Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turning Japanese....I Really (Don't) Think So

It has been 6 months, 28 days and 7 hours since I moved abroad. And in that time I have learned many things.


1. Don't walk on tatami mats with bare feet..or shoes...or slippers-which I promptly forgot last night while at an enkai- a formal farewell party, where, because I was a receptionist, I was forced to walk around the restaurant in bare feet all night..when I wasn't sitting seiza to hide my feet. (Swollen ankles, and knees, anyone?)

2. Using chopsticks is easy..unless you're drunk or in a crowd. I wasn't drunk, but was surrounded by native eaters- needless to say my chopsticks skills went to shit. Oh, I also learned that sushi is considered finger food- so you don't have to use chopsticks- but only after nearly losing a maki roll down the side of my skirt.

3. "O Genki desu ka?"- which means "are you healthy (well)?" can constitute a whole conversation if you are unable to converse fluently in Japanese. This represents an attempt to speak, which is all that is needed before you pass over the sake.

At times, living abroad has made me feel more alive, more vibrant...and more alone than at any
other time in my life. While siting in a crowd of people, you realize that you don't know what's going on...and then realize that it's pretty much been that way your whole life.The language barrier is no excuse- people everywhere are simply un-understandable. (yeah, I said it. wanna make something of it?) It has given me plenty of time to think my own thoughts, and realize how brilliant, petty, sarcastic or self serving they really are. In many ways, it has been a retreat from the “real” world where I barely had time to hear my thoughts, let alone organize them or more radically...change them. A stranger in a strange land, quickly learns that the “natural” laws and customs he lives his life by, are in fact anything other than “laws”. If he is a smart stranger, he quickly learns to “do as the Romans do” and rub blue mud in his belly to match the other savages. I am not a smart stranger. I persist in sticking out in noncomformity- a feat which escaped me entirely at home, where I was far more likely to fade in to the wall paper. I guess I don’t match the wall paper here. (Ever seen a five foot something black woman in a kimono?)

So what’s a girl to do? “Be aggressive, be, be agressive!”- “perky cheerleader voice”

Be aggressive? Yeah, be aggressive. Learn the local customs, be fascinated by the culture, and whenever you don’t fit in, grin. Hell, you won’t ever fit in anyway- so break the rules, lie and say you didn’t know, and have fun while doing it. Remembering that I am as much of a local curiosity as the local temple shrine allows me a whole lot of leeway to be awkward and floundering in a society that is best known for its attention to detail and efficiency. But this isn’t just for living abroad. Remembering that I am unique in this society and at home, will allow me to stretch even more on my return. Every awkward situation I find myself in here, I’ve been in before.

1. Awkward conversations? Check

2.Long, boring parties where you don't know anyone? Check

3. Strange guys who sit waaay too close? Check

Whether at home or abroad, being self conscious is a matter of the mind. The only solution is to go on the defensive. Look people in the eyes, and know “This is your world. Everybody else is just a squirrel trying to find a nut.” (Don’t get it? Find a friend and ask them to explain it. I’m on a roll here.) Finding your place in the world is hard, because it depends on the acceptance of the people around you. Making your place in the world depends on satisfying no one but yourself.

Don’t know what’s going on around you? If you’re interested, dive right in. If you’re not, keep on walking. Your inner and outer world are for your edification...and amusement. No one elses.You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Like blue mud? Bring it on! But if not, say no thanks. Make the world give way before you- make your own rules, and live by them. Make yourself happy... and feel at home wherever you go.

I will never be Japanese, or popular or anything other than sarcastic, sharp tongued, and biting. Thank God- because after all... the world needs me just the way I am. ; >

“They remember me as this shy girl sitting under the table.
 But they obviously didn't know what was going on in my head.”
 Izabella Scorupco quotes (Polish Actress, b.1970) *

Now you do! "wink"

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