Saturday, September 22, 2007

Scratch Fury

No, not this "Scratch Fury" (a PvP character). Image pinched from the PvP (copyright Scott Kurtz - no infringement intended) archives - go, read, enjoy! Click the picture to see a larger version.

(I know this seems a little gross but if you've ever had dogs and cats cohabiting together, you know that it's absolutely true that dogs "snack" from the cat's litter box.)

Back when my husband and I were living in California, we had a somewhat scary experience during a peaceful drive down some quiet back streets in his home city. My husband was driving my small (and very much antiquated) Chevette and had just stopped at an empty intersection with a stop sign. He did an actual stop, not a rolling stop, and he was looking both ways. Just as he was proceeding to accelerate into the intersection, a huge pick-up truck comes barreling up behind us at top speed and careens around us and cuts us off. My husband tapped his horn as he was being cut off as the truck driver not only appeared to be either illiterate or lacking in sufficient reading comprehension to understand the concept of "stop" but also didn't seem to notice he was close to bouncing off our car.

Upon hearing the horn toot at him, the driver of the truck circled around and came roaring head on at our car. I'm guessing that his animal forebrain thought a horn signaled some sort of territorial challenge which, if he won, would result in his penis actually growing less minuscule in size. After satisfying himself that he'd asserted his dominance by playing chicken with my tiny car in his big "manly" truck, he zoomed off to join the other gorillas for what I'm sure was a stimulating evening of scratching, burping, displaying expert feats of flatulence and grunting at potential female mates.

In the U.S., this sort of behavior would be considered a form of "road rage." This is when people are overtly aggressive toward other drivers and can result in accidents or even death. In Japan, I'm sure they also experience road rage but there is another level to it which I call "scratch fury." This sort of incident involves some petty dweeb in a car he polishes once a week (sometimes twice on Sunday) who becomes furious when something as innocuous as a small scratch or blemish caused by minor contact with a bike, motorcycle or other vehicle occurs. The damage done to the vehicle is entirely cosmetic and often barely visible to the naked eye but the driver will get out of his car and start screaming and ranting at the person who has so carelessly abused the finish on his car.

Since I don't drive, I've never had the pleasure of experiencing this as a victim but I have seen it happen on the streets in Tokyo. I've also heard about it happening to others including my brother-in-law. It's not something that just happens between foreigners and Japanese though. My students have mentioned they've seen it happen as well. In fact, this topic came to mind because one of my students visited England and witnessed two cars scrape each others side mirrors such that it twisted them around a bit and both drivers just brushed it off, smiled, and went their merry way. She said she was shocked at their cavalier attitude because men in Japan are so sensitive to the slightest brush up against a vehicle.

I'm not sure why this is such a huge problem for Japanese men. I'm inclined to attribute it to the same cause of the incident we experienced in California (a sub-average male appendage) but it may be related to issues of perceived status, harsh car insurance guidelines or have something to do with how the value of cars is seriously impacted by minor cosmetic problems. Whatever the reason, there's never any good excuse for getting out of your vehicle and acting like a maniac over a small problem. This tendency among some Japanese drivers puts a real black eye on the notion that Japanese people are polite, refined and civilized.


Luis said...

Road rage does indeed happen here in Japan. One situation that comes to mind was one day when I was driving my scooter down Koshu Kaido. Some dickhead driving his own scooter decided to make an idiotic merge. He was behind me to my right, swept across behind me to my left, and passed me at well over the speed limit.

This was made worse by the fact that I switched from the right side of my lane to the left side just at that time. Not anything bad by me--not only did I stay within my lane, but I also had glanced at my mirror before making even that switch--which is how I know the guy must have been behind me to the right, as I didn't see him.

As a result of him passing like that and me switching to the left side of the lane, we almost collided. I felt rather startled and was pretty unhappy--what he had done was stupid and almost caused a crash. So I beeped at him. From his immediate reaction, I could see he was one of those "Because you beeped at me I feel like killing you" bozos, like you described.

But this guy did more than just try to scare me. At the next red light, he started cussing at me like crazy. I decided to simply let him go on and not react--it's not as if anything productive could come from talking to him. I caught enough of what he said to understand that he accused me of "swerving," and blamed me for the near miss.

But then, after that, he started driving in front of me, intentionally going slower than traffic and not letting me pass by. I was just about to simply stop and let him disappear when he sped up and started to take off. Seeing as how he seemed to have let go of it, I drove on. But his intention was different; he waited until I was the closest I had been, with traffic positioned so he was taking up the only opening--and then he slammed on his brakes, and looked back at me--clearly hoping that I would panic-brake and have an accident, no doubt so he could laugh at me while I bled.

Fortunately, I was not so stupid as to follow him that close, and stopped with no problem. But it really says something that a person would intentionally attempt to spill blood in that fashion.

His was the most extreme example, but I have experienced that sort of thing fairly often. A lot of people just go ballistic at the sound of a horn calling them for a bonehead move--the more they deserve it, the more they go nuts. Usually, with motorcycles, they will maneuver in front of you and block your way to annoy you. But cars are not immune. Once I had a car driver actually throw one of those promotional fans at me from his car window as he passed me after I beeped at him for coming close to hitting me.

Fortunately, such stuff does not happen that often--and less often than I recall it happening in the U.S. But it does happen, more than you might expect.

However, I do not see it as being contrary to "Japanese politeness," in that I have always observed Japanese politeness to be contextual, to mostly apply between people in social discourse--and traffic is not included in that. Just like with foot traffic, people can be horribly rude and think nothing of it. If there is no initial introduction or formal social interaction, politeness is not called for as much. People often treat each other as if they are not there.

Americans think Japanese are more polite mostly because Japanese are seen to act more politely than westerners in specific situations. But they also act less politely in other situations. I see it less as being "more" or "less" polite, rather both cultures simply call for different levels of politeness in different situations. But most if not all of the basic norms apply to both cultures--unfortunately including road rage from morons.

Shari said...

That's a very interesting though somewhat scary story.

As for what you said about politeness, I simply disagree with the parameters you suggest. Manners and politeness extend into all areas of human interaction and especially in situations were there is no introduction or formal social interaction. In fact, many rules have to do with how you deal with strangers (opening and holding doors for other people, saying, 'excuse me' to strangers you bump into, surrendering seats to infirm or elderly people on public transport, etc.). One of the reasons rules of manners exist is to define the more difficult to define interactions among strangers and this applies to how they behave in traffic as well.

Thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting post!

Emsk said...

A little off the beaten track perhaps, but I have a recent story involving manners. One of my students is a lovely guy, but is frequently late and unreliable. He's usually been the only student in class, although his class is a group lesson, which means he gets the benefit of a private lesson which we have to prepare for. He often calls ten minutes before class started, which means he won't lose the lesson. Sometimes he won't bother showing up at all.

I've asked my manager if I can call him on this behaviour - after all, I'm the one frequently planning the lesson for nothing - and although she agrees with me, she has to be professional. She points out that he is allowed to cancel ten minutes before class starts and he is a grown man.

The thing is that when he's in class he's great. His English is excellent, he's funny and charming. In class he always remembers things I've told him about my life and tells me things about his. If he were an Italian I would put him down as a bit of a ladies' man, but what stops me is that his body language gives him away as someone who is totally unconfident. It took a while for him to come out of his shell and this is a theme with other (female) teachers at the school.

I did call him on his unreliability, he laughed and apologised, saying that sometimes he couldn't leave work and he simply forgot. I accepted his apology and we've remained on friendly terms. I occasionally bump into him in the street and we have friendly chats about travelling, music etc; one evening he even carried my bags up the road for me and hung around chatting for fifteen minutes.

Lately he's been absent again. He called the manager this time and said he probably wasn't going to make it to class much in the near future. And one evening this week something strange happened. I was walking home when he crossed my path, looked me in the eye, quickly looked the other way and carried on walking, effectively cutting me. I was surprised - surely that couldn't have been T., I thought, but I watched him walk away and into his road (he once pointed it out to me when I bumped into him). Needless to say I was extremely pissed off at his rudeness and a little hurt, given that we always get on so well. It made me doubt his sincerity as a person (is his politeness just for show?) and made me realise that he is simply another rude person.

Shari said...

I never let being off-topic (or tangentially-related) stand in the way of an interesting story and I appreciate the time you took to share your experience, Emsk.

I've often felt that a lot of the politeness I experience in Japan is "skin deep" and my students don't have deep or sincere respect or affinity for me. I don't necessarily chalk this up to me being a gaijin though it may be a part of it. I tend to see it as a function of how the Japanese conduct relationships on the whole, particularly with those who they are essentially "doing business with".

In the end, your student may have behaved the way he did because he didn't want to study English anymore and didn't want to face you because the topic may have come up. Ultimately, he may have been acting to avoid confrontation that could have embarrassed him rather than consider what was courteous to you. It's hard to say though certainly he would have recognized you so he couldn't say he didn't realize who he'd cut off!

tornados28 said...

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Emsk said...

Well, there's a follow-up to the tale of the student who blanked me. Because I'm leaving my school soon I've been telling my students I'm going. As I said I get on well with this guy, hence it being all the more perplexing that he cut me in the street. I thought I should let him know, so I texted him to say I would be going, that it would be great to see him before I did and that I'd seen him a few days earlier in the street, but he hadn't seen me.

I received a reply later that day in which he apologised, saying he hadn't realised he'd walked past me and that maybe he'd been thinking about "the election or ecology". He also said that he'd be at class that week and would find out when I was leaving and where I was going out before I did etc - and he actually turned up!

I guess I should forgive him.