Let me set the scene: Lunchtime, sitting with two Japanese teachers and one school nurse. I sit there, munching away at my food, listening to the conversation with little initiative to pipe in. I usually eat lunch with the kids, but most of them are off at sports tournaments so I just decide to eat lunch with the teachers.
Lady Japanese teacher speaks to me with food in her mouth, “Jessica, ahadkjdksjknnkfnn.”
Say what? Was that even Japanese? Dear Jesus, gross. “Uh, hai?” So confused.
School nurse proceeds to try and help. “Ano, tsugi ga…nashi?”
Next nothing? What is she talking about? Next class nothing? Next day nothing? I stare blankly at her confounded.
Abruptly she bursts into laughter and shouts, “Eigo wakanai!” I don’t understand English!
I sigh. I was going to tell her to just go slower, but then she does the thing I hate the most.
School nurse turns to another teacher and asks, “M-sensei….?”
Male teacher shakes his head profusely, “Zen zen.” I don’t know English either.
They proceed to laugh and have a conversation right in fucking front of me about their lack of English ability and my lacking Japanese skills. I breathed in and out, deciding I’m just going to sulk (which I know logically is the wrong reaction, but fuck it), and tune out the rest of the conversation.
I don’t know about other expats, but certain things really piss me off when it comes to how some Japanese people try to talk with me. Here’s a top ten list:
#10: Food Talking
Be it food or gum or some kind of breath mint, if someone tries to speak to me with garbled Japanese it gets ten times harder for me to understand someone. One time, some Japanese guy tried to talk to me while slurping ramen, and all I could think was, ‘Seriously? Seriously?”
Not only that but it’s super rude to me when it’s food. I don’t want to talk when there’s stuff spitting out of your pie hole. Chew, swallow, and then talk to me. It’s common courtesy and it prevents murder, as in from me wanting to murder you.
#9: Giving Up
Now, I’m not talking like if we’ve been attempting communication for the past hour and can’t get anywhere, I’m talking like a sentence and then utter shut down. It took seconds for the people in the above situation to decide that they couldn’t talk to me and just gave the fuck up.
#8: Calling Me “Gaijin-sama”
This is just a pet peeve of mine. A literal translation would be something like “Miss/Mr. Alien” and that’s what I think every time I hear it. I know it’s supposed to a formal “Miss Foreign Lady” kind of idea, but that still seems really strange to me. Instead, call me by my name or “gaikokujin” or literally anything else.
Hell, I’ll even accept, “Heeeeeey, sexy lady!” (Sidebar: PSY made this a thing. I can’t go a month without this getting shouted at me by some guy.)
#7: Stereotype Anger
I get this more often than I’d like. People get to know me and they’re somehow surprised I’m not a gun loving redneck who thinks A’murica is the greatest nation on the planet. I’m actually a chocolate loving dork with redneck tendencies who loves America but knows it’s quite a flawed place. I’ll forgive the annoying but understandable, “You don’t look like an American.” which makes me sigh often, but that I can blame on Hollywood and bottle blondes.
I can’t readily forgive, “You really don’t act like an American. You should try and be a little bit more (insert something ridiculously stereotypical here).”Or getting mad when I do something completely “un-American.”
Look, I’m a human being. I’m not a stereotype. I’m a living breathing sentient person who has her own ideas, thoughts, and feelings. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into your idea of how I “should” be, but screw you. I like who I am (most days), so get used to it.
#6: Expecting Me to Know You When We Met ONCE
Guess what? Don’t expect me to remember you from that one encounter at the grocery store. I get that we might’ve had a fun conversation a month ago, but unless we got attacked my mutant velociraptors together I’m simply not going to remember who you are.
I realize it’s easier to remember me. I’m the only (obviously) foreign woman living in this town. I get that seeing me makes you excited and that you’re super happy that you can talk to me again. I can’t say that meeting yet another person who is fascinated is a new thing. It happens all the time.
#5: Speaking Louder to be Understood
This problem is very common. People will see my confused face, and instead of going slower (which is infinitely more useful tactic), I get someone suddenly yelling at me like I’ve insulted their honor.The worst “conversations” I’ve had involved people yelling information at me with their dial turned up to eleven and continuing to do so even when I’m speaking at a normal level.
This annoyance makes my ears ring, which makes it harder to understand what you’re saying, and thus it makes me unable to communicate with you.
#4: Complimenting Me on Easily Accomplished Tasks
Nearly every expat could share my pain for this unfortunately reoccurring scenario, “Wow! You’re so good with chopsticks!”
Yes, I’m also very good at brushing my teeth but let’s not comment on it, please and thanks.
Using chopsticks is not rocket science. Also, neither is saying “Arigatou (thanks)” or “Dooitashimashite (You’re welcome).” That doesn’t make me, “So good at Japanese!” that makes me able to look up a video on YouTube. Seriously, I don’t need to be encouraged like a five year old.
When you see me defend the school from ninjas, feel free to compliment until you lack air. Until then, I’m good.
#3: Pretending I’m Not There
Sometimes the previously mentioned lunch scenario gets worse, with people talking about me and what I’m doing right in front of me like I don’t exist. It makes my eye twitch.
#2: Running Away from Me
I’ve had this happen to me usually around where I live. I walk into a store and the sales ladies get nervous and suddenly disappear. I have to end up tracking someone down to ask them a simple question and they look so terrified when I do.
I’m not going to eat you, you daft woman! I just need this in a different size!
#1: Telling Me I Shouldn’t Live In Japan
I get so many people asking me if racism exists in Japan. The answer to that in a simple way is yes, because racism exists literally everywhere, all over the planet. Every single country is dealing with prejudice issues in some way. The more complicated answer is that the racism here in Japan is often under reported, discussed, and usually just gets avoided as an issue altogether.
There are subtle racist problems that I’ve dealt with here and there, but everything I’ve been through doesn’t compare to friends of mine. They’ve been harassed by the police, spat on, and one man I knew in Tokyo did in fact get punched in the face because he “looked too black” at a club.
My main racist issue that’s very overt and hurtful is when a Japanese person tells me, “Oh, you can’t live in Japan forever.” or “If you live in Japan, you won’t be happy. Go back to America.”
Yes, actually, I could live in Japan if I wanted to and I do think that I’d be very happy living in Japan. It’s not a perfect country, but it’s full of cultural wonders that I deeply love. The insinuation that because I am from another country that I can’t survive or be happy here is founded on some inane principle that only people born in Japan can truly accomplish these things. When I hear stuff like that I feel unwanted, like everyone is just putting up with me until I may or may not go.
It pisses me off, because I dreamed for half of my life of coming to Japan. I didn’t come here to get told to, “Go home because you make me uncomfortable.” Guess what? Too bad. I came here legally on a work visa. I pay bills. I took the Japanese drivers test to get a license. I am living here, obeying the laws, and bending over backwards in many ways to behave in a socially acceptable manners when I don’t know all of the unspoken social rules. If you don’t like it, too bad, I’m here to stay until I damn well feel like leaving.
Now, all ten of these irritants are events that happen every so often, but I can live with them. I do still love Japan and I want to keep working towards being the best ALT I can be while I live here. However, I think it’s important to discuss the problems that exist in living in another country, because it’s not as easy as one would think. Most days I have the time of my life, but there are some moments I get frustrated. Today I got one of those moments.
And now that I’m done venting, I shall return to grading papers with Pokemon stamps, because I don’t know the meaning of growing up.