PhD Candidate in Japan, researching Narrative in Games. Responds favorably to Thrash Metal, Karaoke, and Dungeons & Dragons.
Extra Credit Japan #3: Avoiding "Yeah Syndrome"
July 24, 2014
Greetings everyone, here are some extra things that you can do to
1) live more comfortably in Japan, and/or
2) learn a little bit more Japanese faster.
Today's tip is about something I call "Yeah Syndrome," which is essentially when we as Japanese language learners get a bit stuck and lost when Japanese people are speaking to us, and we end up just saying はい/うん/そうです(hai/un/sou desu), or any other Japanese variation of the phrase "Yeah" and sort of soft-agreeing to whatever was just said to us instead of actually getting what was said.
Basically, sometimes even the best of us don't understand what is being told to/asked of us, and we just agree without thinking. For the most part, this USUALLY doesn't result in anything catastrophic, but it can on occasion be anything from straight-up embarrassing to kind of damning.
So, that's Yeah Syndrome in a nutshell. I think (and hope) that most of you are a little bit more cautious of this sort of thing, and that you DON'T simply agree and say はい to things when you don't know what's going on, but just in case, I'll tell a few stories.
>>>>>>>>>>>Yeah Syndrome Case #1: The Chicken Debacle
In 2005, I had the great fortune to attend the annual Sappori Yuki Matsuri (snow festival), which I highly recommend (usually in early February, but book early as accommodations run out fast). I went with a group of friends and it was a wonderful few days of snowboarding, ramen, and crabs (the ocean delicacy, mind you).
On the last day of the trip, we were pretty much snowboarded and fooded out of our minds, so we settled in for a casual lunch at a local Mos Burger.
I wanted a FIVE-PIECE chicken strip set. But the young woman at the register thought I had said FIVE SETS of five-piece chicken strips. She asked me again to confirm the weird order.
"So, you want five sets of the five-piece chicken strips?" she asked politely in Japanese.
For some reason which still eludes me today, I just up and said 「はい、そうです」(Yes, that's right)。
And for some other mysterious reason, I simply paid for all that chicken and brought it to the table where my friends were eating. I tried to make like it was a gift for everybody (and that kind of worked and thank goodness it sort of did, since I didn't want to eat ALL that chicken). In the end, I knew the particular flavor of this sort of regret. Like all other unusual animal meat, it tastes like chicken.
>>>>>>>>>>>Yeah Syndrome Case #2: I AM the tenant!
In 2012, one of my friends from South America moved into a new flat in Osaka, and he was having a housewarming party. I went to the party with another friend of mine from the US.
Now, it's important to note that my South American friend had just moved in to that apartment and had apparently not yet met his Japanese landlord in the flesh.
So, my US friend and I got there a bit early and the Japanese landlord is hanging out just outside the apartment and sees us walking up. All he knows is that his new tenant is foreign, and here we are, myself being Asian and blending in like camo on camo, and my US friend just being outwardly foreign-looking.
So the landlord approaches us and asks my US friend (not the actual tenant) if he is the new tenant.
My friend, not wanting to be rude, simply agrees with a firm 「はい。」(hai)
The landlord then begins to explains to my friend (again, not the actual tenant) that it is a pleasure to meet him for the first time in real life and that there are a few things he should know about the apartment, and oh, that's right, can you come with me and do a little paperwork?
Of course, my US friend simply nods and then looks at me bewildered.
All I told him was, "Congratulations on your new apartment!"
>>>>>>>>>>>Yeah Syndrome Case #3: AV-sensei
This one is my personal favorite.
In one of the towns I used to live in, there was a popular video rental store. It had a huge selection of regular movies, manga, anime, etc. And of course, in the far back of the store, there was an adult video section (hence the term "AV" which is used as shorthand for "Adult Video")
I was out at said video store one night with a friend who was teaching at the local junior high. We ran into some of his students in the normal movie section of the store.
They greet my friend with enthusiastic Hello's and How are you's, as is par for the course, but then one of them blurts out suddenly in Japanese:
"Sensei! What are you searching for tonight? AV?"
It all happened in slow motion after that.
Before I could stop him from answering, my friend just accedes and says very as-a-matter-of-factly, 「はい、そうです。」(Yup, that's right).
Time resumed its normal flow to the raucous laughter of the junior high school kids, now armed with the rumor of the semester.
Sensing that something had gone horrendously wrong, my friend looked immediately at me and asked "What did they say?"
It was already too late.
In short, I would simply say that sometimes being spoken to very rapidly in Japanese can have a sort of hypnotizing effect that is only further exacerbated by the fact that while that is happening, your mind is cycling between several thoughts along the lines of "I don't understand," "What should I say?" and "Just play it cool and nod." Though I don't believe this happens very often to everyone, I would still highly encourage everyone to be careful out there.
We will never know when Yeah Syndrome will strike, or how it will strike, but in response to that, I offer the following:
If you don't know, just say so, or ask again.
Oftentimes, the response to that is better than having a case of the Yeah Syndrome.
Telling people that you don't understand has several benefits, such as:
-Having the person attempt to re-explain the thing to you again in a potentially different and better way
-Allowing you the opportunity to gain all sorts of linguistic battle experience
-Helping you to avoid embarassment
And seriously, I don't want any of you to be embarassed about anything. There's enough of that as it is already just in the fact that you are learning a second language and maybe even living in a foreign country.
If I can save you from buying too much chicken, suddenly renting an apartment, or becoming a reputed pervert, then awesome.