8.23.2007

Herro! How May I Herp You?

The Japanese people are so fucking nice and courteous that it’s really starting to get to me. Just once, I’d love to see someone blow up on a customer at the supermarket or just slap someone who’s acting like a douchebag in line for the train. But alas, I doubt I will ever see this unless I take a firsthand part in the horrid event myself. Good news for the Jappies, though: I suffer from conflict avoidance.

Everywhere I go, people are literally bending over forwards to do things for complete strangers. I have never encountered such a blindly kind culture before in my life. For example, on my way to work in the morning I take the train, which is about a 15-minute walk from my unmarked, unaddressed building. Only Emperor Akihito knows how anyone finds one’s way around in this labyrinth of a country. Anyway, on my way to the train, there are your typical street hander-outers by the subway entrance, which is typical to most urban settings, you see them everywhere. However, recently, the hander-outers have been peddling free packets of tissues like those travel Kleenex my mom always sent with me on my sniffly days in sixth grade. Now, instead of just trying to haphazardly hand them to passersby like a normal person would in NYC, the hander-outers have been trained with such a high level of customer service that they must bow to each person as they hand out the tissue, the bow being just to say “thank you for taking my free tissues.” The best part is that these people have to hand out these tissues at such a velocity that doesn’t let them fully recharge from a bow after it’s been made. So, in order to get ready for the next customer, they’re already halfway down to the ground before the tissues ever touch anyone’s hand.

If this is unclear, which I’m sure it is, here’s the picture you’d see outside the station: a bunch of women in kimonos and men in black and white suits without jackets bent halfway over down to the ground with tissue packets in their outstretched hands searching for a taker. Once the tissue packet is finally taken, each person snaps back up, grabs a new packet and slowly lowers him/herself back into a semi-bow, ready for the next taker. This goes on until all packets have been cleared from their baskets. No, I didn’t stay around to watch the whole cycle, but what if I did, huh? Would it have made the story any better?

Since arriving only 6 days ago, so many Japanese have gone very far out of their way to help me, a complete stranger and obvious foreigner, and each person has found each situation an absolute laugh riot. Not ten minutes ago, I left my apartment to recharge my phone card and call my father for his birthday. The brochure that comes with the card says that all you need to do is bring the card to any Lawson (like a WaWa or QuikChek) and the cashier should scan the card and then just charge you the amount of yen that you want on the card in installments of 2,000. Easy, right? Not for me. Of course, my fucking card doesn’t scan so I have to whip out the booklet, which, thank Yeshua, has directions on how to recharge in English and Japanese. I shout out the phrase that the booklet tells me to tell the cashier in the worst and probably loudest accent he’s heard all day. He obviously doesn’t understand me and begins to laugh along with his friend, during which they both look at each other and point to pretend booklets and shout out loud. Apparently, I’m a regular Jerry Lewis over here. After they have a good laugh, the one cashier takes the booklet from me and after reading the Japanese translation, takes me over to this little ATMish thing on the other side of the store. He points at it and starts going off on a minute-long rant on how to use it, showing me gestures and getting more and more excited as the explanation continues. I, of course, don’t understand a single word that comes out of his mouth and just nod, saying, “Hai, hai,” the entire time. After he’s done, he folds his hands and looks at me earnestly as if it’s my cue to perform the previously-mentioned task at hand. Fortunately, there’s an explanation for dummies in the back of the booklet that tells me how to operate the machine step by step. As I press the first button on the machine, the cashier starts giggling and covering his mouth in the classic “I shouldn’t be laughing” manner. As I continue on, selecting how much I’d like to pay and typing in the card number, his giggling gets more and more intense and the cashier back at the counter can’t contain himself any more than my little friend by the machine. I finally complete the transaction and a receipt prints out for me to bring to the counter where I’ll pay for it. As soon as the receipt finishes printing, both Japanese cashiers start to clap and shout, “Hooray! Hooray!” They were genuinely really excited that I got it to work but at the same time, I was utterly humiliated that I needed cheerleaders to get me through such a menial chore.

Anyway, the point of the story is that the Japanese are super helpful and I’m very impressed with their level of customer service and general kindness thus far. I can’t wait until Saturday when I get to pick up my dry cleaning at the store on the corner. That should be good for about a whole half hour of laughs for everyone present. Seacrest out.

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