So sorry…


While I was precisely in the middle of recording a new track, the property manager called and left a message on my cellphone: seems my neighbours are not all dead after all… and some of them are apparently not happy with the level of noise coming from our place.

To be honest, there have been a few early night sessions lately and I might even have left the bay window open, which obviously would not help at all. So first thing I did was drop the level on the amp by about 90% and close every window in the apartment…

Then, there was the delicate problem of figuring what to do with the call, and more importantly with the caller. See, in most any other cases, I would have either called back and apologized or turned the volume down and forget about it, but here, the situation was a tad more complicated than that. Among the many factors worth considering, were the fact that:

  • There is a strong prejudice against renting out to foreigners, in this land. As you might remember, finding our current abode and getting approval despite our evil gaijin status was not a walk in the park. Keeping the goodwill of our current landlord on our side is therefore of the utmost importance, pure courtesy and good renter behaviour apart.
  • For as much as I could tell from that message, the manager did seem quite pissed off. Of course, there is hardly a way to tell if a Japanese is really angry during a business phone call (it’s not like he would start shouting anyway). But the absence of overly polite expressions and obsequious roundabout in speech are usually a pretty clear sign things are not OK at all.

Most importantly:

  • [Warning, unqualified cultural observation ahead] There is, in Japanese culture, a strong emphasis on the importance of apologies. Even if there isn’t a mistake worth speaking of, you should still apologize, take the blame and show remorse. On the other hand, when the mistake is quite big (say, you are a politician who mistakenly appropriated a few billion yens that belonged to your constituency), apologizing in public for being a really really naughty boy is also enough to clear you of any further trouble. At any rate, when in doubt (or even when there is no doubt at all and you are innocent), apologizing is always a good idea. [End warning]
    Given my legendary self-righteous character, I am not really good at that, though being in Japan has been a good training in this regard.
    In this case, though, there was a good reason to apologize, therefore not doing so was akin to spitting in the face of our landlord. Probably not a good idea.

This seemed like a clear case to call, apologize and get done with it, right? Right.

Except for one major detail:

  • The language part.

While I have no issues imposing my approximative grammar and bizarre constructs to my friends or the occasional business acquaintance, I am still really uneasy talking in Japanese in formal contexts where I need to be on top of my game. It really doesn’t look good to call to apologize and have the person repeat a sentence twenty times because you don’t understand a word or something. That and the countless variations on levels of politeness which make uttering a single sentence nearly impossible without knowing first your interlocutor’s age, gender, position, favorite sushi restaurant etc. I have a hard time enough not using casual Japanese expressions on store employees: I don’t count the times where I accidentally used the super-familiar, nearly-rude, for-friends-only, “ore” (俺) first-person pronoun in such situations (pretty much the equivalent of high-fiving your waiter in a fancy restaurant).

That was the dilemma. Though there actually wasn’t much of dilemma: I had to call.

So I summoned my best knowledge of idiomatic excuses in Japanese… pretty damn near wrote a draft… and called back the guy.

He was indeed quite cold and listened to my five minutes of tearful apologies without saying much. After listening to his admonestation, assuring him that, was this incident ever to occur again, I would immediately commit seppuku with a spoon (why a spoon? “Because it’s DULL, you twit, it’ll hurt more”), I felt I had done my duty, wished him a good day and hung up.

I think I have never felt so Japanese.

Now if you will excuse me: I must go put on my hakama, it’s nearly time for the tea ceremony.