05 January 2004

Sama? Kama? What now?

How's it that people can get married and unmarried so easily in the States. There should be some sort of law requiring that your mother be at the wedding ceremony. I'm also a little upset that this is qualifying for Yahoo! Top News Stories for the last two days, but hey, I've been reading the reports so I guess I can't really complain.

So, anyway, more importantly: In the Japanese language, honorifics are really important. People sort of compare them to Mr. and Mrs., but I think that's a dumb comparison. Whenever you're talking to someone or about someone, you gotta throw an honorific at the end of that name like "san" or "sensei" or "chan" or "kun" or something. If you don't, you could end up disrespecting someone and you'd rather get mauled by lemmings than disrespect someone. So during Japanese class today, we were talking honorifics and the mother of all honorifics, "sama."
Me: (to Hanaka sensei, our teacher) What about "kama"? I hear that all the time. When do you use that?
Hanaka sensei: (confused and a little uncomfortable) "Kama"?
Me: Yeah, "kama".
Hanaka sensei: (more confusion, growing discomfort) Uh...
Me: (thinking I made the vowels long instead of short. I did that last week with "Koko". Koko means here, Kookoo means high school) Kama? (pause) Kaamaa?
Hanaka sensei: (looking at Dan) I don't know...
Dan: (to Hanaka sensei) I don't know what he's trying to say.
Me: (getting frustrated, to Dan) Yeah you do. We say it in church all the time.
Dan: (to me) Like some lesser form of "sama"?
Me: (realizing my mistake) Oh no, yeah, I mean, I meant to say "sama." Sorry. "Sama".
Hanaka sensei: (very relieved) Oh, yes, yes, "sama."
(brief explanation of "sama," pause)
Hanaka sensei: (leaning forward, hand over mouth) "Kama" means "gay."
Me: (not hearing) What?
Dan: (laughing)
Hanaka sensei: (again, hand over mouth, whispering) Gay.
Me: Oh. No, no, not "kama." Not "kama."
This is made especially funny as we're beginning to realize that people don't really have roommates in Japan. So two unmarried guys, living and working together is a little, you know, kama. So I'm making a point of mentioning in any conversation I have about our living situation: "Yeah, Dan's my roommate. Yeah, that's very, very common in the States. Everyone has a roommate. I mean, if you're not married, you probably have a roommate. It's just the way we do things."