I’ve had a thing for Japanese culture for a while now. However, one thing that has bothered me was the Japanese difficulty in unambiguously saying, “no.” A response of “that is a little difficult” or “I’ll think about it,” may result no action being taken. I was frustrated by this. At least frustrated enough that it is something that has stuck in my head for a few years.
It was so unlike living in America where people will no only tell you, “no,” but also tell you what you can do with your request; all without the slightest concern for your feelings. Or worse, with a not insubstantial amount of schadenfreude at hampering you on your path.
Now keep in mind that, I’ve never been to Japan so my exposure to this facet is limited to a small number of books. I realize this is a bit like judging American by watching a couple of Westerns, and that these Japanese expressions may be completely clear to a Japanese person. However, this is only a launching point and not a rant on how the Japanese disappoint me for not meeting my expectations. :)
I was listening to the Freakonomics Podcast – Smarter Kids at 10 Bucks a Pop (not one of the better episodes BTW, try No Lose Lottery for an introduction to the show) when the interviewee mentioned how a chinese girl asked him if he could get a pair of classes for her sister who was jealous of the ones the girl had received. The interviewee responded with, “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Holy crap!” I said in my mind. “We do the same damn thing!” Instead of saying, yes, no, or maybe, the interviewee responded with an ambiguous “I’ll see what I can do.” Which, to the girl, might have suggested that an attempt would be made to obtain the glasses. However, to the interviewee, it would be clear that no attempt would be made, but he did not want to hurt her feelings by saying “no.”
Then a rush of other examples came to mind:
I’ll call you.
We should do lunch.
Thank you the submission of your manuscript….
Perhaps, it should not be a revelation that American’s propensity or bluntness doesn’t stop our ability to also be disingenuous. However, at that moment it was. So, on behalf of any foreign travelers visiting our fair shores, if you hear:
I’ll get right on that.
Don’t count on it.