OK, so “hitting” our car is a bit of an exaggeration. But hey, I got your attention and you clicked through. So here we go!
The other night our neighbors rang our bell and started explaining something in Japanese to Mark. After a minute of standing there silently and nodding, Mark called me over as the resident Japanese linguist (ha!). I headed outside with Mr. and Mrs. Neighbor who proceeded to explain/mostly pantomime that Mr. Neighbor accidentally backed into our car while turning around on our tight street. They showed me a white scrape of paint on the corner of the bumper without even a dent.
A little background on our car. Longtime martayaki readers may remember last year’s introduction to our ride, Benji the Orenji. Last summer Mark moved to Japan a month before the rest of us and set out to buy a car right away. He went for big enough but not too big, and cheap. We ended up with a 13-year-old Nissan Cube that set us back a whopping $1100 USD. We later learned that the rough guideline for how much to spend on a car is no more than $1000 per year you expect to stay in Japan. So we seriously underspent, and we hope that Benji will last all three years (one down, two to go!).
Benji is slowly falling apart and suffering other indignities. For instance, last fall Cy opened the door and I heard a clang of something hitting the ground. I scolded Cy to pick up whatever item of his fell out of the car, and he answered, “It was the car!”. Sure enough, a chunk of the paint rusted off and clattered to the ground. The same thing happened a few weeks later while a grocery store bagger on base helped me load my groceries into my car. I heard that familiar clunk of metal hitting the ground and knew right away that Benji shed yet another piece of himself. The bagger heard it and was all, “Something fell, let’s see what it was” and I’m all “No, no, it’s fine…”. Benji has also suffered the indignity of water and other beverages spilled on every seat, plus a melted chocolate incident. The foamy seats absorb liquid immediately and resist cleaning despite my efforts with a handheld shampooer. So Benji looks like the transport vehicle for a seriously incontinent family. Then there’s the dog and her hair…you get the idea.
So back to the other night with our neighbors. I showed them the leprous, rusty spots all over Benji and repeated one of my favorite Japanese words, daijobu.
Daijobu doesn’t really translate into one word. It’s a handy expression that basically means nah, I’m good, no worries. It’s both a question and an answer. When my dog Ruby sees another and wants to say hey, I ask the owner “Daijobu desu ka?” and he or she answers daijobu. I use it when I’m at the store and don’t need a plastic shopping bag because I have my own. If another train passenger jostles me and apologizes, I answer daijobu.
So I daijobu-ed the neighbors and thought that we were good.
The next evening Mrs. Neighbor rang our bell again. She came bearing a giant bag of pastries and even more apologies. She also insisted even more politely and aggressively that they will No Kidding fix the car.
Let’s imagine that this happened back home in DC. If I backed into a neighbor’s Piece of $!@>*^ car and left a scrape of paint, I’d also insist on making repairs. Said neighbor would likely wave off, especially if the car looked half as bad as Benji. I would apologize and thank him or her for the kindness, then offer a six pack or bottle of a favorite libation. I’d probably throw in a homemade baked good for good measure, just to be a good neighbor.
Mr. and Mrs. Neighbor will not take daijobu as an answer, and I’m at a complete loss on what to do. Saving Face is huge–huge–in Japan. Is it an insult to not allow the neighbor to repair the car, even if it’s completely unnecessary? Just how many pastries is a scrape of paint worth? How do I finally convince them that Seriously. No Kidding. Daijobu!?
I’d post a photo of the “damage,” but I’m writing this at home and don’t want the neighbors to see me taking pictures of the scrape. So I’ll take a picture later when I’m away from home and post it to an update.
I’ve reached out to an American friend who speaks fluent Japanese to help translate a conversation with the neighbors. Stay tuned!