Robert & Roberta Adair

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“Talk is cheap.” That may be true, but I like words. And, as R tends to point out, I sure have a lot of them (in a rambly kind of way. I’m not some fancy-pants wordsmith with a honkin’ big vocabulary. As an extreme verbal processor, I’m just very good at jabber). Perhaps connected with that, as far as love languages go, words of affirmation, while they make me squirm, are tied for first place. For me, it’s a four-way tie with everything but gifts. True story. I like and need to receive and give touch, time, words, and service. Gifts…not so much.

Yet in Japan, gifts are huge. I am still a beginner in learning to give and receive with grace as well as to understand what is being communicated through the gift. This doesn’t come as naturally for me.

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Flowers for B’s birth

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A fun diaper cake

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Neighborhood grandma meeting B and bringing chestnut rice

Today I read the verse in 1 John, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (3:18). When I read that, I realize I’m better at the “merely” part and less good at the “let us” part – and that many of my Japanese friends are the reverse. How I’ve craved to occasionally hear, “Roberta, I’m so glad you’re my friend.” (ha. I’m such an extreme low-context communicator.) Yet I know in my head that the rose from my flower lady friend, a fun new outfit for B from a mom friend, delicious sweets from a friend’s trip to another prefecture, a nice box of tea for my birthday from a church friend, and hot chestnut rice from my neighborhood grandma are in some ways communicating that. (another thing: perhaps it’s because I can’t yet read kanji worth beans, but thank you cards and expressive notes don’t seem to be as big of a thing here.)

I have a few people in my life here who are delightfully as low-context as I am – and, yes, they’re foreigners, too. But I need and am refreshed by them.

All of this reminds me of a funny conversation with a few ladies two months ago. We were reading something together about expressing affirmation to our kids, and I asked a question about how this is done with spouses. As the conversation drifted to the phrase, “I love you,” I mentioned that R and I say it every day even when we’re cross with each other. All three said that they’ve never said nor heard those words from their spouses. Ever. I asked what if anything is said to express the same feeling, and I mainly got thoughtful and confused looks in response. One lady then said that she and her husband probably use the expression “thank you” to convey their love. I may or may not have then asked an inappropriate question about what is said around _ _ _ (“marital intimacy”) – and I made a joke about bowing saying a very polite Japanese thank you (we had a good laugh. Whew. And they all still want to hang out. Whew).

Some things seem to be totally off-limits in Japanese. Expressing deep emotion, for instance. Talk cheapens the feeling – a deep, inexpressible concept can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to flimsy words. Yet other things are totally acceptable to talk about that make me uncomfortable. Such as…

…poop. There’s a lot of talk about poop (your poop, your kid’s poop – color, consistency, etc., your husband’s poop – “is it like one long banana?” Holy cabooses, I don’t really want to talk about this).

…personal birth details. I’ve never given birth in the US, and I’m afraid I’ll go back telling all sorts of crazy stuff to any and everyone as that is what I’ve gotten used to here. It’s not “private.” Perhaps it’s the communal culture thing as children are less seen as property of the parents and more of a part of the larger society? (my current interpretation. I haven’t really thought too much about this.)

…boob (“opai”), which was one of the first words I learned in Japanese cram school 4 years ago along with hand, eye, ear, and mouth. To nurse is literally “to give the boob.” I am now oddly comfortable using that expression around men. Excuse me, I need to give the boob. In Japanese, it’s somehow decent. In English, I like the delicacy of the phrase “to nurse” (or even just saying “excuse me” and it’s obvious why). (note: I had a hissy fit that I learned this word before learning how to say, “I’m happy!” or “I’m confused.” Now thinking about it, I just shrug and think, “of course, silly. This is Japan.”)

[I don’t know if this post is coherent, but it’s processing. I’m curious how my views will change in a year or 10 – and about others’ experiences and views on verbal expression as connected to personality and culture.]

Originally posted on Adair Update...

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