Postscript to a Wink

How I Appear to Women when I Wink

Last week I winked at a girl on the tram. She had smiled at me and I gave her the benign one-eyed wink you’d get from an uncle with whom you had no inappropriate relationship. Her face went a bit red.

Then I recalled that the Czechs do the benign uncle wink with two eyes, something like a quick blink with pleasant zest. Their one-eyed winks are used by the lascivious to convey their concupiscent messages to their depraved communicants. So instead of reciprocating a good morning greeting, I had told a random young lady that I’d like to take our relationship to the next level somewhere near the tram’s cockpit. [enter pun joke here]

If you have experienced another culture, you know that facial and hand gestures are important. These valuable tidbits are often overlooked simply because they aren’t well known or the gesture expresses something different in the visitor’s native culture. Sometimes we risk offending those in our host country simply because they perform a gesture that means something benign in their culture.

When a visiting friend waves a raised hand to get a waiter’s attention, I say a small prayer to a god I don’t believe in for their soul, which is now going to rot in Ignored by Waiter hell. A friend was on a tram when a rebellious teenager walked in front of it before it could take off from the stop. When the (enormous) driver trilled his angry bell at the teen, the kid gave him a horned finger gesture, just like you’d see at an Ozzy Ozbourne or Metallica concert. My friend was stunned when the driver got out and dropped the kid with a right hook, until he learned that the kid had snarkily suggested that the driver’s wife was cheating on him.

This is why I am spending my morning in front of a mirror; I’m preparing for an upcoming trip to Japan. While I am trying to piece together a few phrases of Japanese in order to impress my hosts until they laugh and switch to English, today I am studying my Japanese facial and hand gestures.

I fan my hand sideways in front of my face to send out an emphatic No! I point at my nose to silently question Who Me? And then I tilt my head away from my own gorgeous image to demonstrate my strong reluctance to do what he has just asked me.

The Japanese are well known for their strict adherence to several very specific customs. This includes how two people handle a financial transaction, how one enters a home, how one refills drinks or shares food at a table, and how they accept a gift. Every culture adheres to customs such as these. For example, only a person with the social intelligence of a turnip would call his new boss “dude” or say “nice to fucken meet you…sir.” I have had full conversations about how important a good handshake is in an interview or when meeting a business associate. In other cultures, a limp handshake is more polite.

These cultural regulations absolutely reaches to bodily and facial gestures. In Japan, it’s extraordinarily important what gestures and expressions one portrays when they meet another person for the first time, or how you greet your professional superior, or your colleague’s wife, or a visitor to your home.

These customs and gestures are simply foreign to me, and I’d like to not alienate half of the island of Honshu. However, as I’ve just read on one site that winking in Japan is suggesting you’d like to have sex with someone, there’s a solid chance I’ll get deported. Or married.

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