Nasal, Robot Mice aka いらっしゃいませ！！！
What the what?! What on earth could that title possibly mean? Ooooh, I assure you it makes perfect sense… as long as you have ever walked into a Japanese store. If you haven’t, allow me to enlighten you.
First, a little info.
Irasshaimase is the standard greeting you will hear ringing from the rafters of ANY store or restaurant in Japan upon entering. This is not a dip into my flair for hyperbole; quite literally, clerks bellow this phrase, at times competing with other clerks’ voices, at the top of their lungs. Occasionally, during special sale campaigns, someone will indeed be assigned to ring a bell while greeting customers. In stores, it is usually followed up with どうぞご覧でください！~ douzo gorande kudasai, which simply means feel free to look around!
There are several dilemmas that arise for foreigners in this moment of sudden, surprise salutation. The first, is calming your heart rate back down to a normal thump after having your silent, window shopping world shattered. The next is how on earth do you respond to this? You will be pelted with this phrase over and over (and OVER) again while being in the store. I tend to just smile and slightly nod.
The interesting thing about this greeting… is the tone. All clerks seemingly go to salutation school because they are able to obtain this amazing otherworldly, sing-songy pitch. It’s always the same… all the time… everywhere. They whine at you politely, they implore you energetically. They reach levels of nasal, verbal expression you can only imagine, all the while scurrying and squeaking like little mice. How are they able to do this day in and day out without going hoarse? Simple! All retail clerks and restaurant workers are implanted with robotic, steel vocal cords of Gundam proportions.
Yes. They are Nasal, Robot Mice.
If that type of creature could ever really exist, I promise you, Japan is the place.
Maybe it’s already in the works.
Don’t believe me? Here… the visual on this video leaves much to be desired but it’s the audio track you want. Crank your speakers and prepare yourself for the deafening onslaught that occurs on sale day. It’s amazing how men and women manage the same intonation level.
It’s rather astounding isn’t it?
Though I must say that after a year, I’ve begun to acclimate. I can tune it out and go about my daily shopping. I still can’t get that slight ringing out of my ears though…
In all seriousness, many foreigners are quite startled initially by the store front greetings. Honestly, it’s just a polite part of Japanese culture that lends a bit of humor to those of us from different backgrounds. 🙂 There are many a gaijin blog post about this, so what made me venture into writing about it? Well, that is yet another interesting story.
Last week at school, I was minding my own business, lesson planning in the staff room, when one of my oh-so-nosey and oh-so-annoying colleagues comes traipsing into the room.
(Note: I honestly tend to get along with practically all of my fellow teachers but this ONE lady drives me up a wall! I’m sure many of you fellow ALTs have experienced something like this: So and So -sensei studied English at university. They can scrape by in a surface level conversation with mind-bending pronunciation but none of their coworkers can tell the difference so they believe said sensei is fluent!!! Sensei gets a puffed up head and therefore thinks he or she OWNS YOUR SOUL!)
So she comes traipsing into the room. Secretly, I cringed and attempted to look extra busy. I could her sense her little brain working so hard to say one of her random, nonsensical gems of knowledge to me. (I swear this lady has blurted out to me FIFTEEN times the old proverb “don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs” just so she could show off.) And sure enough… within a couple of seconds, it came.
Me: “Hai?” (I always try to speak to her in Japanese to diffuse situations)
Sensei: “Husky Boy?”
Me: O_o? ・・・
Sensei: “Husky Boiysss? Deshou?”
Sensei: “Jenn no koe wa HUSKY deshou?” (Jenn’s voice is husky, right?)
Me: “Ooooh!” (wait… WTF?!) “I don’t think so…”
Sensei: (she now turns to Japanese) It’s the vocal cords you see. All westerners have thicker vocal cords than Japanese.
Me: Uuuuh… I don’t really think so…
Sensei: Yes, it’s true.
Me: (knowing better than to argue with Nihonjinron) Well, I’ve never heard that before but whatever.
Sensei: Sou desu ne! (Yep, that’s right!)
Second: Even if I did, it wouldn’t be because I am a westerner! It’s just because I am not a freaking nasal, robot mouse!