Sunday, May 9, 2010

If you don't have anything nice to say....

Thumper the rabbit changed my life when I was a kid. His mother scolded him for bad mouthing something and made him recite, "If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all."

When we were leaving for Japan, so many people tried to give us advice about the food, the people and the culture. I was shocked when someone told me Japanese people would ignore it if someone tripped on the street because it would embarrass the 'trippee' further; that saving face was all-important.

Living here now I can't believe I listened to this person. What an absurd thing to say! First of all, it's a blatant stereotype, which I should have never believed. Secondly, it's a classic tale told in the West to make the East seem as foreign and opposite from us as possible. Here is some direct proof that you can't always believe what you hear:

  • A motorcyclist lost control and fell off her bike on a main road. No less than 3 groups of people stopped to pick up the bike, take care of her wounds and block traffic around her.
  • During a tea ceremony, my hosts gently corrected me every time I made a mistake instead of letting me err unknowingly.
  • A 70-year old lady repeatedly asked a man to sit down during Okinawa's Dragon Boat Races because he was blocking everyone's view. Very loudly I might add... lol. But she liked us because we instantly sat down when no one else did. She even loaned Brian her umbrella to block the sun and gave me a fan!
But the best story is from today. We went grocery shopping and while in the check-out line I asked Brian to grab an apple. The man in front heard us speaking English and as soon as B left started asking me to come closer to him in broken English. He then asked all sorts of strange questions about America like whether we drink black coffee or eat somethingmumblemumble. The lady bagging groceries must have seen my face (I was trying to be polite but probably looked really uncomfortable) so she intervened. She left her bagging post, came to where I was standing in line, and had me follow her to another register, which she opened. The line was short, so I know she did it for my sake.

"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete." -Chimamanda Adichie

Same applies here. All the Japanese people I know would most definitely help someone who tripped on the street. But they would also manage to do so in a tactful and unembarrassing way.

If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all.


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