Five Ways To Become a Social Outcast in Japan
The Japanese are so nice and polite, you'll never know you ever committed a faux pas in their presence. But people will know. And according to my husband, that would simply be unacceptable (sharp, matronly sniff). As well as mortifying--to him (indignant little quiver).
Being a rather bungling sort of creature, I'm quite guilty of having committed--in some cases repeatedly and allegedly without compunction--almost all of what in my husband's book are the major no-nos. For those desiring not to appear gauche and ignorant during a visit to Japan, take careful note:
- Never pass food between two pairs of chopsticks - Sometimes, during a funeral, the bones of the deceased are passed with chopsticks from one family member to another **. Just remember: human bones okay, food no-no
- Never rest your chopsticks horizontally on top of your plate or bowl - The plate forms a circle, which is pronounced "en," which can also mean "relationship," and so symbolically crossing out the "relationship" with your chopsticks is an offense to your dining partner
- When using chopsticks, only the top chopstick is supposed to move - and don't hold your chopsticks too close to the tip, or you're liable to find yourself being mocked by some little kid.
- Hold your bowl and tea cup like this - But according to my dear Mr. Post, the fingers should be held more neatly together, and pointed more to the side. I'll get a picture.
- Always wear clean, matching socks - People are constantly taking off their shoes in Japan: in homes, restaurants, offices, clinics, toilets. If you're expected to remove your shoes, slippers will often be provided. But this doesn't mean there won't be many moments for people to catch a glimpse of your socks and whatever state they might be in--gasp! I must say, if the sheer popularity and variety of socks is anything to go by (really, it almost needs its own post), nice foot undies do seem de rigeur.
*Sticking one's chopsticks into a bowl of rice is a surefire way to draw a collective mental gasp from every Japanese--and probably Chinese--brain in the room; something to do with how that's only done when offering food to a dead person. What is it with chopsticks and death?
**I found an extremely interesting and detailed description of a Japanese funeral, which also covers the subject of handling bones with chopsticks.