Japanese society is, by many measures, on the shy side when it comes to love. Full-grown adults often keep having a boyfriend or girlfriend a secret because they’re afraid of being teased or questioned about marriage, and if you see someone dressed up nicely carrying a bouquet of flowers, they’re far more likely to be going to a farewell party for a coworker than a date with a special someone.
However, there is one way in which Japan is refreshingly upfront with its romantic ambitions: the singles’ party known as a gokon. Literally meaning “matching party,” at a gokon you get an equal number of unattached men and women together, usually at a restaurant with plenty of alcoholic drinks, and see if there are any compatible pairs in the group.
As a guy, the combination of booze and girls seems like an ideal situation. But the flip side is that you’re also being judged by a panel of the opposite sex, so there are some serious pitfalls to look out for, and women in their 20s and 30s were recently polled as to the surest ways a guy can blow his chances at one of these parties.
As for conversation topics, a number of ladies said they don’t appreciate being asked about why their last relationship ended. “I don’t mind if people talk about their past relationships at a gokon, but I don’t feel comfortable telling someone I just met something as personal as why I broke up with my last boyfriend,” explained one.
▼ I got tired of him rolling over in his sleep and poking me with his pointy shoulders. There, can we talk about something else now?
On the other hand, others were upset when they offered some dirt, but didn’t get enough of a response. “If all you’re going to say in return is ‘Oh, I see,’ then why even bother asking?” wondered one woman.
But more so than subject matter, the survey revealed a set of words and phrases alone that would lower the respondents’ opinion of a guy, starting with “What’s your name again?”
▼ Mariko? Yuko? …Koko?
“Remembering a person’s name is the bare minimum of courtesy you owe them,” pointed out one respondent, “but you’d be surprised how many guys can’t even do this.”
“A lot of guys try to say this off-handedly like it’s a joke, but it’s no laughing matter for the girl who’s name was forgotten,” another remarked.
Thankfully, there’s a sly way to get around this. In Japanese, it’s pretty uncommon to use the word “you” when speaking directly to someone you just met. For example, even in talking directly to a girl whose name is Kaori, it’s much more natural to say “What does Kaori want to drink?” instead of “What do you want to drink?” So even if you forget her name, as long as you can stall long enough, there’s a pretty good chance someone else say it, in which case you’re right back in there.
▼ Of course, this won’t help you if the dude who remembered Kaori’s name from the start is so suave he sweeps her off her feet and they leave the gokon early to head straight to the chapel
OK, so you immediately developed a mnemonic device to remember the name of all the cute girls at the party. And wow are they cute. I mean like really, really, cute!
▼ Like this, but more people-y
It’s got to be OK to tell one she’s cute, right? This is Japan, where cuteness is practically a religion!
Well, much like a delicious Kentucky bourbon, use of the word kawaii (cute) is best in moderation, according to some women. “If a guy says I’m cute too many times, it starts to feel like he thinks that I’m dumb enough that that’s all he has to do to make me happy,” cautioned one.
“If ‘you’re cute’ is the first thing out of a guy’s mouth, it shows me that he’s really not experienced dealing with women,” commented another.
OK, maybe we should have known better. Jumping straight to a physical compliment is a little shallow, now that we think about it. So how about starting with an observation on her personality? Like how laid-back, she is, or ochitsuiteiru in Japanese?
Well the problem here is that ochitsuiteiru can also be taken to mean “low-key,” which some of the women surveyed take to be little more than a euphemism for “dull.”
▼ Again, like this, but more people-y
“I know some guys mean it as a compliment, but I’m really not very happy to hear it,” grumbled one respondent.
Another described the hidden meaning she thinks the phrase carries. “I can’t help feeling like what they really want to say is that they think I’m boring.”
We can kind of see her point. OK then, how about going to the other end of the spectrum, and letting her know you think she’s the life of the party? Something along the line of “osake tsuyoso” or “You seem like you can really hold you liquor!”
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, alcohol is not the solution to this complex problem.
The phrase presents a specific problem for one woman. “If I don’t deny it right away, a lot of guys will use it as an excuse to try to get me to drink more.”
Others were simply worried about the implications the statement carries about their virtue. “When a guy says a girl can drink a lot, I think he also assumes she’s easy,” worried one respondent.
Most useful was the advice from one woman, who said she wasn’t impressed by guys who need the girls to drink heavily to have a good time. “I’d rather spend my time with guys who know how to have a fun conversation without getting liquored up.”
So, let’s review what we’ve learned here.
1. Questions about breakups are off limits
2. Remember her name.
3. Vary your conversation beyond “cute cute cute cute cute.”
4. Avoid inadvertently tell her she’s boring.
5. Don’t order her a whiskey with a glass of gin as a chaser.
Beyond that, common sense and being yourself are what we’ve had the most success with. Good hunting, gentlemen!
Just remember, Kaori’s already taken.