steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Bureau des Étrangers

I remember someone once trying to convince me that the reason Modigliani painted his subjects elongated was that he had a neurological condition that made him see everything that way. "But in that case," I spluttered, "he'd have seen his own portraits as even more elongated, and they'd have looked odd to him." I remember being quite unable to convey this point effectively.

Then there was the king of Spain - was it Ferdinand? - who was said to have had a speech impediment, and so begun the "lisping" pronunciation that Spanish appears to have to Anglophone ears. In a kind of Emperor's New Clothes act of collective sycophancy, all his courtiers were said to have begun affecting his way of saying "s", and so the fashion caught on. But even if this didn't have the unmistakable taste of codswallop for other reasons, who would have been brave enough to be the first person to appear before the king, speaking in lisping imitation of him?

For all that, when I hear that not only must you take off your shoes and change into slippers when you enter a Japanese house (fair enough), but that you must also change into different slippers when you enter the bathroom (okay...), and take off your slippers altogether when you enter a room with tatami mats - oh, and the shoes you took off at the beginning? They must always be placed with the toes pointing towards the front door - then, I begin to wonder whether some Heian emperor wasn't just a wee bit obsessive-compulsive. Except, of course, that there are practical reasons for all these things - and that someone from another culture might draw the same conclusion from, say, that British obsession with queues. From the outside, we're all as strange as fuck (and, speaking for myself, from the inside too).
Tags: maunderings, nippon notes
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