Thursday, January 20, 2005

~shopping interlude~

Last week I wasn't speaking all that much. Not to say I didn't want to speak, just that I was having a lot of fun reading squiggles on a page and making them into sounds in my head, which didn't put much of a strain on my vocal chords. After a few days of English teaching, blabbing and being blabbed at for hours on end, my vocal chords were a bit strained, and I woke up this morning with a nasty sore throat.

The local groceries don't carry honey, so I walked down to the supermarket in the local department store, which didn't open until ten. I could see the staff scurrying around inside behind the glass doors setting up displays and straightening uniforms. The first row of doors had been opened to give those customers waiting outside access to seats in the entranceway. They were all taken up by fierce looking old women by the time I got there. (There is a brilliant word for fierce old battleaxe Japanese women: "oba-ttarion", which combines the Japanese word for older woman "obasan" with the English battalion. Pops into my head every time one of them shoves their way onto a crowded train draped with shopping bags.)

At precisely 10:00 the manager came and unlocked the door personally, then stood at attention and bowed to each individual customer as we walked in. I headed to the basement supermarket. There was a boy of about twenty standing with a plastic shopping basket, which he handed to me as I passed. I was the only customer in sight. The supermarket creeped me out. The entire staff, in uniform was standing at attention, one person at the end of each aisle. They would yell out Irrashaimase! ("Welcome honored customer!) as soon as I came with six feet of them. I wonder if they specify how close the customer should be before you yell.

I didn't see the order given, but after 5 minutes they were given permission to be at ease, and resumed shelving and scurrying, back to the normal frantic pace of a Japanese supermarket. Since older women are the only people who show up to a department store at opening time, guess all that bowing and scraping is for the oba-tarrion's, who I'm sure appreciate military discipline when they see it.

6 comments:

Mark said...

Is this stuff becoming usual to you? Because in the UK, where you have to sometimes physically grab assistants in shops to make them help you, this would freak me out like nothing else.

And if they're on the end of every aisle, you can't run, you can't hide... the horror...

Jamie said...

While the above is a fairly extreme example (I don't usually go shopping in the pricier department supermarkets), I'd have to say that service in Japan is way beyond that in the States. On the bad side of things you get poor kids working the graveyard shift at a convenience store who have to yell out the same greeting everytime somebody walks in, and you just get sick of being yelled at. But on the good side of things you can expect to get friendly and prompt service from almost anywhere. I wonder how people can take all the pent up hostility that passes for customer interaction in the States.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie - This comment actually relates back to your "Work Paato 2" post. The current cover of Time says:

"Meet the Twixter: They live with their parents, they jump from job to job and from mate to mate. They're not lazy, they just won't grow up."
Time Online listed names for these people in several countries ( Japan included). Seems there are those in many a country who think that our generation is in crisis:

C A N A D A
Boomerang Kids
A growing population of young Canadians are living in their parents' home and delaying starting families of their own. Experts point to a tight job market.
Median age at marriage
Men: 28 Women: 26
Average age at birth of first child Women: 27.7

E N G L A N D
Kippers
The acronym stands for kids in parents' pockets eroding retirement savings. Increasing numbers of British twentysomethings are staying with Mum and Dad as a refuge from rising costs.
Median age at marriage
Men: 29.7 Women: 27.7
Average age at birth of first child Women: 29.7

F R A N C E
Tanguy Syndrome
The name comes from a 2001 film about a charming 28-year-old who refuses to move out of his parents' apartment despite their comical efforts to get him out. The movie highlighted the trend and sparked debate.
Median age at marriage
Men: 29.2 Women: 27.1
Average age at birth of first child Women: 30.4

G E R M A N Y
Nesthocker
Literally translates as nest squatter. One researcher says the reluctance of so many Germans to go out on their own could be attributed to the fact that they regard their parents as friends.
Median age at marriage
Men: 30.3 Women: 27.1
Average age at birth of first child Women: 29

I T A L Y
Mammone
A description of the young men and women who won't give up Mamma's cooking. The number of them living at home has risen to nearly 50% in the past decade, perhaps the highest rate in Europe.
Average age at marriage
Men: 30.5 Women: 27.6
Average age at birth of first child Women: 28.4

J A P A N
Freeter
The term, a combination of free and arbeiter, the German word for worker, describes an unmarried young adult who job hops and lives at home. The trend has even been debated in parliament.
Median age at marriage
Men: 28 Women: 27
Average age at birth of first child Women: 28.6

****
The emphasis on female age at first childbirth is hilarious to me. Perhaps the twixters have unwittingly internalized the duty to solve the population problem which, in the 70s, seemed like it would have swallowed us all whole by the year 2005. For the twixter population I blame Gore Vidal's Homage to Daniel Shays, which could have been subtitled "P.S. We're All Going To Die Due To An Impending Population Disaster." -Tarika

Anonymous said...

I misquoted grandly:
"Meet the Twixters, young adults who live off their parents, bounce from job to job and hop from mate to mate."
-Tarika

Jamie said...

Thanks for that article, one of those trends that you kind of suspect but don't tend to articulate.

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