Thursday, January 17, 2008

So Sorry

John has a habit of apologizing for things that are not his fault. Like the fact that the US Postal Service is holding three fifths of all my worldly possessions hostage. Or that I ordered something to eat that turned out to be less than delicious. He is very sincere about it, and truly concerned. Like if he'd only had the foresight to guide me away from that ordering that dish, I would have had a more enjoyable dining experience. Then he offers me his dish to make up for his blunder. The idea that he takes my happiness to heart even in the smallest details makes me happy.

The Japanese are similar in a way. Apologies run amok in dialog with the locals. "Please forgive us, so sorry, so ashamed, full of disgrace, that we ran out of rice for your sushi order....please accept our sincerest apologies and our first born." Something similar happened to me the other night at Zen Sushi, and while consoling this poor waitress, I assured her that it was no disgrace, and I would happily have the sushi, sans rice, sans child.

Verbal apologies were never much a part of our household growing up. We just sulked until the other party forgot, and then the egregious behavior dissipated over a good family meal. It's good to not hold grudges, but sometimes words can be necessary, admitting you've done something wrong can often completely cure the harm you've done.

The Japanese use the term "gomen nasai" to apologize, which actually means more along the lines of "I'm so, so sorry - but it ain't my fault." Well it's probably not quite like that, but it is an apology without claiming to be the cause of the injury. It seems excessive, but now makes me wonder if I'm being rude by NOT offering such condolences. There was a German girl I knew as an acquaintance who seemed so cold and unfeeling because she never offered any sympathetic words, and it made me feel that she couldn't care less how my life was going. But now I think it may have just been cultural. Cultural relativity if you will. I think sympathy in any degree is welcomed, as long as it's genuine.


nikki said...

When I worked at Nordstrom, (remember that? No?) the best part (other than Mrs. Fields in the Food Court) was the Japanese women that would come in and try on bathing suits. They would always have problems with the tops (most were unable to fill them). I would then make jokes and they would lose their minds, thinking I was the most hilarious person they'd ever met. I considered doing stand-up for a while because of it.
But my favorite was their responses to the suggestions I would make that they didn't like: I would show them a suit and they would bow and cover their mouths and say "maybe not." Like they would die if they hurt my feelings. Gawd I loved them.

JP said...

Awesome. You are hilarious, why don't you take your act on the road? You'd be HUGE in Okinawa.

Rachel said...


Just be careful of this if you ask the Japanese for directions. My experience? They will send you in ANY direction just to be sure that you go somewhere - I suppose it's unthinkable for them to say, "sorry, I have no idea - and why the heck would you want to go there anyway??"

This led me on a number of good adventures when I was visiting my sister in Japan, traveling alone during the day while she worked, and having no natural sense of direction myself.

Luckily, you're on a island, so you can't get that lost, right? :)

miss you tons