In Case Of Fire, Do Not Use Elevator
I know I said I didn’t want to write stuff focusing on pointing out the weird quirks of Japanese people…but this just happened today, so forgive me this sin. Actually, if we’re talking about forgiving sins, I have a fairly long and extensive list of things that need to be forgiven, so can I just get a bye on this one then? Great, thanks!
The Japanese and elevators.
When an elevator arrives, a Japanese person will go stand directly in front of the door, ready to pounce inside once the doors open. This would be a perfectly fine thing to do, if they were the only person in the whole wide world. A lot of Japanese behavior revolves around the idea that this person is the only person in the whole wide world. Which is funny for a country of over 125 million, mostly crammed into tiny little spaces. “Oh hey, the top of this escalator would be a PERFECT place to chat with my friends! What? People behind me on the escalator? Huh?”
Ahem. I digress. Elevators. So, Japanese people stand directly in front of the doors when its time to get on or off. And I don’t get the rush, especially for getting on a elevator. But whatever, the real humor comes from when an elevator arrives on a floor, and you have someone wanting to get on and off at the same time. They’re both standing right in front of the doors, ready to leap out like an African tiger the second the door opens. And while you think this is a recipe for disaster, just as both are in mid-pounce, suddenly the insta-brakes get applied and they stop. Disaster averted. Both offending parties offer an insincere quick bow of apology, and they’re off to rush to whatever it is that demanded getting onto or off of the elevator at Warp Factor 9.
This is how it works for two Japanese people. Now factor in us Gaijin. We, who glitch the system because we’re not a part of it. Like Neo in the Matrix, except with 1000 times more expression, and we can’t fly. At least, not yet anyway. I’m working on that.
Imagine you are a Japanese person. You are in perhaps a department store, and as the floor you want to go to is fairly high, you decide to take the elevator. Being Japanese, you feel compelled to get on that elevator as quickly as possible. For if you don’t, 13 first born sons will die, and God will kill all of the fish in the ocean, meaning no more delicious sushi. The elevator comes down to the first floor, and as it arrives, you stand directly in front of the doors, for you are the only person on Earth, and there can’t possibly be anyone trying to leave the elevator. Perish the thought!
The doors open, and you take your first pounce-step inside, but your Japanese Proximity Radar goes off. Whoops, there was someone there after all, heh heh. Better give them the stock bow apology, as they will do to you. But wait, something is wrong. As you look down to avoid eye contact, you expect your line of sight to end up somewhere around your new friend’s chest region. Instead, you find yourself looking at his crotch. What in the world? In your surprise, the only thing you can do is look up, as high as you can, to see what you almost plowed headfirst into.
Hello large black man!
I imagine having a large black man suddenly be in your life would be a startling thing for anyone. Being one myself, I can only guess at the feeling. Since I don’t make it a habit of lunging in front of people (only on the weekends), I shouldn’t have to worry about how people would react to me suddenly being in their face. I shouldn’t, but I live in Japan. Where, if I try to exit an elevator normally, I will have a Japanese person throwing themselves into me as if the elevator contained 30 naked and horny virgins and the space behind the elevator was filled with 30 naked and horny Barbara Walters clones. Everybody reacts. The most basic reaction is to just say “Whoa!”, throw out a confused/bewildered apology, and scurry into the elevator. Some people actually express their surprise in words, like “bikkuri shita!” which liberally translated into Japanese means “Oh shit!”.* People who are with friends will contain their shock until after boarding the elevator, and as the doors close I can hear the conversation starting – “That scared the crap out of me! I think I just lost 5 years off my life…”
*To all you Japanese linguists in training, yes, I know “bikkuri shita!” is literally “I was surprised!” but we don’t really say “I was surprised!” when we are surprised. Although I would like to try narrating my physical activities and reactions more often, just to see how everyone around me reacts to it. “I have to sneeze!” “I am moderately annoyed at the speed at which these two girls in front of me are walking!” “I just saw an attractive woman and now I feel blood rushing towards my penis!”
However, the reaction I got today was fairly unique. It was a girl, maybe in her early twenties. Upon seeing me, she fell down. And then cried.
Now, you have to understand the timing and order of events here. If her Japanese Insta-Brakes™ had failed, and she’d plowed nose-first into me, and then fell down and started crying from the pain – well that would actually make sense. That would be somewhat understandable. But that’s not what happened. The Insta-Brakes™ kicked in. She stopped, went to do the apology bow, and was confused when there was a crotch where there should have been a chest. She looked up. She saw me. She fell down. And then she cried. It was…surreal.
She had been with a friend, so her friend helped her up. I went on about my way. While many of you may want to scold me for not being a chivalrous gentleman and helping out a damsel in distress, please consider the following –
1. If she hadn’t been rushing to get on the elevator, ignoring the fact that, hey, people might be getting off, this never would have happened.
2. While surprise is understandable, falling down? Seriously?
3. And then, crying? Because she fell down? Because there was suddenly a black man in her life?
Maybe I just have no perspective, but would this be acceptable in any other situation?
Me: (entering elevator in a rush)
Me: (looks up) Oh my God, a Mexican woman! *falls down, crying*
Woman: There, there. I understand your surprise. Here, you can cry on my sombrero.
And of course the 4th and most important reason –
4. I’m married.
While I’m sure there was potential for some romance or even just kinky sex in the situation (“Oh, you fell down. Why don’t I give you my number, and we can talk about it in my apartment later…”), I’m married, so I don’t care. I have a wife who didn’t fall down and cry the first time she saw me. I think that’s all a man can really ask for in life. That, and back rubs every couple of days. Yeah, that’d be good.
Maybe this isn’t exclusive to the Japanese? I don’t remember Americans blindly rushing into elevators. But then again, I’m from San Francisco. We don’t really rush for much of anything. However, if a large black man suddenly appears in front of you in SF, falling down and crying would probably be an appropriate response. So I guess its all situational?
I had a few readers asking about a Paypal button, so I added one on the sidebar. I have nothing to offer really so I can’t do a donation drive, but with a baby on the way, and no home computer, anything donated would be greatly appreciated, as always.