Sunday, February 10, 2008

GREETINGS IN JAPANESE & ITS IMPORTANCE IN JAPANESE CULTURE


It took nearly half a year for me to make such minor adjustments and learn what was similar and what was dissimilar from my own culture—as well as what was expected of me and what wasn’t. Many things such as morning greetings, in which the Japanese will repeatedly greet each other with a cheerful “Ohayoo Gozaimasu!” even if they had already greeted you once or twice already, seemed to me a complete waste of time. Although harmless this needless banter really got under my skin (without my meaning it to, of course). Chalk it up to culture shock but I wasn’t used to having to repeatedly repeat myself for no good reason. Whereas in America you say ‘good morning’ once and if you see the same person again you needn’t bother saying ‘good morning’ a second time. It was a minuscule adjustment, but big enough to cause me some distress and really evaluate why I was being so irritated by it. Was I really that impatient of a person, or was it really just one of those little things so distinctly Japanese that I couldn’t force myself to fully adapt to it? Well, you’ll be glad to know I eventually did adapt, even though I still find the Japanese overly liberal with their greeting habits.

You might be shocked to learn that on average I say good morning approximately seven times every morning just having walked through the door. Each day I walk into the office I shout out a cheerful “Ohayoo Gozaimasu” and get numerous “good mornings” in return. The odd thing is when the school hour begins the Principal will address everyone with “Good morning,” and we reply. Next the vice-Principle will update us on any news or school events, but before he does he reiterates “Good morning,” and so do we. And next comes the teacher’s announcements…good mornings from all, and so on and so forth.

Not only this, but to think that I haven’t even said good morning to my students yet –which I will do in the hallway, and at the start of every class, and each time they enter the teacher’s office. I hope this is beginning to better illustrate what it’s like, but consider that we haven’t even gotten to the afternoon greetings yet.

Of course now I just sort of tune it all out and say the greetings as if on autopilot. But becoming accustomed to the numerous and multiple greetings, initially, took me some getting used to. Although, now and again, on certain formal occasions such as school assemblies, or P.T.A. meetings, and the like it can get completely out of hand. Instances in which I have to greet/stand/bow—greet/stand/bow—greet/stand/bow, etc., etc. still irritate me, and not because I find it a total waste of time and energy, but because there are only so many greetings a person can say before it does become meaningless. However, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it once did. Now I can simply put on my fake smile (something the Japanese excel at) and be polite to the worst of them, as if to say, “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” It’s also given me more patience, and so, I guess during my stay in Japan I have benefited from a little etiquette discipline.

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