“Idiot! Fool! If you pack it like that it’ll tip over! What’s the matter with you? How long does it take to put a bento into a bag? Do you understand Japanese?”
Maybe the convenience store clerk’s Japanese isn’t perfect, he’s from elsewhere in Asia, but what he is learning on the job, apart from the language, is what many Japanese store personnel have long known: that elderly Japanese men can be very difficult to deal with. Some seem to make nuisances of themselves on purpose. Why, asks Shukan Gendai (July 24), do so many elderly customers lose their tempers so easily?
Shops are one common venue for this sort of thing; hospitals, another. “At the payment counter after treatment,” a hospital nurse tells the magazine, “if things seem to take a little too long, they fly into a rage: ‘What’s going on, why am I still waiting?’ You show them other people waiting patiently and they grumble, ‘I’ve already waited an hour!’ Almost always,” adds the nurse, “it’s men in their 70s.”
Why should that be? What is it about that particular demographic that conduces to behavior you – or they, for that matter – wouldn’t tolerate from a child?
A reason promptly suggests itself: life after 70 isn’t easy. Physical infirmities start to kick in, life begins to lose its savor, things that once gave pleasure no longer do. Hardest-hit – and therefore hardest hitting – of all, says Shukan Gendai, are former corporate executives. These men, in their prime, wielded power. They were respected, feared, deferred to. They spoke and their subordinates jumped. Now? They walk into a store, or into a hospital, and are treated like everyone else. They must wait their turn in line, and when their turn comes, the clerk, with no regard at all for former eminence, treats them quite as if they were ordinary people. They are ordinary people. It’s what time has whittled them down to.
Time, in fact, has done more than that. It has changed – drastically. It’s a new world, much faster and more complex than it was a generation ago. Behind the rage may lie a feeling of helplessness. And when, in addition, one’s hearing starts to go, as it often does beginning in the 60s – women’s voices, with their higher register, can be especially difficult – the sense of being at sea can at times be intolerable.
A new vent, especially now with COVID-19 keeping people home, says Shukan Gendai, is social media. A retired teacher and school vice principal, now in his 70s, opened a Facebook account and drew former students as “friends.” So far so good – but once a teacher, always a teacher, at least in his case. “What? You’re still only a junior executive?” he’d chide his former charges. Presumably the latter did what as children they couldn’t do – gave him the cold shoulder.
The longer people live, the farther they get from their former selves. Somehow, the elderly are going to have to learn how to face that.© Japan Today