strange German

Every friday night I go to martial arts in a hospital in the northwest of Kyoto. The guys have the nice habit to sit together after the training and to eat, talk, drink, exchange views... Last week we started to talk about peculiarities of the German language. Articles. Who ever had some Japanese, knows that there are comparitively few grammatical structures to learn. After some wine and beer the discussion turned hilarious. Why is "table" male, "door" female? Why is "cap" female, but "hat" male? Why is a skirt male, but trousers female? Even more, if a (male) man sees a beautiful (female) women, he admires her (male) bum! Ridiculous! And men don`t wear skirts, right? Anyway, it was plausible that bottles are female while wine is male, after all women are "containers" and men "go inside". Roaring laughter came up when I mentioned that "rocket" is female...

If one is not familiar with a foreign language, I can understand that it racks your brains and that it is hard to understand why "rocket", obviously a phallic symbol is female. The concept is simple, but perspicuous. I couldn`t explain how gender is assigned to words. I`m not sure, but I guess the feeling for a language is important. A wrong article just sounds odd. With newly invented words or assimilated foreign words the feeling decides, provided that there`s no related word in German. Oh well...



"If somebody bows, bow back" That`s a tip from the movie "The Rising Sun". Unfortunately it`s not that easy. Bowing in Japan is as important as a hand shake in the West. You squeeze the other guy`s hand or hold it like a dead animal, and there goes your image.... Your body language is mostly subconscious - and about two third of all communication - but you can influence on how to give somebody your hand. The same is true for bowing. If you don`t bow low enough, or too low, it is either inappropriate or impolite. It is the basic form of greeting, mostly in a standing position. The angle is important as well, if you meet an older person and you don`t bow lower, it`s impolite. The "hi, how are you"-everyday-bow has about 15 degrees, if you meet somebody for the first time, it`s about 30 degrees, to express you deepest feelings, it`s about 45 degrees. There one form, which is sometimes seen on TV: LDP politicians or some policemen are bowing with a 90 degree Angle, in that case something terrible happened and they apologize in front of the public. A Japanese friend told me once that sometimes foreigners don`t bow but just nod with the head, what can put off people, especially, if they are not accustomed to foreigners.



One of the things that remind me why I like Japan is, when I`m treated much more human or friendlier in an unexpected situation, than it would be the case in my home country.

How often did it already happen? You went to a party to have fun, but you barely escaped a brawl with some scrappers, because they were offended by your south-european appearance or your short hair and heavy shoes? Who didn`t experience at least once that hostile reaction while moving through the partyroom, just looking at people to see who`s there, and being suddenly being snapped up at because they felt you looked at them too long? To pick up a less popular stereotype, if you want to talk to the DJ and exchange a few words, you need to know the DJ personally in order to not to be ignored or give the security a treat...

How are things in Japan? The crowd is mostly peaceful, people are drinking, but quarreling is less frequent than in Germany. If you look at the people, they`re mostly just surprised and look somewhere else (o.k., I`m a foreigner here, alright ;-), but there`s nobody who wants to cut my face with a butterfly just because of my curiousity. The DJ`s are usually much friendlier as well. One of the DJ`s at Imagium in Kyoto (Kiamachi) even comes up to you for a chat, treating with a beer, not even a suggestion of arrogance. To have parties like that in Germany, you have to go to ones like the "Cafe Rosa Mond" in Duesseldorf. ;-)