Nov 082011

We had bowing practice in JBPP today. I kind of suck at it, so I’m sure I looked like a penguin with a nervous tic. The really tricky bit is the “bow while walking past someone in the hall” bow. The tricky bit is to do it without falling or walking into a wall.

My quick tip for bowing and not looking weird: Present the top of your head to the other person, so they can whack you on the head with a pretend big stick. That’s the polite way to bow. Don’t try to look them in the eyes, it’s creepy.

Also, men put their hands along their sides, while women cross their hands in front of them.

Sounds Like “Yes,” But It Means “No.”

I learned a new favorite phrase “できかねます” (deki kanemasu.) It’s a way of saying it’s not possible to do something without using a negative verb form. かねます (kanemasu) essentially means that something is impossible. So it’s rejecting someone’s request in the affirmative form of the verb, rather than the negative form of the verb.

I love that concept.

Of course, if something is かねません (kanemasen), then that means it’s possible. In that case, the negative form can have a positive meaning. It all depends on what you’re talking about.

Saying Something By Saying Nothing

We also covered あいづち (aidzuchi), which are these great filler words that don’t mean anything at all. Sort of like “uh-huh, yeah, gotcha, ok, sure, ummm,” etc. あいづち are important in Japanese. In fact, just sitting there like a lump and sounding like a textbook makes you come across as, well, weird.

あいづち add a little natural feeling to your speaking style, so while it seems silly at first, it’s all social lubricant I’m learning, and social lubricant is important, regardless of culture.

I did pretty well with あいづち in class, so it turns out I’m an expert at saying nothing.

JBPP has been great at teaching me a lot of cultural stuff I never would have guessed at, but I still have a ways to go.

After class, I compared photos with K-san. K-san has done a much better job of photographing daily life in Japan than I have. She managed to find the fireworks on Sunday. I didn’t go out because it was raining. She is made of sterner stuff! I am made of water soluble components, apparently.

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