Center in Rinku town, my fellows kept mocking me about this and how its a very basic mistake and I, in turn, was boiling inside and outside, angry at how simple my mistake is even though i started learning Japanese 4 years ago, angry at how I might have looked stupid while repeatedly saying 'Son's husband, son's husband'. I think I really overreacted...

Kanji Master

Okay, this is a milder story than the ones above, but it is still awkward nonetheless.

I was in Kansai airport, in my last moments in Japan and I was buying last moment snacks and souviners in order to shut the mouths of a handful of my friends and colleagues. So, I was doing the routine check on one of the chips snacks in a shop, before buying it and I was rotating the cyclindrical container as I checked the ingredients for the "two no-noes". Two clerks were staring at me eyes wide open and then one of the let out "SUGOI, zenbu yomemasuka" (You can read everything? AWESOME!).

"Iya, Iya" I said while I automatically raised my hand and made a peace or victory sign (depending on where you live) with my fingers and assumed a humble look in my face "fututsu no kanji dake o sagashiteimasu, buta to sake ga dame desu kara" (No, no, I'm only searching for two characters, I can't eat pork or alcohol). "Aaa" they said in unison and one of them offered to help. I gave her two cans (different flavours) and she said one had pork and the other was okay. After I left the shop, I thought "I wish". I wish I could read them all; maybe in 5 years time..

That's all. Darn, I feel awkard after all these awkward stories. Please, try not to post awkward comments. I've had enough awkwarding!!

Oh oh!! I almost forgot!!...

Unintended impoliteness at the Aikidou lesson

As part of the program, we had cultural experience lessons and I chose Aikidou and Ikebana (flower arrangement) because I had a lot of Shodou (Calligraphy) lessons in Jordan and I don't like Tea ceremony (sorry K-s!).

During the Aikidou lesson, one of the exercises involved one of the Aikidou team members sitting low and waving a stick from left to right slightly above the group and we had to run through without getting hit by the stick and we should touch the man's shoulder. The member doing this was a fairly old ojiisan with a bald head and grey hair. I watched the line before me as a participant ran, leaped and tapped his shoulder, then the next participant ran, leaped and tapped his shoulder and so on, until my turn came:

I ran, I leaped and I tapped his... HEAD!!!!!

How embarressing! Everybody who watched laughed and another member of the Aikidou team, realizing that I'm one of those boorish foriegners, came to me and said (paraphrase) 'shitsurei deshita, ayamari shita hou ga ii desu yo' (you did something impolite, you should probobly apologize). And then I realized my folly and kept apologizing to him in 5 minute intervals until the lesson ended. Actually, I still think it's not enough; allow me to apologize one more time: "ごめんなさい! 許してくださいお願いします"

Mr. Jordan

One of the Vietnamese participantes (there were two) kept insistently calling me Joudan-san (Mr. Jordan). Joudan is 'Jordan' pronounced with Japanese syllables, but it actually does not mean Jordan; Jordan is 'yorudan' in Japanese. But she kept saying it, Joudan-san, Joudan-san. Anybody who's beyond toe-deep in Japanese knows why this is awkward for me. So, everytime she said Joudan-san, I tried to correct her 'Yorudan, Yorudan desu'. But she insisted 'Joudan no hou ga oboeyasui!' (It's easier to remember Joudan).

So, during the Ikebana lesson she came and sat beside me and said it again for what seemed like the 100th time, so I said: 「冗談じゃなくて、ヨルダンです!」 (it's not Joudan, it's Jordan) and everybody around us started laughing.

To clarify for those who don't get it, 'Joudan' in Japanese means Joke. So I was telling her something like "It's not a joke, it's Jordan" or "It's Jordan, no joking!"

Alright, that's about enough, I'll stop before I remember any more awkward stories..