Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Etiquette and Pushing One's Culture On Another

A Japanese woman pictured in a 1980's etiquette book, expressly written for Japanese housewives.

"People Won't Like Us if We Try to Make Them Over"

"About eight years ago, in Japan, I was serving as Assistant Chief of Education for Japanese Women. I knew that Japanese women were regarded as inferior to men. Still, I was shocked when I saw a shabbily dressed "tsuma" (wife) in Tokyo, harnessed to a wagon filled with fertilizer. Beside her strutted her husband in his finest Sunday kimono. He was holding a parasol high over her head to protect her from the blazing sun.

I was outraged at the thought of a woman being used as a beast of burden. So were the other American girls with me, who would watch the incident from the windows of the Kanda Kai Kan Hotel. We held a one-minute indignation meeting, and then rushed out and told the man off. To teach him a lesson, we harnessed him to the wagon and his wife to walk along beside him, holding the parasol to shield him from the sun.

The couple did as we ordered. No matter how much American orders were resented, they were always followed back in 1945. At the time, we thought we were doing a pretty fine thing, teaching the Japanese male the importance of treating his wife as an equal.

But I shall never forget that woman's face as she walked beside her husband, with their roles completely reversed. She had been content with her lot when she had drawn the wagon. Now she looked unhappy and confused. All sense of pride was gone. Her husband's loss of face distressed her far more than the weight of the wagonload had done.

Today I realize how wrong we were. We had considered the couple solely from our point of view - not from theirs. Until we interfered, that woman had felt she had a very fine husband. It wasn't every sujin who protected his working wife lovingly from the hot sun. But we had degraded him in her eyes.

Americans can't make the world over by forcing it to conform to our traditions. The best we can do is make our point of view so alluring that others will want to do things our way. At Nippon University, where I taught Advanced English, many Japanese boys wrote compositions saying that women should be limited to hibachi, kodomo, hataki- the stove, the children, and the paddy field. I corrected their compositions for English and spelling, but not for their point of view. By that time I realized that everyone has the right to his own point of view. I did hope, however, that democratic practices would in time appeal to them.

To influence others, Americans should first understand the other fellow's point of view -whether the subject is democracy or equal rights for women. But many of us, when we enter a new community, at home or abroad, bring with us the standards of our own community and attempt to impose them on the inhabitants. We must always ask ourselves, 'How does it look to them?' If we don't, we'll make more enemies than friends."

An editorial by Beryl Kent, for The Saturday Evening POST, January 1954