A guy I know once told that me that he felt that "culture shock" was a misnomer. "Cultural abrasion" was more of an apt phrase, he said, because culture shock doesn't come in sudden "Oh-my-god-look-at-how-weird-that-is!" bursts, but rather in small "I-can't-believe-this-office-meeting-is-STILL-going-on-and-all-we're-talking-about-is-bicycle-safety" doses. Little differences wear on you, until one day you're just tired of things and that's when you get "culture shock."
Since Japanese people are often interested in my opinion about the differences between American and Japanese culture, it's good to be able to express these sentiments and relay cultural shock experiences in Japanese. However, unless you're talking to your close friends, be careful with what you say. It's easy to offend someone when comparing countries and cultures. Japanese style toilets and raw meat are safe topics. Education and politics might not be.
That being said, today's yoji relates to one of the biggest differences between my existence in Japan and my existence in America, and one of the most frequent sources of culture shock for me. Allow me to relate a small anecdote:
I went to McDonald's in Saga City, to pick up some food for myself and a friend. We both wanted chicken nuggets. I tend to find that, with the the notable exception of mayonnaise, Japanese people use condiments in much smaller portions than I'm used to (I never get enough ketchup with my fries, anywhere!). So when I order chicken nuggets, I ask for two packs of barbecue sauce. On this occasion however, since I had ordered two packs of nuggets, I asked for barbecue sauce 四個. It was then that I was informed that there were strict rules, that had been set about the amount of barbecue sauce that could be legally distributed:
1 box of nuggets = up to 2 packs of barbecue sauce
2 boxes of nuggets = up to 3 packs of barbecue sauce
3 boxes of nuggets = up to 4 packs... and so on
Well, I suggested... maybe they could just give me an extra one?
Well, then, I said, I'll buy one.
I'm sorry, they said, they can't SELL barbecue sauce.
They can't let me have one, and they won't let me buy one?
That's just the rules.
So I told them I just wanted one box of nuggets with two packs of barbecue sauce, bought my meal, returned to the back of the line, waited, and bought another set: 1 box of nuggets, two packs of sauce. That was cool with them. Fricking. Ridiculous.
1. An inflexible system of rules
2. Stickler for rules
3. Having one pre-decided method, for dealing with all situations/things
4. Hard-and-fast rules
5. Bureaucratic decision making
When you come across a situation in which someone tells you what you can or can't do, but can't explain why, 杓子定規 is a good yoji to know. When you're feeling stressed out about dealing with hierarchies at work when all you want to do is ask the boss directly if you can make a minor change, upset about being treated as though you were the universal prototype foreigner, or are frustrated enough to want to communicate the seeming senselessness of your situation, 杓子定規's your phrase.
Use it as though it were a な type adjective, and attach it to nouns like "態度," "考え," or "処遇."
Japanese McDonald's seems to have never heard the expression "The customer is always right." Why are they so rigid in their arbitrary rules?