Dealing with the Expert
Your next hurdle is to establish a relationship with Okaasan, since she is central to your homestay success. She is the gateway for understanding uchi—and moving your relationships beyond the deference of the entry point. Helping out in the family hinges on this relationship, because Okaasan is the “expert” in charge of your help. More is involved here than simply doing chores, since you now have to begin to notice and fit yourself into the family’s ways of doing things. Dealing with the expert takes you another step toward ‘uchi’.
Building a relationship with Okaasan is crucial—yet doing this is likely to strike at the core of your cultural assumptions. Is Okaasan a slave? A superwoman? Understanding her place in the family can give you important clues about how uchi relationships work in the family.
1. First we will look at the Okaasan’s role in two families through the eyes of their homestay guests.
- From a non-Japanese perspective, the Okaasan might look subservient. Yet she is also clearly essential to these families. Is she like a servant? What basis for authority might she have?
- Many non-Japanese guests might view the Otoosan as self-centered, even domineering. How is his dependency, which might go unnoticed by the homestay guests, related to the role of the Okaasan? (Module 6.2 relates to these issues as well.)
2. Now compare the above cases with the following two examples:
- How does the Okaasan in each of these families feel about accepting help from someone else?
- In what situations does the Okaasan accept help?
- Why does the Okaasan in Devita’s family keep trying to do everything herself?
3. Putting the pieces together. . . Reading family dynamics and understanding Okaasan:
- The Okaasan has her own sphere of competence. The Okaasan and the Otoosan expect one another to be the expert in their own spheres. Each expects to be indulged by the other in the context of that person’s expertise. (See Module 6.2 for more on these issues.)
- Helping Okaasan is, therefore, trickier than it might seem at first glance, since her authority in the family is related to her demonstrating her expertise in properly running a home. This is considered to be a job for an expert and therefore worthy of respect.
- You must try to “follow” the expert in the way she does things, and also try to fit your help to the family’s needs. The trick is to determine when one is following the expert as opposed to being wrapped as a guest.
Recognize that there is expertise and that you have to respect it. Don’t hang onto “doing it my way” or teaching them your way. You must do things “their way”.