Monday, February 25, 2008

Fitting In

I was walking home from the grocery store today when I was reminded of car parking. You see, the first day I got here, the staff member who guided me around told me that he'd noticed that in the US, people tend to park heading into a parking spot, while in Japan, people tend to park heading out of the spot. (This is non-slanted spots, in lots.) It's a very little thing, but it's definitely different. (On my campus at home, it's mandated that we park head into the space.)

There are lots of little things like that, things that don't seem big, but are definitely different.

The first day I went to a shrine with some other faculty, when I first got here, we looked in some shops along the way. The shops all have beautifully packaged sweets or crackers or such. My colleagues told me they're souvenirs. They seemed like really weird souvenirs to me, like they wouldn't last long or something.

But this weekend, another faculty member was here, and he explained about the souvenir thing. The deal is that when someone goes away on vacation or something, they get packages of the sweets for the folks back home, back at the office, and so forth. And, he told me, they're especially great as a little thank you.

Our Japanese guide seconded the idea. Both encouraged me to get some for the office staff at Host University. The office staff there is, in a word, incredible. In several words, wonderfully helpful and kind. Seriously, they've been answering questions and helping me figure out where to go next and how to get places. They've helped me make copies, helped me fax a recommendation form, showed me maps, helped me buy things from meal tickets to bus tickets.

So, I got a couple boxes of treats in Nara, all of them decorated with stuff associated with Nara, the great Buddha, deer, the temple guardians, and so forth. And for my students, I got chocolate deer dung treats. (I hope they have a sense of humor.)

My colleague told me to be sure to set things up, when I was talking to the head staffer, so that she'd be sure to know this was thanks for all the help, rather than a gift in expectation of something else, if that makes sense.

So I took my flash drive with pictures in, and showed them to her, thanking her for helping me with directions and suggestions for what to see, and saying (in all honesty), what a great time I'd had and how much I appreciated her helping me. And afterwards, I told her I'd gotten a little something, and hoped she'd share it, because I wanted to say thank you to everyone for their help and share some of the fun of my trip. She announced that I'd brought treats, unwrapped them, and took them around to everyone, and people smiled and seemed to enjoy them. So I hope they really do realize how grateful I am. I wish I could actually say it in Japanese.

There are lots of local dialects in Japan, I'm told; the suffix for dialect is "ben." I've learned how to say "thank you" in Kansaiben (aka Osakaben). I've been using it on the (mostly) women who ring up my purchases in stores, and it tends to get a suddenly extra big smile. Okini!


  1. You might want to check up on the nuances of "Oki-ni." When I lived there (a thousand years ago, and I was in downtown Osaka), "Oki-ni" was only used by the providers of services (waiters, taxi drivers, clerks, etc.), not by customers and not outside of business relationships. But things may be different where/when you are.

    It took me forever to get my head around the importance of souvenirs. You are SO far ahead of me -- it sounds like you're getting great advice from folks.

  2. Meg, Thanks, will do. And if you have ideas of other things I should be aware of, please, please, feel free to give me a heads up!

  3. we lived in yokosuka for a year, and it was definitely different!
    every time our landlady came by [she lived in the other half of the duplex and collected rent in person], she brought some little gift: wrapped crackers, bean cakes, cookies.

    our neighborhood was near the ocean, and fishermen on the block would hang small fish right out on the street to dry. there was a tiny daikon farm just across the road. our parking spot was marked "gaigin." the closest supermarket was a couple of miles, but within a block or 2 were a bakery, a vegetable stand, a fish and meat market, some tiny mom & pop stores, etc. everyone was unfailingly polite.

    very interesting to read of your adventures!

  4. richard8:03 PM

    The full phrase in question is "Maido oki ni arigato," which means, roughly, "As always, thank you greatly." Both sides of a commercial relationship may use either "maido" ("every time") or "oki ni" ("greatly") but it's more common for the customer to say "maido." In Kyoto, beware--"oki ni" can mean "No, thank you." You can tell by context, of course, if the Kyoto person is refusing something rather than thanking you.