Here is a true conversation I had with my wife. I think it shows the different communication styles of men and women more than any communication impediment caused by our culture gap. But so long as I am living in Japan I never count out the latter in anything.I have periodic computer trouble. What do I know about computers? Nothing. So I occasionally have to call the Customer Service line of my E-mail and Internet provider. But because I am never at home during their business hours I can never call them and have my computer in front of me at the same time. I either have to write down lots of longhand notes over the telepohone or, recently, I can have documents faxed to my in-laws’ telephone which is also a fax machine. (And also, I can have documents E-mailed to my address at work.) On this particular occasion I asked documents to be faxed to my in-laws’house, figuring that under the circumstances that might be the fastest way of getting my hands on them. Then I looked forward with great expectation to picking them up in the evening when I got home (or, my wife bringing them home to me from her parents’ house where she eats whenever I am not home to eat with the family).
I arrived home, changed clothes, arranged my papers, then called my in-laws’ number to let my wife know I was home. Over the telephone I asked if any fax had arrived for me there, confident that the answer would be affirmative.
“Did a fax arrive for me?”
“What? There should be a fax there for me. It’s about my computer’s trouble.”
“No fax here.”
“Does your parents’ machine work?”
“Just a moment.” (Long pause) “I check with my mother. She says no fax here.”
“But there should be.” Already my burst expectations have made me irritable, and we are speaking in raised voices. “Is there paper in their machine?”
“Just a moment.”
There is a long, empty pause. About one full minute. I can hear voices in the background, but I say nothing more because Junko told me to wait “just a moment” and I figured that the voices in the background were the sounds of her talking to her mother. I learned long ago to do what Junko says. When she says “wait a moment” then I wait. But, finally, I grew tired of waiting and ventured to ask,
“Hello?” comes her voice, strong because she is holding the receiver to her face.
Damn! I thought she was talking to her mother, but instead she is just standing there after telling me to wait just a moment and not saying anything! What perversity!
“What?” she asks.
“What are you sayng?”
“What do you mean?”
“You told me to wait just a moment, so I am waiting.”
“There’s no fax here.”
“Okay. I understand that. You’ve said it three times already. But I’m not talking about that now. Why did you say ‘just a moment’ and then not say anything else?”
Of course, we are shouting at each other now, and that’s pretty much how it goes every day.
To make up for our culture gap Junko and I had to invent our own culture to smooth over communication and shape expectations of each other in the context of our marriage and life in Tokyo. I suppose every married couple does, even when the husband and wife stem from the same social culture - like Caucasian Canadian Anglophone culture, in my case. Thus one can talk about a“family’s” culture - beliefs and behaviors specific to each household on the block.
Oh, I don’t know why the fax did not arrive. I suspect that, as is the case with customer service lines in companies throughout the world, the customer service agent I spoke to probably just lied to me. I called back the next day and made arrangements for the desired information to be E-mailed to my work address - which it was.