Stalking the truth

1. Introduction

Well, the heat has finally broken! Hooray!
Off and on for the last several days we’ve had some strong rain, and initially it was like running cold water on a hot frying pan.

In a few months time I’ll likely be complaining about the cold! :- )

In community,

2. Stalking the truth

After five years, another gaijin finally moved into my apartment building. Turns out Jim’s a New York City boy just like me! Wow, what could be better!

Coincidentally, Jim also likes to cook for a hobby, and soon after moving in he invited some newly met Japanese friends over for dinner. I was present to be his ally and translator, as he had only been in Tokyo for less than a month and spoke very little Japanese.

Jim planned on serving a number of different courses on small plates, along with a different wine for each course. But by the time his guests had the chance to sample his second offering, it was clear they weren’t enjoying the food. They were taking small forkfuls and washing most bites down with a bit of wine.

Jim had the same feeling as me, and being a true to heart New Yorker he asked me to ask what they thought of his food. I realized such a direct question would only put his friends on the spot, so instead, I said,
“Ah yes, this food is good. It very much reminds me of being in New York. Isn’t it great?”
To which everyone mumbled a polite “Oh yes, everything is great!”

“But” I said in somewhat of a loud voice, while pausing to add a bit of drama, “If a Japanese person knew all the basic ingredients I’m sure they’d make this dish differently. Am I correct?”

You see I knew Jim’s guests weren’t going to disagree with someone they had just met, because that would be impolite. In particular, they wouldn’t want to chance insulting the friend of a friend. If faced with the lesser of two evils, it would be less impolite for them to lightly critique Jim’s cooking.

Several of the guests were already nodding their head “Yes” to my question, as they looked around. Each one visually imploring the others to make a comment. After a few seconds of awkward silence Watanabe-san gathered up her courage and jumped into the fray.

“Well” she said, “This dish is very good, and that’s for sure. I have no idea how to cook foreign food so I’m very hesitant to offer any further opinion.” She took a sip of her wine and looked around at her Japanese comrades. I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for someone else to jump in, or if she was simply gathering her courage and her thoughts.

Finally she said, “Well, knowing nothing about foreign cooking, I’m guessing the average Japanese would add a bit more salt and a bit less hot sauce, even if doing so would ruin the taste.”

“What did she say?” Jim immediately asked.

“Pour a bit more wine and I’ll take up the dishes,” I said, “and then I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

By the time he made it to the kitchen Jim was clearly frustrated and asked “Why couldn’t you just tell me what she said?”

“Because” I offered, “If I had done so, everyone would have been embarrassed. The good news is everyone likes the basic taste of the food. The even better news is, now you know what to do with the rest of the meal you’re preparing. Add some salt, and do away with the chilli peppers.”

“My goodness,” Jim said, “Why couldn’t they just tell me the truth?!”

“Because” I replied, “They realize there is no truth to be told, but only their opinion. When faced with a choice, they’d prefer to endure the food rather than risk damaging the relationship.”

“Welcome to Japan!”

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