Saturday, January 22, 2011

I don't know who I am

Sometimes.  When I talk with my Japanese family. 

The Japanese in general refrain from using pronouns such as 'I' or 'You'; to determine who did what to whom you often have to rely on context.  In this way the national preference for indirectness and ambiguity can be maintained.  So for example, somebody might say, in Japanese,

"Went to the bank" which you would interpret as "I went to the bank".  This practice alone can be tricky enough for a non-native speaker to deal with.  I have had many a conversation with my wife where I was never quite sure who the agent was.

When I was dating my wife, she would not only use no pronouns, she would not use my name.  Far from calling me "My darling", "Snugglepumpkin", "Love Rocket", "Orgasm Machine" etc, nicknames which I believed I had the right to expect, she would refer to me...not at all.  This left me rather confused at times.

After marriage she has begun to use my name a little more frequently, but now she also occassionally refers to me as 'I'. That is, the Japanese masculine word for 'I', boku.  I can even get away with calling her watashi, the Japanese feminine word for 'I'.  So a conversation may go something like this:

"What video do I (you) want to watch?
"I'm (you're) okay.  It's up to you (me).
"So what about me (you)?"
"That's what I (you) want to know"
"Why can't I (you) make up your (my) mind?
"Whose mind?"
"This conversation is going round in circles"
"I think that's the point"

Her whole family is confusing.  They refer to themselves in the third person.  For example,

Sayaka:  "Sayaka likes this.  Sayaka wants to eat this everyday." 

But at other times she rufuses the third person when it seems most appropriate.  For example, when my son was born, and the family was gathered around the hospital bed, my sister-in-law expressed the opinion the baby looked like his mother.  But she didn't say "He looks like his mother", or "He looks like your wife", while gesturing to me, or "He looks like you", while looking at my wife, or "He looks like Chizuru", which is what I would have said.  She merely said "He looks like my older sister", when said sister was sitting right in front of her nursing, as if her older sister lived in England and had been estranged from the family for two decades following a scandal involving a one-legged Vietnam veteran.

I don't know the source of all these confusing idiosyncrasies.  Maybe it has something to do with the toilets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This explains everything about why I failed my exam on Japanese pronoun usage.