In Which Our Heroine Is The Foreignness Police And Incurs The Wrath of the Clothing Gods

19 April 2003

Yesterday we got in the mail a CD entitled "Ultraman Is Airwolf." I really don't know why. It was addressed to "The Geeks At [Our Address]," so it was clearly someone who knew us at least a little bit. Someone in Austin, TX, though, or someone in Austin, TX, delegated by someone else. I have really no idea. If it was you, let me know!

Evidently I somehow offended the clothing gods this week. In Wednesday's and Thursday's mail, I got catalogs for the ugliest clothes on the planet. I swear. These were just scary. They had -- oh, you don't even want to know what they had. Some of it was undergarments (that could not, by any stretch, be called lingerie), but most of it was supposed to be outerwear, and...well. Uff da mai. And yesterday there were the nylons.

I always have problems with tights and nylons to begin with, because you know those little squares where they tell you what size you ought to wear? I am never, ever, ever in the middle of one of their size diamonds. Ever. If I'm having a good day, I'm in a diamond on the border. (Bad days have been known to send me off to the "don't wear hosiery, you freak!" neverneverland off the side, depending on the brand -- some of them don't have a neverneverland off the side, largely because they are liars.) So every time I buy stockings, I have to ask myself: are these the people who really really mean it about the height, and if the stockings are supposed to fit up to 5'5" will not fit up to 5'6" at all? (I've had this problem. Where the waistband and the crotch were several inches too low. And while I'm not short-legged, I'm not freakishly leggy for my height, either.) Or are these the people who really really mean it about the girth, and if the stockings are supposed to fit down to 130# will not fit 120#, much less a bad-day weight? Will they sag? Will they stretch far enough up? I never know. It's an act of faith to buy them in the first place.

But yesterday's nylons took the prize. The left leg was a good three inches longer than the right leg. Also somewhat longer than my leg. So I had a wad of nylon around my left thigh all day, except when it was falling down, and it's a good thing I'd intended to wear a long skirt. Nylons should not be baggy. Very sad. And I thought that Mark had taken the car into work, while he thought that our last conversation on the subject had made it clear that he had not done so, so I didn't go get new nylons. Ah well. It's not like I wear them that often. Still, alarming. Three inches longer. How does that happen?

I'm a little bit scared of getting dressed today, with the clothing gods this angry. I ordered my mom's birthday present yesterday, and let me tell you, it is not clothing. Can't be too careful of these things.

Hey -- am I the only person who loves caved-in malted milk balls, or does anybody else? I think they're great. But I can't tell if I'm being eccentric.

That is, I can't tell if I'm being eccentric on this particular issue.

I'm reading Gail Tsukiyama's The Samurai's Garden, and I'm having trouble with it. I'm having trouble, first of all, with the idea that this Chinese man is received without the blink of an eye among Japanese people in late 1937. The war has been acknowledged but doesn't seem to be a factor in the characters' interactions at all, nor does it seem that his family members at home in China suffer any kind of stigma for having two family members in Japan, either working or resting from tuberculosis. (And how restful was Japan in 1937? I don't get a strong sense of what's going on outside this tiny village, or that the war has touched the tiny village at all, and that may have been how it worked, but I don't think that you want to make your reader stop and say, "Hmm. Well, maybe" every few pages.)

I'm also annoyed by the occasional Japanese words in the text, because it makes me wonder: in what language am I "supposed" to be reading their interactions as having taken place? I believe Japanese, but that doesn't make sense with the translated bits. If everything but onii-san is rendered in English, why is onii-san (big brother) left in Japanese if the whole conversation was in Japanese? It's not as though onii-san is untranslatable. Why is everything but "kirei" (pretty, more or less) translated in one sentence? And if the next sentence has "pretty" instead of "kirei," are we to take it to mean that a different word was used?

I know I think too much about translation, but I'm having a very hard time making sense of this at all. And I really think that throwing "foreign" words into a text at a first-year level increases the sense that "foreigners talk funny," or that someone speaking his/her native language sounds exactly the same as someone whose native language is something else speaking English.

This would bother me with Finnish or French or Icelandic, but not as much, I think, because I don't think most English-speakers have as strong a sense of the mysterious foreigner with most European nationalities as they do with Asian nationalities. And there's a difference between portraying cultural differences honestly, which I think is good and important, and playing up trivial cosmetic differences, which is silly and sometimes destructive.

And I could probably skip this rant, but I know that people who write read this journal, and I want writers to stop and think before we portray "foreignness" about what, exactly, it is that we're doing. In fantasy, there are always stupid examples of things like "redfruits" that act just like apples, or "pufftails" that can substitute in for squirrels at every turn. We know that those things are silly. (Although kethna is another matter -- "tastes like kethna" is getting to be a generally used family expression.) But I think it's something people who are writing in this world in cultures other than the dominant one here need to be aware of. A lychee fruit is a different thing than any other fruit, and calling it lychee even if readers are unfamiliar with it is good. But using a Chinese or Japanese word for a plum in an English book, not so good. Cheap shortcut to "foreignness" at best. And if you're doing a good job of portraying a culture in the first place, that shortcut should not be necessary.

It's stuff like this that makes people think that too much analysis ruins books -- or paintings, or natural phenomena, or whatever. Analysis gets a pretty bad rap that way. I'd rather be able to learn something from a book, good or bad, than just have a vaguely weird feeling about it. I enjoy being able to put my finger on what bothers me or what I particularly like. Personal preference there, of course, but still.

It's almost noon, and I still have no idea what we're doing today. I think we may be boring and get groceries and stay home. I've pondered going various touristy places, but we've spent enough time in the car already, and I'm hoping to be able to make plans with more people for the next couple of weeks, so we'll be running around then. I think I can just stay home and work and read and maybe watch some hockey today. Our Wild have to win the rest of the games in the series to advance. Eek. And the Oilers have to pull their butts out of the fire, too, lest those traitor Stars advance. But at least the Ducks beat the Red Wings, and the Leafs are tied in their series, so I'm not devoid of hope for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Somewhere along the line, I became someone who has hopes for the Stanley Cup playoffs. I won't say that this is not alarming.

Back to Novel Gazing.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.