Eastern Hospitality

There is this thing that my mother-in-law does that drives me up the freakin’ wall. Although we supposedly live in separate quarters and lead separate lives, whenever I have guests, she hustles over here with a tray of refreshments. I know she’s just trying to maintain a certain standard of Japanese hospitality, but this bothers me for several reasons. One, is that I would like to offer hospitality to my guests in my own way. For example, as an American entertaining foreginers, I think it’s more polite to ask my guests if they’d like something to drink, and then offer a selection. In my experience, my foregin friends answer honestly. When my parents are visiting, they are always getting irritated when unwanted drinks and snacks are foisted upon them.

Also, my mother-in-law’s entrance always turns everything all formal. Everyone must start bowing and being gracious and speaking Japanese. I would like for my house to be a place where my foreign friends can relax. I would like to be able to relax.

Last night, Jio’s friend’s mother dropped by to pick up Jio for soccer. The deal is that I will watch her daughter while the boys are off playing sports. My friend and her kids and her male guest from Australia all came in for a moment while Jio changed his clothes. And then my mother-in-law appeared with her tray. I know she’s just trying to be nice, but I felt so irritate with her.

We had a little chat today and I tried to explain all of the above, but I’m not sure how much I got through to her. She told me a story to demonstrate the importance of ningen kankei (human relations). She seems to have gotten the idea that Americans are all businesslike in their dealings with each other, but that’s not what I meant to say. Also, she pointed out that there was a male guest and he must be given special treatment.

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4 thoughts on “Eastern Hospitality

  1. I find this really interesting. My mother is 2nd generation (nisei) Japanese-American and she is very very much like this, too. She would get totally anxious when I had sleepovers when I was in grade school, wanting to know exactly what each person ate for breakfast. Then she would go out and get like fifteen different things, so everyone would have a choice, but it would also be their favorite thing.

  2. Once a mother looking after her kids, always a mother looking after her kids — in Japan, at least. They won’t let you grow up and let you take the chance of failing. My MIL brings a carload of gifts for all of our neighbours when she visits us and then goes around passing them out on our behalf and apologizing for us, you know that ‘I’m sorry they cause you so much trouble’ spiel. It really irks me: 1. We have absolutely wonderful relationships with our neighbours; 2. At this point in our lives, with her son 48 years old and us having been married for 12 years, it’s time to cut the apron strings and let us deal with any bad feelings or problems that might theoretically come up with our neighbours; 3. They are the poster children for people who do NOT get along with their own neighbours. I find your MIL’s behaviour with the refreshments to be part of the same vein. As you say, it is done out of kindness and a feeling of doing what should be done, but, as a western woman, I know exactly how annoying you must find this.

  3. Yes, that would drive me crazy. We’ve considered a similar living arrangement, with MIL in a guest cottage or something, but I don’t think it would work.

  4. I had to laugh and shake my head as I read this. Really. My (Korean) fil lives only 6 miles from our house. When he comes over, I now know that I “must” bring him ice water as if the trek was on foot and he was dying of thirst. He sips it a bit before leaving. Then I have another glass to wash/put away. !!! The thing is, if I don’t get him the water, he’ll say in this voice of … I don’t know.. as if he desperately needs something that I haven’t even recognize, “Ice water, please.” I have to admit, I have thought of handing him a bottled water and saying, “Here’s something to drink now and to take on the road back to your house.”

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