Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Updates and Reflections

So where was I last time I blogged? I talked about Ueno, yes? Well, I hate to ruin everyone's image of my glamorous and busy life here, but really there are times where I just do normal stuff. However, there have been a couple of interesting happenings.

Sunday was a busy day with the Inagaki family (my host family). Mami, Su-chan, and I made pumpkin pie (thanks Dad!) finally. We had some trouble locating pie crust and neither Mami nor I wanted to go through the trouble of trying to make it ourselves in the cramped little kitchen. It was my host family's first experience with pumpkin pie and it wasn't a bad one though not nearly as good as grandmom's of course.

After pie, Mami, Su-chan, and I went over to Sam-chan's house (Sam being a half-Japanese boy that goes to the same daycare as Su-chan). Why did we go? Because Sam's mother wanted to offer me a job as a babysitter for her two children Sam (2) and Elena (4). I agreed since a. I need money and b. I like kids. Plus, it's just three times per week for just an hour or two each time. Not that bad really. I had my first day on Monday (which actually included Su-chan) and had a lot of fun though it was quite exhausting keeping all three of them entertained.

But back to Sunday! An amusing thing happened around 10:30 when I was about to head to bed (I know, kind of early, but I had Japanese the next morning!) My host dad suddenly wished Mami a happy birthday! I turned to her and said, "Eh?". And she told me she had forgotten it was her birthday! How could she? Her younger sister Tomo was even over that day (to partake of pumpkin pie) and didn't say anything! So anyway, Mami is now 31 years old. And now I know the birthdays of everyone in my host family ^_^

In things to look forward to: As soon as my media studies class is over tomorrow, I am done with class until after Golden Week (Japanese holiday period). Tomorrow night, I am spending the night doing karaoke (and I mean spending the night--fun starts at 11pm and ends when the trains start running again at 5am). Then, this weekend, I'm going on a trip with my host family. We're visiting Mami's older sister again. This time, there's a big group of us going including Jeremy (Mami's parents' host student). This time I promise to remember my camera so I can get pictures.


Now for some thoughts on culture inspired by the torturous three hour lesson on keigo we had in Japanese class yesterday (Monday).

Those of you who have studied some Japanese probably recognize the term keigo even if you can neither use nor understand it. Keigo is Japanese honorary/humble speech. Unlike English, they have almost an entirely different vocabulary for use in situations where extra politeness is needed. Mostly keigo changes up the verbs you use in a sentence. For example, if you want to say "My teacher went to the airport." you would need to use the keigo verb for "went" which is "irashaimashita" instead of the normal form "ikimashita". Annoying yes? But wait! There's more! The above example relates only to talking about superiors like a teacher or boss. But what do you use when you talk about yourself to a superior? Why, different verbs once again! Not only that, but when you want to be polite there are often nouns and other parts of speech you change as well. The word "ie" which means house becomes "otaku", the word "doko" which means where becomes "dochira" (which also means "which" ugh).

As of now, I have had several lessons try to drill keigo into my brain very unsuccessfully. Partially this is because I never use it. I don't have a formal job where I need to speak to a boss, my Japanese professors require nothing more polite from us than "masu/desu" for except those times when we actually study keigo, and I talk to my other professors in English. However, I have come to believe this is not the only reason I find keigo difficult. I think there is a deeper social wall that makes it hard for me to actually see the merit of such a linguistic structure.

The idea behind keigo is that you are either raising another person above yourself or lowering yourself below them. This sort of offends my sense of self in a way. Just because someone is my boss, doesn't mean they are better than me. As human beings, we are equals. That doesn't mean politeness has no place, but such elaborate forms of politeness seem unnecessary and a bit degrading to me.

Interestingly enough, that same day in my sociolinguistics class, we briefly discussed the fact that in most languages, women are more polite than men. Rachel and I decided that this was not really sexist. It's more that women are more passive aggressive so we can be mean and polite simultaneously.

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