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Monday, June 23, 2008

杓子定規

しゃくし じょうぎ
shakushi jyougi


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?
No dice.
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 right.
Why?
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.

Definition:
すべてに一つの基準や感覚を当てはめて判断・処理しようとする応用や融通の利かないやり方、態度。
Translations:
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."

例文:日本のマックは「お客様は神様」と言うのは聞いたことがないみたい。なぜそんなに杓子定規なのか?
Japanese McDonald's seems to have never heard the expression "The customer is always right." Why are they so rigid in their arbitrary rules?

5 comments:

Claytonian said...

この村には、人の価値はいくつ杓子を一年間作られるか決まっているって馬鹿で杓子定規なシステムじゃないか。

So thing about how in this village everyone's worth is decided by how many bamboo ladles they can make is a pretty stupid, inflexible system isn't it?

Claytonian said...

make in a year that is.

archipelagic said...

"Cultural abrasion" is quite apt. I wonder if culture shock and culture abrasion are different things, though. Maybe some places it is more of a sudden shock all at once, while other places it builds up.

I'm very 疲れやすい reading these types of blogs, because they remind me how much kanji I don't know. That's my problem, though, I know.

Lane said...

Very interesting post, as always! I love learning new 四字熟語!
I have heard on several occasions the expression 「お客様は神様。」from Japanese people, I think this is their version of "the customer is always right."

AzzidisRidden said...

例文 has been changed to reflect your advice. Thanks!