Tag Archives: etiquette

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24

by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018


Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.


Deanna watched the fire, adding some sticks to keep the flames at the right height. The grill Johnny had found in some trash heap held four skewers with five small chunks of meat on each skewer. Deanna didn’t know what kind of meat. She told herself it was animal protein, and that was what mattered. It could have been worse. Even with the city burning and the streetlights smashed and the blood smeared on the sidewalks and the doorways. Somewhere Johnny had found some meat. It might have been tofu.

Deanna could make herself put up with a lot of discomforts. She’d braided her long brown hair to keep it tidy. Her jeans and blouse were still fairly clean. She’d have given up her gold chain for a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Eating junk food and drinking sodas or energy drinks or anything else they could find, that she could live with. She drew the line at tofu.

Johnny came jogging back from his latest hunt for supplies. Deanna let out a sigh of relief. It had been quieter today, but still. The sight of his greasy blue overalls, curly black hair and long legs made her feel a little calmer. This morning they’d moved to the sheltered spot on the side of the high school facing away from the road. It was better to keep out of sight, hiding in a place where they could hear the scavenger crews coming. Two nights ago Deanna had seen a boy swept up in the mob rushing down the street. She didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.

“I found some good stuff in a basement.” Johnny plopped down beside her on the flattened cardboard box they used for ground cover. He rummaged in his backpack. Glass clinked. With a big grin, he held up two bottles of some off-brand beer. “Nothing like a barbecue under the stars!”

Deanna managed a smile. She loved Johnny for his upbeat spirit, for his endless cocky remarks reflecting a confidence she didn’t feel. Four nights ago the world had gone insane. The power grid failed. Computers all failed due to some big horrible virus sent out by some mysterious gang of international hackers. All the news outlets had been shut down. No phones, no TVs, nothing but hysteria and violence and whispered rumors about who was behind it all.

Deanna pulled a clean bandana out of her backpack and set two skewers on it, offering them to John. She pulled out another bandana for herself, then two of the paper napkins.

Johnny pulled the heavy keyring out of his hip pocket and pried the cap off one bottle of beer and handed it to her. “It’s warm, but hey, that’s how they drink it in England, right?”

Deanna nodded. She accepted the beer, watched Johnny open his own, then held up her bottle.

“To better days.”

Johnny grinned. “Better days, baby. You bet.”

They clinked bottles. Johnny drank a long swallow of his beer, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Deanna ducked her head to hide the wince she couldn’t stop. A diamond in the rough, she told herself. He worked hard at the auto shop, he’d always been polite, and he made sure Deanna felt safe and comfortable. She’d just have to do what her grandmother taught her and be the one who preserved the manners in the family.

Grandma Elaine set a perfect table, gave the best presents, and made sure Deanna knew all the proper phrases for formal occasions. “Congratulations.” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “Happy Birthday! Wishing you your best year yet.” On and on, handwritten thank you notes, party invitations, and the list of Christmas cards. Deanna’s mother had abandoned writing by hand in junior high in favor of electronic devices. Mama had laughed at Grandma’s slow, old-fashioned ways.

Tears blurred Deanna’s sight, smearing the flames into so many orange flickers. Nobody was laughing now. Deanna had been out with Johnny when the house caught fire. Mama and Grandma were already asleep. Deanna hoped the smoke killed them before the fire did.

“Hey,” Johnny said. “Hey, honey, why are you cryin’?”

Deanna sat up straight and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “The smoke, Johnny. That’s all. Just smoke in my eyes.”

Johnny looked up at the sky. “Yeah, the wind’s picking up. Rain would sure help, but we gotta find a place inside first.”

Deanna nodded. She bit into a chunk of the meat, ignoring the peculiar taste. Protein meant strength. Strength meant survival. Survival meant living to see those better days, living in a house again with nice furniture and fresh flowers and guest towels in the downstairs bathroom. Concentrating on all the proper details Grandma would expect to see in Deanna’s new house made it easier to force down the strange meat and the bitter warm beer.

She’d survive. Grandma would consider that a lady’s duty, to preserve civilized behavior.



Filed under Blog challenges, classics, Family, family tradition, Fiction, Food, Goals, Horror, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, science fiction, Writing

The Shosei-en Gardens (Kyoto Day Two)

by Lillian Csernica on November 24, 2015

From Top Sight Seeing .Com

The elegant Shosei-en Garden (aka. Kikoku-tei) is located about a short distance east of the Higashi Honjanji temple to which it belongs.

The Garden is originally said to be built on the Heian era site of the Rokujo Kawara-in mansion of Prince Minamoto no Toru, the son of Emperor Saga, in the late 9th century. Later, in 1641, the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu presented a large parcel of land, which included the garden site, to the Higashi Honganji. In 1643, Sennyo Shonin, the 13th hereditary heir to the Honganji tradition on the Higashi side, commissioned Ishikawa Jozan to create a garden. This marked the beginning of the Shosei-en Garden.

In 1858 and 1864, fires swept the grounds, reducing its structures to ashes. But in 1865 and continuing on into the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the buildings as well as the pond and the magnificent stone wall, were restored to their original condition, as we see them today.

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A lovely family having photos taken in the Gardens.

Pat and I crossed the street to visit the Gardens.  There’s a 500 yen admission fee that includes a guide full of wonderful photos and information.  Unfortunately for us, it’s only in Japanese.  Still, it had a map so we did figure out what we were looking at in terms of bridges, tea houses, and the main natural features such as the pond.

In the pond we discovered black koi.  A few of them were cruising past the cement curb that borders the pond.  So of course I pulled out my bag of “temple cookies” as I took to calling them.  I still don’t know what those cookies are made of, but oh man, did those koi go nuts!  I asked Pat later and she told me there must have been at least fifty black koi churning up the water pushing each other out of the way to get bits of cookie.

Once again I managed to draw a crowd.  There I stood, talking to the koi in a mixture of English and Japanese, tossing pieces of cookie to different areas of the mob.  One teenage girl and her mother came close enough that I thought it appropriate to offer her a cookie.  With much laughter she broke it up into pieces and tossed it to the happy koi.

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Below you see the smaller of the two bridges in the park.  I’m proud to say I took this photo myself.  It does not come from a professional stock photo site.  (The ducks showed no interest in the cookies, which was probably all for the best.)

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The afternoon was moving on toward twilight, so the sunlight came in at my favorite glorious end-of-the-movie angle.  The small bridge looked so different as the quality of the light changed.

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Shinsetsu-kyo, other side.

Now for the big bridge.  This one took some effort to get to.  I had to cross a small stone bridge, then ascend an uneven stairway made of big blocks of stone.  The wooden steps leading up to the bridge were each a bit of a stretch as well.  I had to wonder how the Palace and temple officials could possibly move around in the Gardens, given how much yardage Heian Era kimono included.  Just keeping their sleeves off the ground would have been a bit of a chore!

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There I am on Kaito-ro, a larger bridge with stone steps and beautiful woodwork.  It looks like part of a temple.

It was here in Shosei-en Gardens that I met an anomaly.  Pat and I came in just behind a group of Japanese men and women who were dressed in business attire.  I got the feeling some of the local folks were showing the sights to people not from Kyoto.  At one point the path narrowed.  The senior gentleman of the group turned and motioned Pat and me to go ahead.  I don’t know if it was due to Pat’s cane, or something simpler such as the group taking their time to admire aspects of the Gardens we non-Japanese probably didn’t notice.  The point is, in Japan the men go first.  I’m sure in these times of international travel and cultural exchange, the gentleman who in effect “held the door” for us was just being polite.  Even so, I appreciated his consideration and thanked him with extra-polite Japanese.  He had a really wonderful smile.


An empty home altar ready to be equipped.

On the walk back to our hotel we passed all the stores selling all the items a righteous Buddhist might need.  I’ve mentioned the stunning variety of prayer beads available.  What really blew my mind were the butsudan, or home altars.  Large or small, plain or ornate, they were really impressive.


A butsudan complete with a figure of Amida and offerings.

And now, for an entirely different type of educational experience.  When we got back to the street with our hotel on it, we stopped in at one of the small restaurants nearby.  Things went along in the usual sequence with getting the menus, figuring out what combinations to try, and placing our orders with the server.  Pat and I never seem to maintain a reasonable level of “normal” for more than about fifteen minutes.  Sure enough, that night it was Pat’s turn to find an all-new way to stir things up.

On our table among the salt, pepper, hot oil, and other unidentifiable condiments, there sat an oval object flat on one side and with a pearly dome on top.  It had four little legs on it, and a hatch where the battery fit inside.  The battery told me this thing did something, but we could not figure out its actual purpose.


This I now know is a “call button.”

And then, as I handed it back to Pat, I must have gripped it harder than I meant to.  This sudden “ting!” came out of nowhere.  Honestly, I had no idea where the sound originated.  In Japan you are surrounded by electronica, so the sound could have come from somebody’s phone or tablet or the overhead music system.

No sooner had the “ting!” sounded than our server appeared at our table.  I swear I never saw her coming, and I sat facing the kitchen.  Now we understood.  One used the device instead of shouting “Sumimasen!” when one wanted the server’s attention.  I tried to apologize.  When that didn’t work, because the server expected us to ask for something, I grabbed the first thought that occurred to me: “Mizu, onegaishimasu.”  In English, that’s “Water, please.”  This caused me some further embarrassment, because not five feet away from me sat a table with a water pitcher and cups so guests could serve themselves.  Whoops.

Next time: Toei Kyoto Studio Park, where I met the Shinsengumi!


Filed under Food, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, nature, research, travel, Writing

Please Fence Me In

by Lillian Csernica on January 20, 2015


My adventures in mental health care have taught me the importance of having boundaries and maintaining them.  Some people have a hard time establishing their own boundaries for themselves, the limits they place on their own behavior toward other people.  Some people know what their own boundaries are and where they lie.  The trouble they have comes in maintaining those boundaries in the face of behavior from people who can’t recognize and/or do not respect those boundaries.  A tall redwood fence standing on the property line establishes a very definite boundary.  When it comes to the more intangible or figurative boundaries of etiquette, personal space, trigger subjects, and more serious issues, it can be much more difficult to make that fence line clear.  Some boundary issues fall under the heading of “unwritten rules.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to find a copy of The Book of Unwritten Rules ever since I started kindergarten.

The Japanese have two concepts that are very useful in establishing boundaries between people. These concepts are uchi and soto.

Uchi means inside.  Uchi means Us.  Our family, our house, our team, our business, our class, our club, our circle of friends.

Soto means outside.  Soto means Them.  Anybody and everybody who is not part of uchi is by definition soto.  Outside.  Outsiders.  Not us.  This does not mean such people are enemies.  It just means they are not part of the intimate grouping of relationships that make up the family, team, class, etc.

Uchi People are treated with a degree of familiarity and intimacy shown to no one else.  In Japan, everyone in the same household refers to each other by the form of address used by the youngest member of the household.  Mom is called “Okaa-san” by everybody, even Dad.  Dad is referred to as “Oto-san,” even by Grandma.  The culture of Japan is very good as an example of why boundaries are so essential.  Even among Uchi People, in fact especially among Uchi People, there are important limits.  For centuries the houses in Japan have been built of wood and paper.  When Oto-san and Okaa-san are sleeping the room right next to the room where their eldest son and his wife sleep, people get very good at not hearing what they’re not supposed to hear.

Soto People can ignore each other on the crowded train, for example, and remain isolated in their individual walls of privacy.  Common courtesy does come into play, because the Japanese are nothing if not polite.

Boundaries give rise to expectations about other people’s behavior.  Little kids are taught the basic rule of polite social interaction: Keep Your Hands To Yourself.  At least one hopes they’re taught that by responsible parents who want to pass on their own good manners.  We all know children and indeed adults who can’t seem to get the hang of keeping their hands to themselves.  They have to be reminded again and again.  In the case of some adults, if those reminders don’t work, it’s time to call the law enforcement officials.

Another basic lesson is Clean Up After Yourself.  I have a bad habit of putting my hand wash in to soak and then forgetting it’s there.  I use a plastic wash tub that I set in the bath tub.  There have been times when my sister has wanted to take a shower and my wash is still sitting there.  That’s just thoughtless on my part, so I try harder to make myself use a timer.  The idea of taking care of one’s own mess may begin with something as simple as the dinner dishes, but it can extend to something as complicated as one’s own emotional problems.  A friend of mine has gotten herself roped into being used as a cheap therapist by someone we both know.  Me, I think that someone just wants to be a Drama Queen and needs an audience.  Maybe I’m wrong.  My friend is a grown-up, so if she chooses to put up with this, that’s her privilege.  If she doesn’t want to go on putting up with it, she’s going to have a hard time establishing the boundary and making the Drama Queen respect it.  The bottom line here is simple: don’t expect other people to clean up your mess.  You made it, you deal with it.  (When it comes to people who do need professional medical or therapeutic assistance with their psychological difficulties, I fully support that.  I should.  I’m one of them.)

Boundaries are tricky because they can be flexible depending on the person and the circumstance.  I hate being interrupted while I’m writing.  The adults in the house know this.  At the same time, if Michael or John needs me for any reason, I will stop what I’m doing and go see what’s needed.  I’m not at all interested in hearing some personal saga from a sales clerk, but I will put up with listening to my mother tell me the ongoing plot of her favorite TV show.  Context is everything.  Personal context, social context, family context.  Age, gender, race, educational, and financial contexts.  They are all part of the warp and weft of the social fabric.  We make intuitive choices moment by moment, adjusting up and down the scale of intimacy and formality.

The expression “mending fences” means to repair a friendship.  To me this indicates the fences were broken somehow.  The boundaries were crossed.  By re-establishing those boundaries and rebuilding those fences, the relationship is put back on course in a healthy, clear, and respectful direction.  Sounds like a good policy to me!



Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, Japan, marriage, Self-image, Special needs, Writing