Monday, December 22, 2008

Still Japan-Awkward

It’s been five months since I’ve been back, and I still have weird mannerisms left over from Japan. When I gesture to my kids, I still unconsciously use the palm-down “come here”, and the Japanese way of showing numbers with my fingers. I bow slightly to people I pass in the halls at work. I say “I’m sorry” all the time, which has a very different meaning than “sumimasen” in Japanese. “Sumimasen”, which I think literally means “It is not finished”, meaning “I am indebted to you”, is used for “excuse me”, “I’m sorry”, and sometimes “thank you”. For instance, I got in the habit of saying “sumimasen” to servers at restaurants if it seemed to me like they’d gone out of their way to give me something. In English, I translate all these unique situations as “I’m sorry”, and now I’m apologizing for everything. When I want to get someone’s attention, I apologize. If someone does something nice for me, I apologize. It’s really awkward, and it probably just comes off like I have no self-esteem. You’re supposed to be confident in America, if someone does you a favor, you don’t have to be embarrassed, you’re supposed to just smile and say thank you like you deserved it. These are things I still have problems with.

Another thing I struggle with is interacting with parents/guardians of my students. For a long time, I was overly smiley and deferential, and I noticed that other staff-members were casual and not terribly smiley, and the parents responded better to that. In actuality, we’re providing them with a service, and most of them don’t pay for it, so it’s not like we need to kiss their ass or anything. Still, just a couple days ago I was meeting the parents of a registering student, and the giant smile and slight, spasmodic bows took over. They were Somali, so maybe they didn’t notice too much. Maybe they thought I was foreign too.

Despite this lingering impact Japan still has on me, when I think about my life there, I’m filled with different conflicting emotions ranging from relief to anger to regret. My work-life here isn’t filled with the constant guilt and torment, I don’t have to plan for a spectacular presentation for the parents that will have no relevance on anything, and I don’t have to look so BUSY BUSY OMG I’M SO BUSY all the time. I think about how about this time of year people would be having their bonenkai, or end-of-the-year parties, for their work. And then I remember how I never got to go to a single enkai, how I wasn’t even invited to my company’s first bonenkai because my boss wanted me to cover a class for her because canceling for the company party would be so out of the question, and I get fucking pissed. I can’t let go of the idea that because I put up with a shitty work situation for so long, I missed out. I missed out on regular work and hours, a living wage, on actually becoming more fluent in Japanese. By staying in the countryside, I missed out on an urban Japanese life. But it’s all old news, it’s in the past, it’s water under the fucking bridge, so why can’t I let go? A while ago, I thought it was forgotten, but in some ways Japan just clings to me.


Blogger AzzidisRidden said...

It's funny, I was JUST talking to someone over here (Nick) and he was asking who I still hung out with, who was still around, and he asked about you guys, and I said "No, they've left, and I really miss them."

And he said, "Did Cassie ever start liking Japan?"

And I said "What?"

I guess one of the few occasions that he spent time with you was at Zen, where you and I were engaged in a pretty intense Gaijin frustration airing, and it left him with the impression that you didn't like it here.

I was like, "No, I don't think she didn't like it here, I think that she had a very powerful love/hate relationship with ... a lot of things about Japan." I mean, we all do. But I also told him that it seemed to me like your work situation had been pretty miserable.

When you wrote "I can’t let go of the idea that because I put up with a shitty work situation for so long, I missed out. I missed out on regular work and hours, a living wage, on actually becoming more fluent in Japanese," I thought... man, I wish Cassie was still here even more.

I hope you come back.

12:21 PM  
Blogger GLE said...

I used to lie a lot when I was a kid. Hell, I guess I still lie a lot...

7:58 AM  

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