A few weeks ago I was having lunch with 7 other ladies who were from around the world. Any initial conversation amongst expats involves the inevitable question of, “Where are you from?” Having lived in the U.S. most of my life and being Asian all of my life, I knew when I got this question in the States, the answer typically needed to be Korea. In the States, I don’t think it mattered how I answered because I “looked” different, I was considered exotic. In Tokyo, the asker may want to know either your nationality or your last international residence. So here I am, sitting at a table, with people who are from Paris, Dubai, Mongolia, New York (you get the picture) and everyone is tres chic and has a cool accent. When I answer, “Georgia” (somehow unable to avoid saying it with an extra syllable), off in the distance I swear I can hear the banjo from the movie Deliverance. It was such a strange experience realizing that I was on the trailer-side of the park now. Here I was thinking I had a little sophistication under my belt only to realize that belt was made of twine. I cannot say I blame them, for who amongst us hasn’t made a stereotype. I really don’t think it helps that Wikipedia references Georgia in its definition of Redneck! -My Hand to Gawd it surely does (Thank you Charlotte Ann)! It makes me suspicious that perhaps it’s those Damn Northern Yankees controllin’ the Wikipedia. Evidently those wires don’t reach that far South for us to make a difference on the internet. So when you arrive, just be prepared for people to start talking extra loud and slowly once you inform them you are from any of the Southern states.
Tis the season, so I have been doing my part to boost the Japanese economy. To be honest, I do not really enjoy shopping. I will typically only shop if I have a particular item I need or want. I find it to be exhausting and a little frivolous. But if I have to do it, I enjoy doing it with a friend. Yesterday, Cliff and Chase were going to be at baseball from 11:45-6:30pm so I decided to knock out some Christmas shopping. I called Nghi because she is fun and has no kids and enjoys exploring. We went to the Ginza Shopping area:
Notice anything missing? Cars! During the weekends, Chou Dori (name of main shopping street) is blocked off so that shoppers can stroll around wherever! I didn’t even notice until Nghi pointed it out. I figured it was a Christmas thing, but I think it’s just what they do to “honor the customer”.
Honoring the customer is clearly evidenced anywhere you go in Tokyo. Whether you are passing restaurants, food stalls, boutiques or whatever, if there is someone there who could potentially “serve” you, you will know it. I’ll admit, I find all the kowtowing a bit awkward, but now I also see it as something so unique and special about the Japanese. Coming from the South, where someone would rather shoot you than bow low and take your order, I see it as a sign of gratitude and respect. Just know that they say “irasshaimase” a lot and everywhere. Over here, if the clerk sees a line forming, they are VERY apologetic and will call any free person in to help at another register and everyone just moves a little faster. In Atlanta, if a line starts forming, the clerk is usually in their own world (possibly texting on a phone) and they may take the time to look over their shoulder to see just how long that line is getting, and I SWEAR…….. they go slower.
When you decide on what you will purchase, the sales person will tell you your total AND show you your total on a calculator. There is almost always a little oblong or rectangular dish for you to lay your money down. This way there need be no physical contact between lowly salesperson and most high Kokyakusama (clientele).
After making change (if necessary) they will carefully count out the difference to you and hand it over. Then, they carefully wrap or gift bag your most recent purchase. Sometimes I have been frustrated with this process because the Japanese take wrapping super serious and this means there is no “running in” to pick something up. I have found the phrase, “Fukuro ni irenaide onegaishimasu” to be useful because it means “please don’t put it inside a bag”. Then (probably to their horror) I just chuck whatever into my backpack. However, when I do have the time to go through the whole shebang, there is more. Once transaction is complete, the salesperson will carry your new purchase prettily wrapped or bagged and escort you to the front of the store and hand the bag to you at the door. It took me a couple of times to understand the choreography of this, but I guess once you’ve paid, they want your ass out of there.
They will also stand by the door and bow until you are out of sight. It can all seem unnecessary sometimes, but if all the ritual and customer attention wasn’t there, I might as well be in Georgia.
Until next time…