A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Japanese attention to inane, pointless details sometimes infuriates me. The idea that there is only one way of doing things, and any other way, even if it has no effect what so ever on the outcome, is incorrect, pisses me off. The fact that the Japanese word for "different" (chigau) is the same word for "wrong" is a telling sign of their traditional intolerance of doing something other than in the percieved "correct way".

School lunches are served in the staff room. A trolley is wheeled in from the kitchen, and any teachers that happen to be present at the time team together to dish out the meals. If I'm there, I always lend a hand which involves laying out the trays, chopsticks, bowls and plates and serving out equal portions onto each tray.

However, it's not as easy as it sounds. There is one member of staff who objects heavily to the angle at which I lay the chopsticks on the tray. I have seen her in the past, go to the needless trouble of rearranging every pair of sticks that I have placed on the tray, simply to make a point.

Today, she went one step further. As I placed each pair of chopsticks on each tray, I could feel her eyes boring into my back, and I knew she was going to take action. Seeing the chopsticks at the side of the tray, rather than at bottom of the tray was just too crazy for her, and she jumped up, ran over, and announced: "Sam, NO, LIKE THIS!".

Now, I can understand why certain things are done the way they are. The highly ritualised Japanese Tea Ceremony, for example is performed using very precise and carefully controlled movements, appropriate for such a formal occasion and of course there is etiquette for most things, including where cutlery is placed but in this particular situation it DOES NOT MATTER. This is school lunch. Served on a tray. In the staff room. It's not silver service. The rice isn't even hot, for f**k's sake.

So feeling the scarlet mist rising, I questioned her as to why the chopsticks absolutely had to be laid along the bottom of the tray. Her demonstation soon cleared things up; she placed the sticks in the so called "correct position" and then, very slowly, making sure I was paying full attention, picked them up.

Oh, I see, why didn't you tell me before! A potential diner is able to pick up chopsticks, only if they are at placed along the bottom of a tray. Any other position generates an invisible force field, which makes it completely impossible for the hungry victim to pick them up.

In my mind I reversed the situation. If I were in England, and a foreign co-worker was helping to serve out lunch, and put the knife and fork, at, woe betide, a slightly different position to normal, would I go to the length of moving every pair back to what is considered "correct positioning"? Would I bollocks.

Do not despair though funkydrummer readers, for a terrible revenge has been plotted. I will adhere to her nit picking ways, day in, day out, letting her think she has converted me, then, on my last day of work, when it comes to lunch time, I will place the chopsticks, so that they are sticking vertically out of each bowl of rice, [a huge faux pas in Japan] and for the piece de resistance, I will attach a Union Jack Flag, to each stick.

Chop stick that in your pipe and smoke it.


Anonymous jonny taise said...

i wish you well in your endeavours! go get 'em!!!

Thursday, June 16, 2005 5:06:00 pm

Anonymous Sarah G said...

Not being funny but if someone put your knife and fork the wrong way round in the UK you would switch it over. This may seem insane to a Japanese person (they often use the fork in their right hand), but to us it would look really wrong. It would probably piss me off if someone couldn't learn that that's just the way we set our table. That being said, the woman sounds like a pedantic bitch.

Friday, June 17, 2005 8:16:00 am

Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

I had considered the knife and fork analogy, but I don't think that it is quite the same in this situation. Remember - in a work cafeteria - you just grab a knife and fork and stick it anywhere on your tray. You don't bother to set it out in the correct fashion.

If it were in a resturant, or at someones home... that's a different story.

Friday, June 17, 2005 8:22:00 am

Blogger Maethelwine said...

Just out of curiosity, what is your investment in placing the chopsticks along the side, rather than where the Japanese would put them? I'm guessing most of the people eating will be Japanese. Could you possibly pick a sillier battle to fight with your hosts? This is not an attack, really, I enjoyed reading the other stuff you posted, but you're giving yourself a headache over nothing with this ohashi issue.

Saturday, July 02, 2005 1:10:00 pm

Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

Mae - take it with a pinch of soy.

It was a moment of temporary annoyance.

I assure you all chopsticks leaving my hand are now being placed in the orthodox position.

Monday, July 04, 2005 2:42:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i don't get is why she has made a point of correcting your chopstick-laying in the past, and yet only in this most recent incident thought to tell you the most important fact that they should not be placed at the side. or was this in fact the point she had made before, but you just chose to ignore her? that would be daft of you as it's no skin off your nose where you put them, but either way i agree it is ridiculous of her to be so anal. as you say, it's a cafeteria tray, not a table place-setting.

as for your last-day plan, i love it! maybe best not do it tho, it might trigger an international diplomatic incident. -Aramando

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 6:47:00 am


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