Saturday, August 11, 2007

"F" is for Flat out rude

Which is what I told the young couple sitting on the bench out front of the Michinoeki (a way station along a highway that usually sells local specialities of the area), that they were flat out rude. The young guy nudged his nubile, fashion-pop-idol-look-alike girl friend with a sneer splayed across his face and I instantly knew. He was going to point me out to her and then say something incredibly amusing--at my expense. So I turned my head towards them to see and sure enough she was scanning me from head to toe and a similar sneer was creeping across her face as she put one of her beautifully manicured hands up to her mouth to cover the "giggle." I stopped and said loudly in English, "That is just flat out rude." They both froze. Then the girl exploded in laughter. The boy grinned sheepishly and raised a hand in a kind of wave. I took two steps away. Two steps backwards. Then I did a kind of "talk to the hand" kind of thing and left.

I'm sure the overweight, aging gaijin glaring at them with mad piggy eyes and then growling gibberish (English) at them will be a funny anecdote they can share for years to come. "Remember that fat old gaijin baba? (shortened, slang form of "obasan" or "Aunt" which is used to address or refer to older women. An insult word.) Ha ha ha."

Why did I stop? Why did I do a crazy lady crab walk (forwards, backwards, forwards again) kind of frustrated skittle in front of them? Why in God's name did I do the "talk to the hand" gesture?

Well, obviously, this time the gawking and the I've-got-something-funny-to-say-about-the-gaijin thing got to me. It doesn't always get to me. I often purposely redirect my attention/route to avoid stupid comments or direct gawkers. But today was hot. REALLY hot and humid and I hate hot and humid. And my period had just started. And my family was headed for a day at the beach. Imagine my joy at the idea of sitting in the sun watching my family frolic in the ocean's waves while I sweated and menstruated away on the sand--beached by biology and circumstance. And of course I inherited the infamous PMS of my mother's family. We're talking PMS of epic proportions.

My entire family used to just hunker down and walk quietly for the duration of my mother's bouts of PMS each month. My father was the only one who would breech the lines and venture into my mother's room (which was their bedroom). She would stay up there with her faithful cockerspaniel and only come out to fix us with a look and then announce, "we are all, each and every one of us in the process of dying. The moment of birth is the beginning of the journey to the grave."

When I read Jane Eyre, it wasn't hard at all for me to imagine living in a house with a mad woman in the attic.

Unfortunately that mad woman moved into my attic when I entered my late thirties.

So, the picture perfect young lovers today decided to mock the mad woman. Mistake. Not that I made them pay for it, remember, instead I did the weird "argh! you, you, you, . . . look at the hand." dance which probably actually really amused them.

Now that my moment is gone, I have gone over different scenarios in my head again and again thinking of different things I could have said and done. I could have ignored them. I could have turned to them and asked, "What is it about me that you find so amusing? That I'm fat? Old? Or foreign? Or is it just the overwhelming thrill of finding all three in one person?" but my Japanese isn't good enough to say all that. So I could have ranted at them in English and then paused and looked thoughtfully at them and said in Japanese, "oh, but I'm sorry, you can't understand what I said, can you? You studied English for what, six years? Oh, maybe not huh? No high school probably?"

But I didn't and it's too late now and the other thing that got me so frustrated and angry was that I am tired of running these scenarios through my head. I miss living in a country where I don't have to think up good come backs. I miss living in a country where if someone approached me and asked me what kind of food I ate, or if I could sleep on a futon, or how long I had been living there I knew in an instant, "nutter" and I could cut and run. And how many people used to wait until I had walked by and then started to scream "hello! Heeeellllooooooo!" at my back when I was living outside of Japan?

Common sense in dealing with others apparently doesn't apply to dealing with foreigners here in Japan. But the most frustrating bit of it all is that there is a large number of individuals (or I am just really fucked by fate and just happen to have encountered nearly every member of the minority of individuals) here for whom the idea that they might actually be being just flat out rude in their relations with gaijin is unattainable. These are the ones who just flat out don't get it.

Good example: pregnant gaijin woman meets group of neighborhood Japanese women.
JW (Japanese women): Oh! Your baby is going to be soooo kawaii (cute)!
PG(Pregnant Gaijin): Uh, thank you but we'll have to wait to see.
JW: Oh! no no! Hafus (plural of Half, short for half and half, indicating a biracial child usually half Japanese and half Western ) are so kawaii!
PG: All babies are kawaii!
JW: Hafus have such big eyes! Oh, your baby is going to be so kawaii!"
PG: Excuse me, but saying that my baby is going to be kawaii just because it is going to be a hafu is kind of rude isn't it? I mean, what about Nakagawa-san's baby? Won't her baby be kawaii as well? Even if it isn't a hafu?
JW: (blink) (blink) (blink) Oh no. Everyone knows that hafu babies are kawaii!

And Nakagawa-san is one of the blinkers. Some people just flat-out-don't-get-it.

Have you ever tried to teach a cat to heel? It is just an exercise in frustration and exasperation and ultimately disappointment if you really had any kind of vested interested in training the cat to heel. That is how I felt about the young couple sitting on the bench publicly mocking me today. I just wish that they had huge fur balls that they had to spit up later today--and dirty filthy litter boxes and cheap nasty tasting dry food.

So I think my hand went up to push my internal dialog away from myself. A kind of self-exorcism if you will. All the legitimate reasons to reprimand /confront them--pushed away.

I retreated to my family and then I worried for the remainder of our time there that the cm ( Japanese English for commercial) perfect couple would spot us and mock my kids too. Although actually, my kids act as a nice shield for me, instead of mocking the aging fatty with the two cute kids, people tend to focus their energies on squealing over the sheer kawaii force a hafu packs when they see my two. Which is gratifying to the parent and child until one or the other realizes that the reaction they are evoking in people is similar to the reaction that cute animals in the zoo evoke in them.

In fact, the sheer absurd underside of taking a biracial child to the zoo here is ponderously heavily. There stands Reno gazing at the baby monkeys in the monkey pit, she keeps telling me enthusiastically how cute these small furry babies are. Behind her stands a local Japanese mother, directing her own 9 year old daughter's attention towards my daughter---"ooooohhhhh look! A hafu! She's so cuuuuuute!"

So today, I decided to leave the zoo and with a freedom that those baby monkeys can only dream of, I walked away from the couple and back to my own family and on to the beach where we had a fantastic time and we met several fantastically friendly people and families (these are all words that begin with "f" as well.) and one boy even showed me a beautiful rock he had found on the shore and then gave it me.

So for the rest of the afternoon I didn't give the glamor shots duo a thought, until we were driving home after the unbelievably beautiful sunset and then, as I felt the weight of my thoughts crushing down on me I did a mental talk to the hand to myself and thought, "Fuck them. I'd rather focus on having fun with my family." Which we did. We went out for sushi and home for a family communal shower where we rinsed the salt out of each other's hair and my beautiful little daughters are happily sound asleep, exhausted and dreaming of all the wonders of the sea and the Earth.


Donna said...

It's so frustrating to me that some people cannot seem to understand that it really isn't a compliment to say things like "all mixed race children are SO cute!". I remember one time an acquaintance saying about another woman in our group "oh, you are half Japanese? You are so beautiful! Mixed race people are just the most beautiful people ever, I think it says something about how we should all live in harmony" and she said it in this voice as though she was revealing a profound thought and I was just cringing.

Sarah said...

One thing that has become important to me is teaching my kids that even though they are cute that doesn't give them special privileges to be rude themselves. I think I wrote about it somewhere but earlier this year Emi had to go to the elementary school for a health check and because my husband was working I had to take everyone. Two other moms that I know from preschool were taking their soon-to-be first graders so we went together. It's kind of a long story how we all got there but when it was time to leave for some reason Emi & Misaki didn't want to walk home. They just burst in tears and said "iyada". I was just about to lay into them when the other two moms said they would take my girls home on their bikes. If you can imagine me, trying to wrestle Sakura & Natsuki into their double-stroller while giving Emi & Misaki my "don't even think about" look while trying to explain to the other moms that it's OK, my girls can all two blocks home. But no, those two ladies took their own children off of the bicycle seat and put my totally selfish girls on there and said, "It OK, they're cute!". I was helpless at that moment so we walked home together and I said thank you but as soon as we got into the house, I had a serious talk with the girls about how that kind of behavior is totally inappropriate. Of course I felt worse for those two other kids whose mothers would choose my children over their own. I can rationalize that they were trying to help me since I had all four children with me and they only had one each but that's not much of a comfort.

So my goal right now is to raise compassionate children that can find worth in anyone and not make judgements just from looking at the outside. It's going to be tough because Japan tends to be materialistic and overly concerned with appearances.

It seems like an uphill battle but, the way I see it, there's no harm in trying!

Gina said...

The staring from random people in Japan. Ugh! I don't handle it too well either! When I am shopping to have random people walk up to me and say "hello". I don't mind that so much. But I swear I have developed a sixth sense, to figure out who is going to be "that" person. You know, I can be at a mall. Many Japanese won't mind me shopping there. But then there will be that 1 person, who just all of a sudden zeroes in on me. And points me out, to whomever they are with. I can always spot that person. I dread that person! Then whoever they tell. They turn around and gawk, as well. Meanwhile I cringe and hope they can hurry up, have their look and be done with it!

Like I said. I don't mind the kids. Especially the little ones, saying "hello" "How are you". Stuff like that.

One time when I was pregnant with Noah. DH and DS and I were at a Mc Donald's for breakfast, on our way to an OB/GYN appointment. An Old Japanese women, sorta looked mentally ill or homeless. She was chain smoking a pack of cigggies. And drinking coffee only. When she saw me. She locked onto me with her eyes. And although we sat not anywhere near her. She would scream. F***K Americans! Then she babbled in Japanese. But every minute or two she would scream at the top of her lungs. F Americans. Manager finally walked over and told her to stop or whatever. My husband told me not to worry, he wasn't gonna let her touch me or come near me. (where she learned that phrase I will never know, but I was shocked!)

I sometimes think how lucky it must be to be an invisible minority. Like to be an Asian American living in Japan. Or from say, China. But to be an obvious westerner. It's sometimes quite hard. The pointing and gawking never ends. I'm still not used to it.

As for having half kids. Personally, I think all kids are beautiful. But yes, Japanese people have this great love for half white, half Japanese children. Every time we go to Tokyo Disneyland, or Disney Sea, we get people taking pictures of our kids. They should be taking pictures of Mickey Mouse, for crying out loud! Again, it drives me nuts the attention they get. Of course, they are my children, I love them to bits, as every parent loves their kid, but to have unknown strangers take such interest just because they are hafu's. Like Sarah, said though and I agree with it. I don't want my kids to think they will be able to get away with everything just because they are half American though. Sigh, it's a tough balance. Grr! : )

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