Friday 23 March 2012

Trouble and Strife

Every once in a while my wife will invite her friends from university over for lunch. These are the same friends who dressed my up like a prize twat for the ‘entertainment’ at our wedding, so I actually like them quite a lot. I’ll usually make a bit of an effort on the food front - a cake or a roast or something - and this is politely, if not always enthusiastically, received. 

One of the others in the group had a foreign husband, so I’m not so much of a novelty any more, and I always get the feeling that my cooking is received in the same fashion as Samuel Johnson received women preachers; it’s not that it’s done well that’s notable, so much as the fact that it’s done at all.

I am, apparently, The Best Husband, as evidenced by my cooking and the fact I iron my own shirts. I also usually don’t run off and hide as soon as they all turn up. Their husbands are all Japanese though, so it’s not like the competition is particularly stiff.

[viagra joke goes here]

I can kind of appreciate their other halves absenting themselves when the ladies get together. The conversation naturally turns to nostalgia, in-laws, and the practicalities of childcare. This last excepted, there’s not a lot there to interest me there. Nowadays I generally welcome them all and clear off once my duties as a host have been discharged. Easier for everyone that way.

Plus I’m less likely to say something controversial if I’m not around. A few years back, after marveling at the roast potatoes, they asked me something along the lines of, “How do you know how to cook?”

At least I think that was the question. My Japanese was then an even blunter instrument than it is now, so I just blurted out, “子供じゃないよ。”

”I’m not a child!” A little terse perhaps, but it got my message across. At the very least it initiated a round of head-nodding and grunted agreements, before what I took to be a discussion on the merits of foreign men and the failings of their Japanese counterparts (that’s not the controversial bit, by the way).

It’s not that simple though, as ever. Japanese husbands have deservedly come in for a bad rap, but they're not crap just because they’re Japanese. I doubt there’s a specifically Asiatic gene for ‘misogynistic entitlement’ (that’s not controversial either). To hark back to my patented ‘Peacocks and Stags’ theory, the underlying factors are similar to those in many other cultures, but here they’ve just been pushed a little further and spread a little wider.

It's still basically the same...

I learned to cook because I moved out of home when I was eighteen, and apart from the odd few weeks between terms or contracts I haven’t lived with my parents since. I like to eat and can't afford to eat out for every meal, so I need to be able to feed myself. Likewise with the ironing. As white-collar worker living in a developed country knowing how to dress myself ranks as a basic survival skill.

If that sounds overblown consider this – being well presented directly affects my employability and earning capacity in a way that knowing how to make a fire doesn’t and, unless Kim Jr. Junior suddenly decides to prove himself and pushes his Big Red Button, it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to catch and kill a rabbit out of necessity. I’m sure it’d be a nice skill to have, but I live in a city of a million people and knowing how to dress myself is, somewhat ironically, a more useful skill when it comes to putting food on the table. Modern life, eh?

So, cooking, ironing, knowing how to carry a civilized conversation. As far as I’m concerned these things aren’t ‘women’s stuff’ so much as basic life skills. Skills I spent more than a decade having to practise for myself. And apparently these are skills that are beyond many Japanese men (still not controversial).

Ms Cooke also wrote Up The Duff. I'll concede
the point on that one.

‘Beyond’ is perhaps unfair. The truth is more that many Japanese men don’t possess these skills because they’ve simply never had to develop them. They live with their parents until they get married, having got paired off at some rigidly arranged konpa where alcohol acts as an effective substitute for conversation. They land a job in a company straight out of university on the strength of a written exam, and as long as they hang around long enough without saying anything stupid they’ll be due a nice fat salary and pension at the end of it (that’s not it).

They go straight from being mothered by their mother to being mothered by their wife – and maybe still their mother as well, give the popularity of multi-generational homes –  and their earning capacity is dictated by their ability to pass paper tests and put in the hours. For your typical salaryman knowing how to iron a shirt is as unnecessary an aptitude as leporine butchery is for me. Why would you want to waste time developing essentially useless skills? Time you could be spending sitting behind your desk doing essentially useless ‘work’, which at least will have the benefit of making the boss not hate you.

Sometimes it really is better just to
keep your mouth shut

So it’s not just that these salarymen are lazy or stupid. It’s an entirely rational strategy on their part (not yet). One that in many ways they’ve actually been forced into adopting whether they want to or not; one they’ve been forced to adopt by their society, their employers, and their families. A strategy that’s been forced on them by the very people who complain most about it.

Yep. It’s all their wives’ fault.

(There we go)


  1. Quite!

    I might add this is true of what imperfections the male of the species has in the Anglosphere: most of it is sexually selected by the 'female of the species'.

    1. Yep, women choose sexual partners based on the traits they'd like their children, specifically sons, to inherit. So basically male behaviour is a result of millennia of women's reproductive decisions, which is an excellent get-out-of-jail-free card for all kinds of dickish behaviour...

  2. You saw the bit about it being my wife's friends? That limits my manner of expression somewhat, at least if I don't want to be sleeping on the couch for a while ;) Gotta pick my battles, y'know?

    But you're entirely correct, of course. It's a variation on the chopsticks thing I was talking about a couple of weeks back; a culturally enhanced, unthinking assumption of inadequacy, though this time for gender not for nationality. I hadn't made that connection until I read your comment, so thanks for sparking that.

    I said 'beyond' was unfair because it's not like these guys couldn't learn to do it, if necessary. It's just not necessary, for them at least, and it's not entirely their fault it's not necessary. 'Inaccurate' is probably a better word than 'unfair'.

    It's an important distinction, because while you and I (rightly) see this stuff as an important and fundamental part of growing up, that's not the majority view here. I think a lot of people would answer 'yes' to your last two questions and be entirely satisfied with that.

  3. This soooo reminds me of a time when I asked one of my students what he'd done over the weekend. When he said that he'd made fried rice, he must of read the sarcasm in my smile. "No, Mr. Will. I want to talk about the fried rice. It is special..." He went on to tell a story that is worthy of at least a post or two. The man could actually cook and his wife was innocent. It was one of those lessons.

    1. "No, Mr. Will. I want to talk about the fried rice. It is special..."

      Special Fried Rice? He should trademark that.

  4. One of my sister's university friends didn't know how to boil an egg! Pretty damn basic considering the recipe is basically given away in the name. And she's female.

    It's not just Japan. In Australia and many Western countries, parents seem to retard their children to keep them depend way beyond when they should be grown up. I dated a Greek guy in his 40s who'd never cooked a meal himself because mumma did it every night - and wouldn't let him in the kitchen even if he wanted to.

    A lot of wives will complain but do the same thing because they really don't want their husbands being able to do housework or look after themselves. If I had someone who'd cook for me and clean the house and all that shit, buggered if I'd do it myself either.

    1. It does seem more prevalent in some cultures than others. I know a few Italians who could give your Greek guy a run for his money. As for your last point, and without wanting to spoiler Monday's post, yes.

      Incidentally, for the last couple of days I haven't been able to access your blog. I keep getting redirected to a Go Daddy 'want to buy this domain?' placeholder. I'm pretty sure it's not a problem at my end, though I've been wrong about that before.

    2. Yeah I forgot to renew the domain rego. Am now on blogspot -