Is your sensei leading you down a zen garden path of humiliation?
September 17, 2007 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Tips for expressing gender in Japanese. Or, how to avoid becoming a "gaijin peto". Plus: obligatory wikage.
posted by Laugh_track (76 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not too crazy about the word 'gaijin'.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on September 17, 2007


I'm not too crazy about the word 'gaijin'.


Me neither. And I hate the insults to my masculinity. That's why hit them with my hello kitty lunch box and shake my pigtails at them.
posted by tkchrist at 2:00 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Talk about a difficult language. By the way, what kind of Japanese do the text books teach you - male or female?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:03 PM on September 17, 2007


I've read a number of these "oops, I talk like a girl!" pieces and I'm always confused. How the hell do you spend years in Japan and not realize men and women talk differently? You should be able to pick that up from watching movies, for chrissakes. And I find the "I don't know any guys" thing weird too:
The solution, of course, was to hang out with more Japanese guys. But for me, a freelance journalist with a part-time job and daily Japanese classes to attend, I had little time for new friends.

Besides, Japanese men, unlike their friendly female counterparts, are often inaccessible. They generally work 12 hours at a stretch and afterward go out in tight-knit, impenetrable groups. My girlfriend once tried to recruit a few male coworkers to teach me better Japanese but had little success. They were either too busy or just too exhausted.
Uh-huh. I think you're just lazy and like hanging out with your girlfriend. Which I can sympathize with, but still, knock off the excuses.

I have no problem with the word gaijin.

/gaijin
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2007


Languagehat, I think the problem is that 2 1/2 years in Japan is too short a time to figure out the differences in male and female speech. The first year or so is spent learning basic vocabulary and learning to string a sentence together. The second year is still spent building basic proficiency. There's no time to to investigate the subtleties of coded speech.

As well, the people who actually put in the time learning Japanese are punished for their efforts, because the people who teach conversational Japanese are usually middle-aged women with very particular ideas about what constitutes 'proper' speech, with the end result that their students end up sounding very feminine.

As for gaijin, my ten years in Japan spent as a translator taught me that it is mostly a stupid, ugly word used by stupid, ugly people, or foreigners too green to know the difference.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:18 PM on September 17, 2007


Give the guy a break, languagehat. Sounds like you know very little about Japan all around to be honest.

The inside/outside distinctions in the language are reflective of the society, which is very much set up to isolate you from other people outside of work and family. It doesn't surprise me this guy has no male friends - you are talking about a country where people either have work friends, school friends or family friends and that's it. I remember going to my (female!) Japanese friend's wedding and the three tables were even arranged so. I had no place to sit.
posted by dydecker at 2:25 PM on September 17, 2007


i mean 'family' not 'family friends'.
posted by dydecker at 2:28 PM on September 17, 2007


i really hope the guy from the csmonitor story is overcompensating hilariously now, such that every word he says is preceded by an outrageously trilled and spitty "hora!horahraa~!" and calling every thing "yatsu".

That'd be awesome.
posted by kickback at 2:35 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Round corners on your business card means you're a prostitute. Too bad nobody told my friend until the day he was leaving. Oops.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:41 PM on September 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Languagehat, I think the problem is that 2 1/2 years in Japan is too short a time to figure out the differences in male and female speech.

Oh, come on. You can get a start in five minutes by reading the posted Wikipedia article. It's not some mysterious, hidden fact. You hear both men and women talk as you go about your daily life; it should be clear enough that they talk very differently. I'm not saying he should be fluent in male speech (or Japanese in general, which is a hard language), I'm just saying it strikes me as odd that he didn't even notice there was a difference.

Give the guy a break, languagehat. Sounds like you know very little about Japan all around to be honest.


Give me a break. I was born in Japan and spent about eight years of my life, total, living there. Sounds like you know very little about me to be honest.

Chikushō.
posted by languagehat at 2:42 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


From now on, I'm going to accuse languagehat of being ignorant of random subjects just so he can shut me down hard.

So give me a break, languagehat. Sounds like you know very little about copolymers and their use as contrast agents in magnetic resonance imaging.
posted by GuyZero at 2:47 PM on September 17, 2007 [10 favorites]


Why don't you read the article again, languagehat. He's not saying he was completely unaware for 2 1/2 years that there was a difference between men's and women's Japanese. He's saying that he unwittingly picked up a lot of women's language, didn't understand the nuances and differences, and didn't realise how that made him sound.
posted by dydecker at 3:00 PM on September 17, 2007


The idea of having no male Japanese friends is conceivable. Girls are a lot more forward towards foreign guys than guys are. And I've known a few guys who have shown up in Japan, gotten a girlfriend, and then never left the house again. So when I read this article the other day, I immediately decided the guy was a "gaijin petto" as well.

On the other hand, it's really unbelievable to me that you could live in Japan for 2 1/2 years and never hear Japanese guys speak, or not notice the difference. Of course, it's true that you're not really equipped to pick up on those sorts of differences in your first couple of years studying Japanese. And it really depends on how intensively you have studied too; I know people who have been here for years and still can't read the days of the week.

But seriously, it's such a well-known pitfall of living in Japan, and there's so many articles like this out there that he should have known about the danger before he even got to Japan. At the very least, one of his gaijin petto friends should have warned him.

And I don't really have a problem with "gaijin" since I know plenty more offensive things to answer it with. But it depends on who's saying it and how they say it.
posted by donkeymon at 3:02 PM on September 17, 2007


My wife taught me how to swear - the REALLY frightening stuff - in Japanese. I also think that dialect is less 'feminine' or 'masculine' than standard Japanese as it is spoken in Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo Japanese sounds pretty swishy to my Osaka ears.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:21 PM on September 17, 2007


Here's the antidote: How to talk like a Yakuza

No one will ever accuse you of being effeminate again. (Especially if you chop off the tip of one finger.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:23 PM on September 17, 2007


KokuRyu has a good point: it's not just that men and women speak differently. In different contexts the exact same people speak differently (ref. "keigo"). And there's just a pile of different -ben; someone from Sendai speaks differently from someone from Tokyo who speaks differently from someone from Osaka.

If you don't have a large sample of different people to listen to, how do you determine that the differences you're hearing are the result of male/female differences, and not context-sensitive politeness, or regional accents?

You think they laugh at him for talking like a girl. Imagine if he unconsciously adopted an edokko-ben, without realizing it. (The American cultural analog would be a Bronx accent.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:28 PM on September 17, 2007


Why don't you read the article again, languagehat. He's not saying he was completely unaware for 2 1/2 years that there was a difference between men's and women's Japanese. He's saying that he unwittingly picked up a lot of women's language, didn't understand the nuances and differences, and didn't realise how that made him sound.
dydecker

But I think that's what languagehat is saying. This guy is in a country speaking a language with a well-known difference in how men and women speak. He learns a lot of the language from a girl, and then he's surprised that this would make him sound odd?:

"I thought my Japanese was fine, while in reality the effeminate, almost childish twang I had been learning made me sound very much like a 20-something, pink miniskirted Japanese woman."
posted by Sangermaine at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2007


languagehat said: Chikushō.

Heh. My wife's freshman-year hallmate learned that word the first week of Japanese 101. Unsurprisingly, its use spread quickly down the hall. To this day, the wife and I use it (phonetically, with a loose grasp on the meaning).
posted by Joe Invisible at 3:43 PM on September 17, 2007


You think they laugh at him for talking like a girl. Imagine if he unconsciously adopted an edokko-ben, without realizing it. (The American cultural analog would be a Bronx accent.)

Hmm... I don't think many people in the U.S. would be suprised at a foreigner speaking with a Bronx accent, they would just assume he spent a lot of time there.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I learned my French from a Japanese girl, so now not only do I speak French with a Japanese accent, you're telling me it's a girl's Japanese accent?
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:46 PM on September 17, 2007 [4 favorites]


Meh. My japanese language class started teaching these differences the first week. I suppose if you were dropped into Japan with no knowledge of the language, never bothered to buy one of the myriad "learn japanese texts" that are sold in the English section of big Japanese bookstores, only ever interacted with girls (ever), and never watched television, well ... then you could be completely unaware of this. So, I agree with languagehat.
posted by R343L at 3:48 PM on September 17, 2007


Here's part of the complication: Japanese regional accents.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:54 PM on September 17, 2007


Talk about a difficult language. By the way, what kind of Japanese do the text books teach you - male or female?

Most textbooks initially teach polite (-masu/desu form) Japanese. Later, they add informal (-ta/da form) and honorific language. Everything is usually taught in a largely gender-neutral manner -- textbook Japanese tends to be quite formal and proper as compared to colloquial Japanese. It's very NHK News-ish, the idea being that it's better to be over-polite than under-polite.

That said, textbook Japanese is neither particularly male nor female, but there are situations in which using it sounds female. Men don't use polite forms as often as women do, so in friendly/casual situations, males who overuse the masu/desu form (as in the early parts of the textbook) can seem overly stuffy or feminine.
posted by vorfeed at 3:56 PM on September 17, 2007


Yeah that's one thing they didn't mention - did the guy never watch Japanese TV? I think it's always been a great tool for learning - especially because you hear so many different types of Japanese.

The saddest part of the gaijin peto story is that the Japanese girlfriend didn't speak up for so long about it. On the other hand never rely on your partner to teach you.

Male teachers - I've been taught by male teachers at Japanese school.

Language exchange: although often it's a disguise for dating, there are some genuine people looking to improve their language skills and the guy could have done this easily. He must have read some of the local free rags in which they all have a language exchange classified section.
posted by gomichild at 4:01 PM on September 17, 2007


Seriously though, when I learn a new language, I find some character in a movie, and try to mimic his intonation throughout my studies. I also try and rent movies that I know well in english, and learn the roles of characters in the foreign language.

That way, you at least know what you're getting into, accent wise.
posted by Freen at 4:02 PM on September 17, 2007


... I don't really have a problem with "gaijin"... But it depends on who's saying it and how they say it.

Absolutely. Lots of folks use it very innocently: for those folks it mostly just means "foreigner", really, or "not Japanese". But if it's used by some nationalist, xenophobic bonehead ranting into a mic at Shibuya crossing about how all Japan's problems are due to those dirty foreigners, then it's, of course, offensive.

Now, Japanese folk who've given the word much of any consideration at all will generally use the more thoughtful gaikokujin, which means "person from a foreign country", rather than gaijin, which would basically translate as "outsider": literally, "outside person". (gai = "outside", jin = "person")
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Malaise of the sexual archipelago
posted by vronsky at 4:51 PM on September 17, 2007


Seems like being hairy is a positive boon as well (to some Japanese women anyway). Due to my mispent youth I speak excellent formalized very masculine Japanese albeit in very brief specialized phrases.
Please instruct me often!
Uh, pleased to meet you too.
Round house kick?
What?
Stop! Half point!
Are you looking for the martial arts school?
YES! LETS GO!
Uh, it’s down over there.
Yes, that is a certainty! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
Uh, yeah, sure (gaikokujin)
posted by Smedleyman at 5:13 PM on September 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


But I think that's what languagehat is saying. This guy is in a country speaking a language with a well-known difference in how men and women speak. He learns a lot of the language from a girl, and then he's surprised that this would make him sound odd?

Exactly. Look, I'm not saying the guy is evil or a complete idiot or anything, it just strikes me as odd. The guys who unwittingly picked up feminine forms right after WWII, sure, how would they know? In the 21st century, I just find it hard to see how you could maintain that ignorance. Sort of like not knowing where babies come from.

So give me a break, languagehat. Sounds like you know very little about copolymers and their use as contrast agents in magnetic resonance imaging.

You're... you're right!
*breaks down sobbing, is carried off*
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on September 17, 2007


My Japanese professor at York University, Norio Ota, beat this into us in first year. (But very politely!) I'm glad he did.

Gaijin is gaijin.
posted by blacklite at 5:24 PM on September 17, 2007


...the effeminate, almost childish twang I had been learning made me sound very much like a 20-something, pink miniskirted Japanese woman.

[in high-pitched, nasaly, New York accent] Not that there's anything wrong with that...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2007


Look at it this way: I've lived my entire life in the USA. Only now, after decades, have I learned that it's unwise to tap my foot in the lavatory.
posted by SPrintF at 5:31 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm down with languagehat. I just can't see how this guy could be so aurally challenged. Between television, the internet, manga and just hanging out at the local bar, how could you not catch on to this? Of course, several years into what became almost a decade in Kyoto, Japanese friends of mine who lived elsewhere would occasionally rib me about my Kansai accent, especially when we were out late and the liquids were flowing, so I shouldn't criticize too harshly. (Then again, that was no worse than my friends here noting that I occasionally revert to a Boston accent.) But the gender thing? Odd.

But don't get me started on the copolymer tip, you feel me?
posted by t2urner at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2007


As for the Japanese classroom, they do teach differences between men's and women's speech, but only superficially. As in, "this exists, people. Be aware of it". But the differences can be so extreme, especially when you mix in the different dialects around the country (think of the UK and its dialects, but even more pronounced) as well as the 5 or 6 politeness levels you must choose, depending upon who you're talking to...all of this is an unholy mess to decipher, and takes a lot of time for an adult to learn. And don't even get me started on the kanji...

The CSM writer was either 1) led a rather sheltered existence in Japan not to know the differences between male and female, or 2) he's exaggerating for the article's sake. I'll vote for the latter.
posted by zardoz at 5:55 PM on September 17, 2007


I kept hoping that the CSM piece would end with the author realizing that it was his girly affectations, not his dashing foreign good looks, that was causing him to be constantly hit on by Japanese gay guys.
posted by CKmtl at 5:58 PM on September 17, 2007


I started to pick up some effeminate speech patterns while learning Japanese. Mostly because I was learning it in hostess bars in NYC, from the hostesses. (More expensive than lessons, but you get pretty good whiskey poured by your instructors.)
Once in japan, I started hanging out at darts bars after work, and found that games are a good icebreaker for meeting male friends. None of the guys hanging out there after work spoke much english at all, so I was forced to speak japanese, and got exposure to more masculine speech patterns. My darts game got much better, too. too bad they don't have many of those electronic darts machines here in the states, or I might never have to pay for drinks again.
In Tokyo, I don't think I ever heard anyone call me gaijin. The only time I heard it used was in the context of gaijin-card. Gaikokujin OTOH, I heard a lot.
My wife doesn't teach me much Japanese, but being back in the US, in a heavily Japanese community, I am hearing mostly my wife's friends, and a bunch of 6-year olds speaking, so I'm picking up bad habits again.
A lot of the article rings pretty true, but the student of Japanese has a lot of options, especially in Japan.
Just stay away from Shinjuku 2-chome, there's no one there you want to sound like (as a straight male foreigner, at least).
posted by bashos_frog at 5:59 PM on September 17, 2007


I vaguely remember that you went to high school in Buenos Aires Lh. Were you an army brat, foriegn service, peace corps?
posted by vronsky at 6:03 PM on September 17, 2007


vronsky, that is a freakin' creepy article you posted.
posted by schroedinger at 6:08 PM on September 17, 2007


How so schroedinger?
posted by vronsky at 6:19 PM on September 17, 2007


vronsky, creepy for me too, when I got to the end and saw it was imomus.
I first came across his web presence when I was trying to find out some information about the suicide of one of my wife's friends.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:38 PM on September 17, 2007


When I lived in Japan, people were generally pretty cool about letting me know if I was talking all girly (some were more polite about it than others, but with the exception of cashiers/waitstaff/etc., almost everyone clued me in to some extent). I can see some of this dude's mistakes, but any man who's lived in Japan for 2 and 1/2 years and is still ending sentences in wa has absolutely no excuse for that brand of idiocy.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:49 PM on September 17, 2007


Shhhh... We find it very amusing when they talk like girls.
posted by cazoo at 6:49 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'll also point out that when a Japanese person complements you on your Japanese they are really saying "man, your Japanese sucks".

If you *really* speak Japanese well you can tell because people stop complementing you on how great your Japanese is; or so I've been told, my Japanese is pretty dreadful so I got "jozu desu ne" all the time...

And, I'll second languagehat, either the guy who wrote the article is a twit, or his Japanese teacher should be smacked. The fact that there is male and female Japanese was drummed into us practically from day one in my classes.
posted by sotonohito at 7:14 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Shut UP!! I am SO sure! Oh you guys are so bad!"

There is a decidedly girly way of speaking in the U.S. as well, not so much vocabulary perhaps, but speech patterns, pitch and phrasing. This is true of most of the English speaking countries I've been to. I'm sure it's not so pronounced as in Japan but if you think about it it's not that hard to work out the parallel. Imagine a japanese guy saying the quoted line at the top of this comment. I'd be pretty hysterical.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:52 PM on September 17, 2007


vronsky, I can't quite pinpoint why it's so unsettling, but it might have something to do with reading about a guy approaching fifty slavering after schoolgirls and women young enough to be his daughter, dreaming of dragging them off to his cave and contemplating ruining his marriage over them.
posted by schroedinger at 7:52 PM on September 17, 2007


(And that hasn't even touched on the raging case of Asian fetishism)
posted by schroedinger at 7:55 PM on September 17, 2007


I'm honestly not surprised that the guy was clueless. From the descriptions he gave of the sorts of people he hung around, it seems obvious to me that he was one of the typical tourist-types who grabs the first (and second and third) girl he can find in Roppongi and just spends all his time either with foreign friends who are doing the same thing, or his conquests.
posted by nightchrome at 7:56 PM on September 17, 2007


Yea, in my experience if someone tells you your Japanese is "jozu desu ne" it means you probably at least sound like a foreigner or you're Japanese really needs work.

An ending sentences in "wa" - if it's a rising "wa" that's girly, a falling "wa" (which I still use sometimes) is masculine and particularly Kansai. There's no excuse for referring to yourself in the third person no matter what your gender is.
posted by mexican at 7:59 PM on September 17, 2007


When I lived in Japan the scornful local slang term for a Japanese girlfriend with a gaijin boyfriend was "waruki-jikibi" or walking dictionary. It's interesting that the object of that scorn is now reversed.
posted by stonedcoldsober at 8:01 PM on September 17, 2007


sorry, waruki-jibiki
posted by stonedcoldsober at 8:03 PM on September 17, 2007


In colloquial Tibetan what sounded to me at first like hilarious exaggeration and child-like sing song was a way of expressing friendliness and casual warmth.

When Tibetan women get together, especially old women, they typically use this style of exaggerated stretching of words, so I thought that was "women's speech" and "men's speech" would be more straightforward. But, in fact, what I thought of as men's speech was actually academic-speak and the sing song, word stretching is basically conversational. It took me some time to figure that out.

Like the Japanese, the Tiibetans aren't comfortable correcting others. (And besides, they have had until very recently no experience teaching anyone their language, ever.) I learned Tibetan by speaking with very little kids, who were were rude enough to correct me frequently, which I appreciated. But then for quite a while I sounded like a little kid.

A quick aside. By chance a young Tibetan woman asked me directions on the subway today in halting English and I answered her in Tibetan. Big smiles and a fun moment.

All by way of saying I sympathise with this guy who wrote the article, learned about the Japanese language in an entertaining way and enjoyed the post immensely. Thanks Laugh_track.
posted by nickyskye at 8:12 PM on September 17, 2007


I had a classmate who really went out of his way to have masculine speech patterns. Boku this and -ta that. The magic of anime.

I agree that listening is important, gaikokujin is more polite than gaijin (which is a lot more polite than baka gaijin) (only gaikokujin is on the level 4 proficiency exam list), more polite is better than not polite enough, and the proper reply to "jozu desu ne" is "iie, mata jouzu ja arimasen" ("no, I'm not very skilled yet") or better yet "benkyou shite imasu ga mata jouzu ja arimasen" (I'm studying but....).

Frankly sushi chefs are amazed if you can pull off "oishikatta desu!" as you leave here in the States.
posted by ilsa at 9:20 PM on September 17, 2007


Boku this and -ta that.

That's more like a child's speech patterns. A male would be saying "ore wa" なんとか。。。
posted by gen at 9:45 PM on September 17, 2007


I dunno, I personally just don't quite feel comfortable using "ore" yet. Besides, I'm young at heart, that's gotta count!
posted by nightchrome at 10:31 PM on September 17, 2007


This happened to an dignified ex-diplomat who was a friend of our family. He was friendly with some Japanese women in his apartment building and would have tea with them quite a lot. Because he was a decent linguist he picked up a lot of Japanese from them. Then one day he got invited to a dinner at the Japanese embassy and to his embarrassment, the male diplomats found his Japanese absolutely hysterical. Imagine Alec Guinness talking like a Japanese schoolgirl. That's how it seemed to them.
posted by w0mbat at 10:49 PM on September 17, 2007


I have a suspicion that the writer exaggerated his situation for comedic effect. I agree that anyone who has been in his described situation who doesn't know that a terminal -wa is feminine speech has to be an idiot. But it's a mistake that would be easy to make for a few months, early on. I suspect that a lot of the mistakes he describes are things he really did do -- but not as long as he says, nor as often.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:57 PM on September 17, 2007


That's more like a child's speech patterns. A male would be saying "ore wa" なんとか。。。

Hmmm, I always viewed 'ore' more as male posturing...it's more childish in its own right. Never used it, use boku instead, so do my male friends, if they're not using 'wai' (local dialect).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 PM on September 17, 2007


Then of course, there's the much harder issue of how to bow.

For a Westerner--if you try, you'll get it wrong and insult someone. So just stand tall and offer your hand for a handshake. It is expected.
posted by eye of newt at 12:10 AM on September 18, 2007


I find bowing, heead-nodding, and other general body-language tidbits to be completely instinctive now, I guess you just absorb it via osmosis.
posted by nightchrome at 12:13 AM on September 18, 2007


other general body-language tidbits

How about the 'sucking in through the teeth' when you don't want to say "no"?
posted by gen at 1:02 AM on September 18, 2007


I've had to catch myself from doing that more than a few times. I already grunt way more than is probably healthy. I automatically stick my hand up in front of me to get through crowds, I grab the back of my head more now than ever in my life, and "haa?" has become my "wtf?".
posted by nightchrome at 1:06 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


As for gaijin, my ten years in Japan spent as a translator taught me that it is mostly a stupid, ugly word used by stupid, ugly people, or foreigners too green to know the difference.

I feel the same way about waeguk-in (외국인) here in Korea, but I hate the English word 'foreigner' with even more intensity, so I end up using the Korean, even when I'm speaking English.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:08 AM on September 18, 2007


I started hanging out at darts bars after work, and found that games are a good icebreaker for meeting male friends. None of the guys hanging out there after work spoke much english at all, so I was forced to speak japanese

Exactly. Classrooms are good for the basics, but in bars you learn to talk about what interests you and are more motivated to actually study.

Just stay away from Shinjuku 2-chome, there's no one there you want to sound like (as a straight male foreigner, at least).

Sounds a bit rude bashos_frog... you're assuming that gay Japanese men speak like women? Well, my Japanese boyfriend doesn't and neither do any of my gay Japanese friends. A camp queen in drag would definitely be an exception tho' ;p
posted by ameca at 1:41 AM on September 18, 2007


Happened to me with Thai, albeit in a limited context. Picked up some stray Thai on my backpacking trips to Thailand; decided I should at least say hello, order some green curry chicken, say thank you and finally, good bye in full sentences in Thai. Was rather proud of my linguistic ability, frankly; kinda made it a point to speak (read that as 'order') mostly in Thai in Thai restaurants here in Singapore, or when I'm travelling by Thai Airways. Besides, it is a beautiful language, rather sonorous to hear.

Until my (Thai) colleague pointed out that I, in fact, sounded rather katooey-isque when I said "Sawadeeka". Not that there's anything wrong with it, of course, but she preferred a more brusque, "Sawadee krub" from me. The same story here; the trick, apparently, is to clip the vowel-sound just as you've started pronouncing it.

Doubt anyone would have confused me for a 20-something, pink-skirted Thai woman, though.
posted by the cydonian at 3:38 AM on September 18, 2007


I still remember the night I switched from boku to ore... and became a man.

KokuRyu, your comment interests me a lot. I wonder if it's a regional thing or if you just happened to know a lot of people who were more comfortable with boku. I have known such people too. On the other hand, I have also known (adult) men who used boku in an affected, posturing way ("Look at me! I'm a Murakami Haruki character!"), apparently parallel to the posturing ore-users you evoke. It's a fascinating topic all round, much more interesting than the crusty old "watakushi->watashi->boku/atashi (->ore)" table in most textbooks.

Absolute best Japanese pronoun ever: osomojisama, "the 'so'-word [+hon] [+resp]", where the so-word is "sonata", i.e. "that [in your direction] one", i.e. you. (Don't use it if you're a man... or still alive in modern times.) A snarled "unu" (related to "ono(re)") also has an unbeatable archaic machismo.
posted by No-sword at 6:33 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Awesome thread.
posted by nickyskye at 7:24 AM on September 18, 2007


You must learn the ways of the force *covers mouth and giggles*
posted by Smedleyman at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2007


I vaguely remember that you went to high school in Buenos Aires Lh. Were you an army brat, foriegn service, peace corps?

Good memory! I was an embassy brat, but we shopped at the PX and I knew lots of army brats. (We used to go to the Washington Heights base until it was torn down for the 1964 Olympics. But I attended the opening ceremony and some of the track and field events, so I almost forgave them for the loss of the little base movie theater where you could buy wonderful hamburgers and eat them right there while you watched. And they had newsreels and serials before the movie...)

*drools, falls asleep*

posted by languagehat at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2007


Also, I second nickyskye: Awesome thread!
posted by languagehat at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2007


When I was attending Yoshiwara High School in Shizuoka-ken, I once referred to myself as "ore" in front of the class, and the sensei interrupted me to say that was wrong. I tried "boku" instead, and he told me that I should just be saying "watashi." In hindsight, I kind of wish that I had just proceeded to use even more inappropriate pronouns.

Watakushi?
Ware?
Washi?
Ore-sama?
A*TA*SHI! ^_^

As for "gaijin," I am of course both stupid and ugly, so I can use the word freely.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2007


Then of course, there's the much harder issue of how to bow.

A couple months ago I was criticized by my karate-no-sensei for bowing the Japanese way instead of the Chinese way at the beginning of my pinan. So it's even more complicated if one wants to be sensitive to multiple Asian cultures.

You must learn the ways of the force *covers mouth and giggles*

*Diet Coke Plus goes up nose*
posted by ilsa at 10:16 AM on September 18, 2007


A quick communication aside to anyone who might know (and by the way am totally impressed by all the people in this thread who not only speak Japanese but know all the fun linguistic pretzels, way cool!). What's this thing with Japanese females pointing their toes in when they sit down? Is it a symbol of... modesty, coyness, femininity? Anybody know how it started?
posted by nickyskye at 2:02 PM on September 18, 2007


“*Diet Coke Plus goes up nose*”

Makes dressing my Obi Wan action figure as Bridget from Guilty Gear all worth it.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:05 PM on September 18, 2007


Frankly, in my experience living in Japan, getting teased for sounding like a woman is far less than just being unable to converse. I'd rather sound like a junior high girl (which I still do) than not be able to talk to my Japanese friends. Gift horses and mouths you know. One can learn the proper adjustments after mastering the overall language.
posted by Dantien at 4:22 PM on September 18, 2007


Sounds a bit rude bashos_frog... you're assuming that gay Japanese men speak like women?

No offense meant, and no they don't speak like women - they speak like gay men (or at least the ones who are not trying so hard to hide it). And once, before I knew the difference, I wound up making what my gay Japanese friend thought was a date. It was a bit awkward for me when I realized the situation I was in, but kind of funny in retrospect.

As an aside - everyone talks about the Asian fetish some straight white guys have, but I've seen more than a few gay Japanese who seem to prefer foreigners. It's all good by me.

In my comment, though, I was also thinking of all the Chinese immigrants, and gangster types that also frequent the area.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:44 PM on September 18, 2007


ドンだけぇ~

I admit though I like to freak people out by ranging from cutesy anime girl-speak to total boy speak sometimes just for the hell of it.
posted by gomichild at 6:06 AM on September 19, 2007


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