Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So what's the matter with my age??

My birthday is March 26, 1980, which means that I became 29 two weeks ago. My life is getting more and more interesting as I get older, so I think I'm glad to get older, at least at this moment.

When I talk about my age to friends here, that is, people who are NOT from Japan, they just say that I don't look as old as my actual age. A 23-year-old friend from Brazil even lost words for a while when he knew my age because, according to him, he strongly believed that I'm two or three years younger than him. Well, I felt a bit complicated when he told me so, but maybe I should be pleased about it.

It is often said that people from some Asian countries, especially Japan and Korea, look much younger than they actually are. It is also the fact, however, that many Japanese people seriously care about their own age more than people from any other countries do. I know I cannot generalize how people think - but, for example, many Japanese women of my age would sadly say that "I'm not young any more," and not a few men of my age would say that "26-year-old women are not young any more, I prefer women younger than 25." I don't know how it sounds to other people though. Do people in the States also think like this?

Of course not all Japanese think like that; it's just a tendency of the way of thought about age, and now this attitude has been changing along with the change in society. People get married and have their child later and later, and this fact seems to gradually change the definition of being young. However, I think Japanese way of thought about age is still greatly different from that of American people. I'm not sure yet, but at least for me, American people (and maybe people from any other countries) do not seem to care about others' age as we do.

I believe that that attitude toward age is deeply associated with the language we use. In other words, we are usually very careful to use polite expressions especially to others older than ourselves due to the nature of our language, as well as the influence of Confucianism. (I also heard that Korean language has the same, or sometimes more strict rule of the use of polite expression.) I know English also has both casual and polite expression. Compared with English-speaking people, however, the way Japanese people care about the use of polite expression can even seem to be extreme.

Here's an example. Assume I meet someone and think he or she is the same age or younger than me. So I talk to he/she in a casual way. But after a short conversation, I realize that he/she is, say, 2 years older than me. Then I would feel a bit embarrassed and maybe say sorry to talk in such a casual manner. In this situation, if I were the older one, I would not care that much about the way people talk to me. However, some people do care; they would consider those who are younger and talk in that casual way to be very rude.

What does it mean? It means that as you get older, the number of those who talk to you in a polite way increases accordingly. One day you would notice that more coworkers in your office talk to you very politely even when having a casual lunch, and think surprisedly or sadly, "ah, I'm already this age!" Thinking of the nature of English, I guess this kind of moment may not take place among native English-speaking people... Could someone please tell me about it?

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