Saturday, 26 February 2011

Keep your tears out of my miso soup....

I witnessed an interesting cultural phenomenon this morning.

I was at Denny's with Jeff and Megan, preparing to order some early morning katsudon, when a family of five people sat at the table next to us. There were two parents and three young children, perhaps around six and younger. The youngest - perhaps one or two years old - was clearly upset about something, and started crying and screaming. He wouldn't be quiet, and it was pretty annoying.

Suddenly, an old man a few tables away put his fingers in his ears and started shouting something angrily at them.
The mother clutched her screaming child and said "sumimasen, sumimasen!!" (Sorry, sorry!). I didn't understand what the man was saying, but his voice and actions basically said it all - he was telling them to shut their child up.

The next part was what really floored us. The waitress came up to their table, looking sheepish, and basically said something along the lines of "I'm going to have to ask you to leave." The mother looked mortified, but not too surprised. They packed up their things and left the restaurant. Through the window, we saw the father shouting at the screaming child, possibly for bringing shame onto the family. The mother looked SO embarrassed and distraught that I wanted to go outside and give her a hug.

Wow! Being kicked out of a restaurant for having a crying baby? You know, I can see that happening in a high-class, expensive restaurant, but it was 11am and Denny's is a "family restaurant". There were plenty of tables far away that they could have moved to, but they were asked to leave. The grumpy man grunted, satisfied, and continued shoveling food into his mouth.

I can't help but think of this as another symptom of the Japanese tendency to sweep all of life's unpleasantries under the carpet. Racism or crime in Japan? No, we don't want to talk about it. If you bring that up, you obviously don't understand Japan and should go home (see my previous blog entry on crime and the comments below!). You're upset? Well, aren't we all... keeping it bottled up and carrying on is the correct way to behave. Nobody wants to see your tears. Your child is teething? Well, that's great, but we don't want to know about that; let us eat our miso soup in peace.

Admittedly, I started thinking about how this scene would have played out in the U.K. Somebody would have complained, and the parents would have answered back. A fight might have broken out, horrible words shouted across the tables, while the waitress rolled her eyes and ignored it, or perhaps laughed and started filming it on her phone. Eventually, an angry manager might have popped out and kicked ALL offending parties out onto the street. Interesting.

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