Friday, October 17, 2008

Old Baticide

I have to remember never to go shopping mid-month. The 15th is apparently the day on which many old folks receive their government pension. Great hordes of shriveled old crones descend upon the cheapest shopping spots at this time and linger about the shops because they have nothing better to do with their time except try and avoid their retired husbands. For many an old grandma, their husbands have now outlived their usefulness and are just big piles of useless garbage ("sodai gomi") sitting around the house to their wives who have long since lost interest in them.

Today, I had one of those not atypical (though not incredibly frequent) experiences where I just wanted to pound some old bones to dust. I was making my way through a massively congested, small green grocer-type store and generally trying to balance patiently waiting for the ancient creatures to move along of their own accord and judiciously and politely say "excuse me" to get the ones that lingered overly long to move aside. One gnarled specimen, who was dressed as if she were going to the theater rather than shopping at a cut-rate market, was the lone blockage between me and sweet escape from the store so I said in a low but audible voice, "sumimasen". She looked up and loudly launched into speaking and rudely about me and my gaijin appearance to her withered companion who did what the Japanese always do when one person in a pair or group notices the gaijin and starts yammering about her. She slowly turned her head to catch a glimpse of the freak and I was right there at the moment of contact to look her right in the eye. This always makes them look away as it's harder to be rude when the gaijin understood what was said and is now also responding to your companion's rude Japanese. Once I locked eyes with the companion, the main old bat went back to doing her detailed inspection of the fish at the end of the aisle because she, too, realized I understood Japanese enough to know what she was up to.

One of the things I've realized about this behavior is that it happens only when I'm alone and it happens far less to my husband. It also is far, far more likely to occur when Japanese people are with companions or groups. They tend to behave themselves when they're alone (though now always). I think that a male presence is generally intimidating so having the CH along tends to quash this sort of overt rudeness. Unfortunately, if I had to have him accompany me on all shopping sojourns to keep the old bats in check, we'd starve to death.

I've noticed that this type of bad behavior has increased in the last few years among old people, particularly women. I recently read that crimes among the elderly in Japan have increased nearly four-fold in the last decade. Somewhere on the order of 42,000 old folks have broken the law this year. The feeling among many people who try to understand what is happening is that there has been a marked increase in what they call "angry old people". These are people who are mad and act out because they feel insecure about their future, live alone, or don't have much contact with their families. From a social viewpoint, being estranged from your family or alone in Japan is probably more stressful than being so in the U.S. where culturally it's expected that your kids won't be there for you when you get older.

Personally, given the behavior of some of the old people I've encountered including the old bitty today (and the line of old bitties and jerks who are members of the same rude club as she) and the old bastard who nearly shoved me off my bike earlier this year, I can see why their families don't want to live with them. Though I don't have personal experience with it (thank whatever entity runs the universe, if indeed anyone is in charge), everything I've read about mother-in-laws also fuels the idea that you just don't want to be living with such pushy old people.

I guess I'd better do my best to avoid the shops around pension day from now on to mitigate the chances that this sort of encounter will happen again, or at least go at night or when it rains. Darkness and water appear to spook the elderly types a bit. If not, I'll be at some risk of committing old baticide in the future. While it may be understandable, I'm guessing the Japanese police wouldn't be willing to look the other way.


Anonymous said...

Well thank goodness it is Friday, we have that, at least. (I wanted to ask and I know this is person) is your husband Japanese as well? (you don't have to answer) = )

As you eloquently put it - how do you find the strength to hold back a good retort- I can not imagine what one would say "The Gaijin's are taking over"? Or how someone could be so bold to be so rude- I tend to side with anyone who goes out of their wrongful but rightful way to be rude is justly compensating for a. Insecurity b. she just does not like him/her based on no reason at all, just blatant ignorance, and c. all the above. "giggles"

What I can not and will never tolerate is racial remarks and often remark back "baka ja nai"! honto ni! My husband almost smacked a guy for grabbing my boob, and sometimes why I HATE going into the public, makes me so self conscious.

Orchid64 said...

Well, for me, Friday isn't the gateway to the weekend. My days off are Monday and Tuesday so I have to wait for "thank God it's Sunday." ;-)

I don't mind answering any questions about my husband. In fact, as my friends know all too well, I'm happy to talk about him until the cows come home, particularly to extol his virtues. He's American. He was born in California and grew up in California. His father is from Spain and his mother is from Illinois. Neither of us has any sort of history that would tie us to Japan, yet here we are.

I can't say why people are obviously rude, but I do believe part of it is related to objectifying those that are different from them and feeling they aren't entitled to the same respect as a Japanese person. To some people, they think no more of pointing at us and saying stupid things than they would think of directing such remarks at a cage full of monkeys. I don't think they believe we have feelings, and if we do, they certainly don't have any regard for them because we're outside of their social order and nothing they say or do to us is of consequence.

Their behavior may be rooted in insecurity, but I think that it's more often than not just an ignorant childish response to anything different. They censor such responses around Japanese folk, but they just do whatever they feel like (just like children) around the gaijin.

I can so identify with your feeling about hating to go out in public sometimes here. Most of the time, I don't have any issues, but it's the complete randomness of it that makes it hard to cope with. You never know when you're going to be treated badly, bothered by someone who wants to speak to a gaijin, treated rudely, or made fun of by people. You have to mentally prepare yourself for the worst every time because it does happen, especially when you relax and forget that it can happen. I've had days where I leave the house at peace and happy and come back really angry because something stupid happened simply because I was knowingly and willingly a foreigner.

Thanks for commenting and reading. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ugh...I'm so glad this kind of thing hasn't happened to me yet around here, though we certainly have our share of old folks in my neighborhood. It's only been just going on 8 months for me, so I guess there's still plenty of time.

Jeeze...I'm not sure what I would have done in your situation, though if I had realized she was saying something nasty about me in Japanese, I might just have tried to squeeze my way awkwardly past them, getting all up in their personal space while doing so. I don't mean in a violent, shoving kind of way, but in the way you kind of become used to doing at the train station, on the train or on the subway. If they're blocking the only exit, what else can you do?....By the way, what DID you do, finally???

Orchid64 said...

I think location has a lot to do with the frequency of these experiences. I live in a densely populated residential area that is full of relatively well-off old people with few kids and fewer grandchildren. You're probably less likely to experience such behavior in your area, both because it's Osaka and you live in an area with a fair number of Koreans (in other words, other foreigners).

I'd say that I encounter less overt behavior between half and a third of the time I go out. Most of it is whisper behind your hand, stare and look away type of stuff..your average gawk at the gaijin behavior. I pretty much ignore this now. It always comes from people who are young and stupid or old and rude. Young adults and most middle-aged people don't do it. I think there's a gap between the older people who aren't sophisticated enough to respond appropriately because they grew up when there were far fewer foreigners around and those who are so young that they can't control their impulses when they see someone different.

It's taken me years to lose (most of) my anger over this sort of thing and usually I try to just ignore it because I know that their behavior reflects on some problem with them just as bad behavior reflects on everyone around the world who seeks to ridicule or harm others.

Mainly, I try to disengage emotionally from it all. It really has nothing to do with me. This latest incident only annoyed me because it was so over the top and I was stuck due to the physical layout of the shop.

What I did was stare down the second old bitty and walk away when the first one eventually gave way. Then I came home and blogged about it for catharsis.

I used to get angry all the time and shout at people or react in some way when something overt occurred. I found that the anger was like oxygen to a fire. The madder I got, the madder I became. It was a pattern of behavior that I didn't like, so I changed it. I think that situations like this are just a bigger challenge to my control, but I will say I reacted more calmly to this than I would have in the recent past.

You can't live here as long as I have without developing some emotional Teflon, going crazy, or doing something that will get you arrested. I endeavor to go with option 1.

Sherry said...

Your post had me laughing because those old folks drive me batty. I have had to completely stop shopping at certain stores and on certain days because my blood pressure goes so high I am scared I will drop dead.

I used to think that the problem was me and my foreigness, but then I moved to a new neighborhood and my oldest child started kindergarden. We live in a new condo that is mostly filled with young families with little kids and is the first "mansion" in the area. Right next to us is a very old run down "danchi" filled with the crankiest of the old folks. My duaghter's school is on the opposite side of the danchi. Walking my child back and forth through this danchi every day I have noticed that these old biddies hate everyone and everything. I don't get targeted or treated any differently than the Japanese moms. They hate us all because of issues all their own.

We get notes home from the school every week telling us that they have called the school complaining about something stupid. Once they actually demanded that the school make the kids not talk at all while walking through the danchi. They are insane. They stand outside yelling at the kids and doing all sorts of horrible things.

I have found that ignoring these people is the best policy as ignoring them seems to make them feel useless and unimportant. If you react or acknowledge them then they are getting the attention they want. Treating people as if they don't exist is a horrible sort of punishment in this society.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Sherry and thanks for reading and commenting.

As I was reading your story, I was thinking that they probably don't even want kids talking near them, and sure enough, by the end that was the case.

All of these angry old people remind me of the Monty Python sketch about "Hell's Grannies" bullying young people. One of these days soon, we're going to see that if things keep going the way they have. ;-)

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

Hell's Grannies...I was just thinking that as I was reading. LOL!

"Make tea, not love."