Friday, September 03, 2004

Relative communication

It had been several years since I met Uncle. The last time I saw him my Japanese wasn't good enough to communicate very well. Now it has improved, so I'd been looking forward to chatting with him.

Today I discovered that he has gone rather deaf. This just happened in the last couple of years, apparently.

Sample conversation:

"Does your mother miss you? Where does she live?"


"Finland? What's she doing there? Isn't it cold?"

I did, however, manage to communicate quite well with his children and grandchildren. The younger girls (his granddaughters) were a bit nervous of me until I said something insulting to The Man in bad Japanese. After that they relaxed and stopped doing the 'best behaviour' thing.

What are they to me, anyway? My cousins-in-law? I'm never sure about these things. In fact, earlier this year I suddenly realised, from some things he told me about his family, that a man who works in the office at a university where I teach is my ex-step-brother-in-law. This is, of course, a completely meaningless relationship, so I didn't say anything. As far as I know he isn't even aware of the connection. We chat quite often and I think he would have mentioned it if he knew.

It's interesting the words we have and don't have for various relationships. We don't have a word for 'uncle's wife' that will distinguish her from 'parent's sister'. They're both 'aunt', even though one is a blood relationship and the other isn't. Same for uncle. I wonder why that is? And if your blood-uncle divorces his wife and marries again, is his ex-wife your ex-aunt, or is she still your aunt?

Actually, I did communicate with Uncle (Uncle-in-law?) quite well, as long as I let him do most of the talking. The Man, who has a louder voice than me, clarified when things went awry. I nodded and waved my arms around a lot.

We drank lots of green tea.


tinyhands said...

I used to have a crush on my uncle's 1st-wife's little sister which I suppose isn't technically 'wrong', but when I mention that this took place in Louisiana it sounds dirty.

Badaunt said...

In England it used to be illegal (and considered immoral) to marry your brother's widow.

They probably would have had a law about an uncle's first wife's little sister too, if they'd thought of it. Good thing you weren't around to give them ideas.

semantic overload said...

In india, there is actually a different name for each relationship, it worked fine till the 20th century. Now the realtionships have got so complicated and meaningless (like the ex-step-brother-in-law you mentioned), I guess language hasnt been able to keep in pace with the changing cultural ethos!

SithRat said...

Green tea? you're a brave woman....


Badaunt said...

To SO: I imagine that if a language has words for the different relationships it means those relationships carry some importance, or are considered relevant. I guess people stop using them as they stop being important. Modern life scatters people and makes family ties less relevant, I suppose.

To RM: Green tea is lovely. And it's good for you, even! Maybe that's why Uncle is in his 80s but looks about 65.

SithRat said...

That's why I tried so hard to like it....
but, *sigh*, I'm destined to only ever be able to stomach things that are really, really bad for me.....

Badaunt said...

It can depend a LOT on the quality of the tea. Some green teas are horrible, I agree. The Man is very fussy about what kind he buys. You might want to try a different kind.

For most kinds you're not supposed to make it using boiling water. That makes it too bitter.

Good green tea is very refreshing.