Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Honne and Tatemae

In Japanese there are words to describe the difference between what you really think and what you actually say: honne and tatemae. Honne is often unsaid, except with your closest friends. Tatemae is what society expects you to say, even if it's contrary to your beliefs. It's like when your grandma asks if you like the sweater she bought you for Christmas and you have to say yes even though it is neon orange, wool, and decked out with glittery pom poms.

In America we do the same thing--we just don't have words for it. But this idea is especially pertinent to me now as a mother. Most people who see my baby will tell me, "He's soooo cuuute!!" Although I don't see how anyone could not think my baby is the cutest ever, I sometimes wonder if they really mean it (honne) or if they're just saying it because it's expected (tatemae). Today I learned that if you really want an honest opinion about something, just ask a kid. Kids don't understand the social expectation for tatemae. They simply, and honestly, say what they think.

Today I went by Orem Elementary with Evan to visit the teachers I taught with last year. I passed by the Kindergarten and saw a few of my former students. ("Miss Jenna!!") Another kindergartener, who I didn't know, stopped me and asked:

Kindergartener: Who are you?
Me: I'm Jenna.
Kindergartener: Whose mom are you?
Me: I'm Evan's mom. See, this is my baby, Evan.
Kindergartener: He has a big head. Why does he have a big head?
Me: (awkward laugh...) Yeah, he does. His head is big because he's a little sick...

The conversation went on for a while with the kid asking lots of questions. Why is he sick? What is that? What does he do with it? Why is he sucking on that? Can he talk? Fortunately, it ended better than it started:

Kindergartener: So is he just like any other baby?
Me: Yeah, he is.

1 comment:

  1. That's funny. Well, I'll tell you this... I sat here reading your post, and little Summer is sitting next to me playing around. And after I finished this post I scrolled down to the next one that has all the pictures of Evan. Summer looked at them and said, "Oh! He's so CUTE!" I thought it was hilarious timing and very appropriate. It's Honne. Evan is adorable! :)