Earlier this week, the CH and I had dinner with his brother and his Japanese wife. This is the brother-in-law whose behavior contributed directly to the demise of my former blog and is essentially responsible for the birth of a different blog. I've had problems with him during most of my time in Japan, but he suggested to the CH that we all get together and I wanted to at least try for the CH's sake.
To be honest, I was surprised that the brother-in-law suggested a get-together. Despite the fact that my back problems have kept me from working outside the house and have seen me be essentially bound to my immediate neighborhood for the last two and a half years, I think he believes our not visiting his apartment for social reasons is a personal affront, though hopefully my telling him that I haven't left a limited area for a long time will make him understand that it isn't personal. However, it's generally been the case that he hasn't believed my claims in the past and this is one of the reasons he hasn't suggested coming by our place much. I believe he wants the mountain to come to Muhammad as often as the reverse and he feels he's done more than his share of trekking to our particular mountain.
At any rate, he seems to be rather oblivious to how his behavior has affected me or has decided to pretend it all didn't happen now that time has passed so we all got together and tried to make the best of it. There were some high points and only one low one. The high points mainly related to the fact that his wife may yet "train" some of his more obnoxious behaviors out of him.
One of the problems I've had with my brother-in-law in the past has been with his tendency to treat possessions like they are part of a status competition. That is, he mocks and makes fun of old items in our apartment like our ancient 15-year-old CRT television, old computers, or even the speed of our modem. When he started in on that the evening of the dinner, his wife mumbled something about her not wanting him to do that anymore and him saying he'd try not to. I was glad to see that she was pointing out his bad behavior and attempting to get him to stop it, though he did say the CH and I were "family" so he could do what he wanted.
Rather than get angry at his competitive possession fixation this time, I simply said that I'd rather have an extra $2,000 in my savings account than a new television and that television quality really wasn't that important to us. Since he mentioned the T.V. twice, I responded with this twice and his wife was shaking her head in agreement both times. The brother-in-law has a fixation on high-priced man toys, and I have a feeling that his wife may not feel this is for the best. Clearly she is not the sort of person who cares how new your gadgets are when dealing with others and I really respect that. Another brief discussion of taking one's own lunch to work rather than eating out again seemed to indicate that they may not concur 100% on how money is handled in the relationship as she agreed with us that its fiscally more prudent to carry your own rather than patronize local fast food.
Generally speaking, my brother-in-law showed the same levels of opinionated selfishness that I have come to expect, but having his wife there really helped. She's clearly more sensible and down to earth than he. Though she didn't go out of her way to be confrontational with him (as would be expected), she also didn't hold back on agreeing with us on various points.
The "low points" for me included my slipping up and saying he was "close minded" about the effect of things like reiki treatments (which his wife studies and practices) and therefore it would never work with him as he would actively block any benefits to validate his strong view that it doesn't work. He contended that it came across as a generalized comment that he's close minded about everything and I asked the CH if this was so and he said he believed it could be seen that way. I apologized for having spoken in a manner which could be viewed as a big insult and got a very ungracious, loud and overly exaggerated "thank you" for it. It was clear that he felt this apology was some sort of victory on his part rather than me saying I misspoke and regretted the impression it created. Once more, it's as if this was a competition and he felt my apology was a "win" in his column and I got a bit of "victory cheering" from him for my troubles.
Other than that, we were treated to rants about how the public services, particularly the trash not being picked up during the holidays, were a major inconvenience to him. I guess the idea that these people doing these unpleasant jobs should be entitled to enjoy their holidays along with the rest of the country (including him) wasn't important to him. We were treated to arguments that the shops managed to stay open and that there was no reason they couldn't do some sort of rotation or temporary service so he didn't have to hold back his trash for a few days. My response that trash handling is probably more complex than post card delivery and that people want to be with their families while the family members are also not working fell on deaf ears. After all, he was being slightly inconvenienced.
I'd say the dinner went well. The food I made, pork roast and Welsh onion, potato soup, and carrot salad, was a big hit as was the wine choice we made, though my husband got a big headache later from the wine. They also generously brought us several gifts including cookies, bread, caramel pastries, and a cheesecake (though the cheesecake was real "cheese" flavor and not cream cheese so it's pretty weird). I don't know if I made any progress in healing the relationship with my brother-in-law, but I did learn that I like his wife and have hope that she'll file away some of his social sharp edges through time and, at the very least, I don't think things have gotten any worse.