Monday, October 13, 2008

Failure to Communicate

Math is supposed to be a somewhat universal language, at least among people who have had some modest level of formal education. Conceptualizing money isn't something that requires specific vocabulary. It only requires the ability to know a bit about numbers.

This morning, I visited a local convenience store for a quick round of milk and bread shopping. An older gentleman in front of me struggled with his change purse and paid for his purchase. Since he seemed to have difficulties manipulating his change because of shakiness, I assumed he didn't offer up the proper change when the cashier handed back several of his coins and then gave him other change.

When my turn came along, the bill was 812 yen. I didn't want to get back a pile of coins so I put down 312 yen and a 1000 yen note. This would get me back just one 500 yen coin. The cashier gave me a sympathetic look which conveyed that she thought I didn't understand Japanese money or numbers and tried to hand me back my change. I had to insist she take the change and give me back a 500 yen coin. After this little exchange, I figured that the older man probably tried to do the same thing and she didn't understand what he wanted either, but he didn't push it.

My students love to go on about "joshiki" or "common sense" and this sort of way of conceptualizing money falls into that category in Western culture. In Japanese culture, the umbrella meaning of common sense also encompasses common knowledge in addition to common logical concepts. The vast majority of people I've encountered in Japan seem to possess both, but this morning I came across one who was lacking in at least one of those. I can only imagine how quickly she's going to run the shop out of small change if she doesn't get a clue.


Helen said...

It is odd that she didn't "get" it. I do that kind of thing all the time up here and everyone understands.

She may just be a person who really shouldn't be on cash. When I worked at a bank, I did a lot of training of new tellers and I have to tell you, I had some doozies.

Orchid64 said...

Most of the time the people I deal with understand as well. Sometimes, I get the feeling a few don't as they look at the change I drop in the tray as if something is amiss, but they punch in the numbers anyway and just hand over the change. They don't get it, but they don't try to fight it.

I think that there's a bit of high turnover in shops here, especially in convenience stores and I encounter a lot of newbies who may not be in the swing of things.

Thanks for commenting. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Orchid, great post BTW, I have done this many of times, be it to lesson (wink) the change I hold or to get back a 500 yen coin, once my husband... ahem (clears throat)! Looked at me suspiciously on WHY I was giving the cashier too much, I said so I can have a certain amount of change back... I wonder if the Japanese population in a general sense are not used to doing this (fear for making the cashier think on his/her) feet?

I sort of gave up after a while of being asked to explain. "giggles"

Anonymous said...

My husband always gives the cashiers all kinds of extra coins to make sure he gets back as little as possible. I've never seen any of them freak out about it, though.

As for me, I'm usually in too much of a hurry to figure it out, and just give bills or exact change. I don't really mind getting change back because I walk a lot and like to be able to get drinks at vending machines along the way. It comes in handy whenever I want to jump on the train at a moment's notice, too, and we do that a lot on the weekends. ^_^

Wombat said...

Out here, no one wants change anyway; perhaps the store encourages her to unload the stuff on unfortunate customers in an attempt to keep their drawers tidy :)