Japanese Lessons in Paris

They Ate My Pet and Other Stories About Love

by Makiko Suzuki, exclusive for Metropole

Paris Dauphine

Tokyo:- Wednesday, 5. September 1996:- I was in Paris in 1979 and '80 - such a long time ago. First, I stayed at my friends's in the outer suburbs of Paris, at Claye-Souilly in the department of Seine-et-Marne. I was a student at the faculty of Langues 'O,' which is located at Dauphine - also known as Paris IX, in the 16th arrondissement - so it took me almost two hours to go to school from her house. That was my first 'culture shock.'

Supposing Paris is Tokyo, then Claye-Souilly is like Yokohama - and it's incredible that it takes such a long time to go there! It was because my friend's house is located far from the SNCF station, in Chelles - only 15 minutes away by car. The problem was that the bus did not take me to Claye-Souilly near where I lived.

My friend's house was on a small sheep farm. One day, several lambs were born and most of them were sold, but one was left and it was named Pitz - her parents were from Holland, so they gave him a Dutch name, Pitz, which means Peter or Pierre. It was my first experience of keeping a lamb as pet at home, and I was excited about it.

Pitz recognized his name, and he used to run to me when I called him. Well, I took a short trip to Belgium with another friend, and returned to my friend's house after a week. Her mother served me a dish of some meat as soon as I got there. While eating, I found I did not see Pitz in the house.

I said, "Madame, where is Pitz?" Her answer was something really shocking to me. "Makiko, you are eating him!"

I could not breathe for a while. Am I eating Pitz? That lovely lamb? I tried very hard to be calm, and asked her again, "But why? I thought you would keep him forever!" She said, "We saw a bad habit in him; he started kicking. When he got older, it would be more terrible - so we decided to eat him."

She told me as if it had been something very simple, something that happened almost every day. I asked her, then, why they had named the lamb 'Pitz.' In Japan, if you give a name to any animal, it becomes your 'pet,' and you do not eat your pets. However, according to her, the name is just a symbol that identifies the lamb, and that's all. This is something I could - and can - never accept. For me, eating Pitz is the same thing as eating Ricky, my dog. Maybe this might be the 'real' first culture shock I experienced in France. I related this experience to the 'French Forum' of Nifty, and they understood my feelings.

Since it was too far to go from Claye-Souilly to the university, I found a room in a dorm in the 15th arrondissement. I still remember it's address in the rue Blomet. The dorm's name is U.C.J.F. which stands for Union des Chrétiennes des Jeunes Femmes - only approximately, because there were no Christians there except for the 'surveillantes.'

plaque rue Blomet

In the dorm, there were two Osaka girls and a Tokyo girl - I was the 2nd Tokyo girl. I was born and brought up in Tokyo area and I have to let you know that Osaka people and Tokyo people are very different. Osaka people are a different 'nation,' and sometimes it was much more difficult for me to understand them - both of what they say and their mentality - than to understand my French friends. They used a special language - Osaka dialect - and I couldn't always understand it.

Both of the Osaka girls in the dorm came to Paris to forget their sad love affairs in Japan. It was not surprising, because at that time it was a sort of 'fashion' to go abroad after they broke up. We called it a 'sentimental journey' - there were a song and a novel with this title that were very popular.

One of them is now working as an interpreter/translator in Osaka, and sometimes I talk with her by phone. Honestly, I still cannot understand some of her expressions. Here is an example of the difference of a word between the Osaka and Tokyo versions. You might know that 'Thank you' in Japanese is 'Arigato.' Well, in Osaka, they will say 'Ookini' for 'Thank you.' I guess this is the short phrase of 'Ookini (much) arigato,' but most of them simply say, 'Ookini.'

This is a simple example and known to everyone, but there are more Osaka expressions that Tokyo people cannot understand. Their mentality is also different from ours. They express their thoughts more clearly, more frankly than we do. That's why we find them 'tough,' and they think we are hypocrites. I got to know an Osaka guy via Nifty. He lives nearby, and I asked him many questions about the Osaka people's way of thinking. He does not look like a typical Osaka man, but he confessed he found himself to be the greatest in the whole world. Well, let's forget about the differences between Osaka and Tokyo, and get back to Paris!

At first, I was sharing a room with two other girls, one French and the other, Iranian. Every night the Iranian prayed toward Mecca on a small carpet with a compass, so that she could see the direction of this sacred city wherever she was. I thought the Iranians were so smart, but later I found out that this carpet was invented by a Japanese. The French girl and myself were trying very hard not to laugh at her prayer, but it was frankly something funny for us. The Iranian girl never ate pork just like any other Muslim, but a year later, she stopped praying and started eating pork. This is how my life in Paris started.

I used the PC bus route to go to Dauphine, not the métro. Dauphine is located near le Bois de Boulogne, and my dorm was in the 15th, so it was more practical to use the PC. I still see Dauphine once a year when the marathon in Paris is shown on TV - the athletes run along the Bois and pass right by Dauphine.

PC Bus

I was a major in Japanese at Langues 'O.' It might sound strange, but I wanted to be a translator/interpreter of French-Japanese and vice versa, and the best way to do it was to major in Japanese in France. Most of the professors were French who had - of course! - more knowledge of Japanese and Japanese culture than most of us. One of the major profs was married with the sister of a friend of my mother's. Isn't it a small world?

When I was a student of Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, a lot of the female students came to classes as if they were going to attend a party - with a Chanel dress, a Vuitton bag and Dior cosmetics. I was not that type of girl; I used to go to university in jeans and a T-shirt in summer, or a pull-over in winter - so I felt much better when I got to Langues 'O.'

The classes were hard even for the Japanese. The hardest one was Japanese classics. I never thought I would study them in Paris, so I asked my mother to send me a dictionary - old Japanese to modern Japanese - that I had used at high school. We had to translate old Japanese phrases into French.

Old Japanese is just like a foreign language. It was much easier for me to read 'Le Monde' than to read 'Tales of Genji' in the original. First, you look up a word in an Old Japanese/Modern Japanese dictionary to see the meaning of an old Japanese word - for example: 'ito'='totemo;' then, you use a Japanese-French dictionary to translate the modern word into French - 'totemo'='tres.' I was the only one in the class that had a Old Japanese/Modern Japanese dictionary, so my classmates wanted to take their seats near me.

The prof was elderly and was willing to tell us his experiences in Japan, so we used to ask him a lot of questions to make him forget to give the lesson. When the exam season came, he finished only two pages of the text, and then he was at a loss! We really were bad students, weren't we? One of my classmates is still a good friend of mine. She married a Japanese guy and lives in Gunma Prefecture.

I still have lots of things to write about Paris, but I think I'll keep them for another time. For instance, there was a Japanese guy who killed a Dutch girl and ate her flesh. He was one of my classmates, too! I do hope you've enjoyed reading about a part of my life in Paris.

Makiko Suzuki©1996

Editor's notes : Claye-Souilly is a 30 km bird's flight northeast from Paris-Dauphine; but Makiko had to go 11.5 km by road to Chelles, before catching the train to Gare de l'Est. 11.5 km is about the same distance from Claye-Souilly to Disneyland - Paris today.

'Nifty' - NiftySERVE is a Japanese network Makiko belongs to and she is quite active in the 'Pet Forum' and the 'French Forum,' which has about 200 members.

Makiko lives in Fujisawa City in Kanagawa Prefecture, which is located near Tokyo. She writes that Fujisawa is a nice city to live in, by the Pacific Ocean, near mountains, and it's not too far from Tokyo. Makiko works as a freelance translator/interpreter of French/English-Japanese. She does translations for her former employer, IBM, and she also does translations for another agency - transforming French Ministry of Labor documents into Japanese.

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