The lady behind the counter turned white, noticing my name on her form. She was supposed to call me up, but hesitated.
Sitting nearby, I was watching her ask her supervisor, helplessly. I started counting the minutes it would take them to take a decision. Who would call me up? And most importantly, what name they would use.
They ended up opting for the classic “Sara-San” with is basically Ms. Sarah. Of course, they would usually use my last name in a regular social context, but a foreigner added to the equation meant it wasn’t a regular context anymore. It was now unknown territory.
What is a name anyway?
Let’s be real, being the only Canadian or even the only westerner frequenting most of the spots here, I can be identified easily enough. In Japan, people are mostly identified by their main occupation. No, the vice-principal’s name is not really Kyoutou sensei, that’s his title (something some of us takes a lot of time to realize). When it comes to housewife, the standard is Ms. Lastname (which is mandatorily their husband’s name).
And then, there’s me : a foreigner, married but not wearing my husband’s name (I changed my name, but I didn’t change my name legally) and a stay-at-home mother. I’m quite the luggage to unload when it comes to addressing me.
To be fair, I doubt anyone would confuse me with another person in this end of the wood.
My husband has been lucky since most of the time, he is addressed by his title. His first name has however been quite the challenge for his students. Of course, they “fixed” the issue by giving him easy to pronounce nicknames – including “Binbin Sensei”. In a more official context, he is always referred as Ms. FirstName like most of the foreigners here, including my children.
Change in the wind
Unexpectedly, Japan, – the upside down parallel universe – wasn’t satisfied with the normal order things.
I almost didn’t recognize myself. After a year of being called by my first name this lady, the receptionist at the dental office started using my last name.
And then it happened again at the kindergarten where a mom wrote my last name on my nametag, a nametag I had since I arrived showing only my first name. The mysterious nametag rewriter is still At large, hiding in the shadows.
Could it be that…
more they know me, more formal they get?
Well played, Japan, well played…
I definitely didn’t expect that one.