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Awright, let's get this whole "smile when you see a foreigner" dilemma settled once and for all. I'm sooooo tired of listening to rookie-just-off-the-boat ex-pats whining about how "they hate it when…" and how they are just so bloody magnanimous with their own good cheer as to smile to all and any foreigner that crosses their path. Well, I don't smile. When I see a foreigner I avert my eyes. Why? Lots of reasons.

First, it's a matter of self-respect. Yukio Mishima once said that prostitution was detestable, not because it was morally reprehensible but for the simple reason that a prostitute "loved" his or her clients equally regardless of whether they were the Second Coming or the lowest form of vermin on the planet. In the same manner, a foreigner doesn't smile at another foreigner because he sees something special in the other person. It's only because he sees another foreigner. So excuse me for having an iota of self-respect. I'm not interested in selling my own good cheer so cheaply.

Okay, so now all you Christians out there are probably moaning and groaning about "The Brotherhood of Man" and how everybody deserves a smile, and who am I to judge blah blah blah. Well, if you really believed in all that then why aren't you smiling at every Japanese person you come in contact with? Besides, it's MY face. They're MY lips. IT'S MY CHOICE.

And there's always the existential stance. When I'm walking down the street in Japan I am completely and comfortably within myself. The fact that I'm a foreigner affords me the luxury of being outside the periphery of all referents linking me to the surroundings. I'm like a peeper at the peephole, enjoying the delicious privacy of cultural invisibility.

Then along comes some foreigner. Suddenly the privacy is shattered, and I'm forced to look into the mirror of a face that belongs to a world of referents similar to mine. I'm forced to see myself outside of myself as exactly that which "the other" is - a foreigner. Stranger in a strange land. He is the rain on my parade! Spotlight on my foreignness! SO OF COURSE I'M NOT GONNA SMILE!!! WHY THE HELL SHOULD I?!?

So excuse me if I avert my eyes when you pass. You may be a wonderful person. You may be a complete knob. But you know what? I don't know you from a hole in the ground. If I did know you, I'd probably smile and say "Hi!"

Many thanks to Sean Callaghan for this Rant.

Metropolis Online
381: The Crisp Linen Suit Syndrome
Unbearable heat and crisp linen suits
380: Smile
Smile when you see another foreigner
379: What sign are you?
When signs start to complicate life
378: Off with the gloves
Battle of the readers
377: Stop before you shop
Stores that scare away gaijin
376: Home sweet home
Modern housing in Japan?
375: Nihonjinron
Theories of Japaneseness and insecurity
374: Plastic bags
Do we really need them for everything?
373: Doctor knows best?
A scary visit to a Japanese hospital
372: Don't forget the finger wagger
So you've never complained about Japan?
371: A-choob tale
The Sneezing Salaryman
370: The gaijin language snob
Dare to cross his path
369: Nihongo
One man's struggle...
368: Making sense of Roppongi
Why do I keep going back?
367: Hateus Japanus Expatricus
Great bar bores of the world
366: Plants and animals
Darwin's turning in his grave
365: No more groping - for now
Women only train cars
364: Man's best friend
Pets have it rougher
363: In praise of Tokyo taxi drivers
A good ride all around
362: The Big Boot Brigade
Masters of the oversized-shoe
361: The case of the missing garbage cans
Where art thou o garbage can?
360: Ramen for the soul
Japanese chicken soup
359: Revenge of the nerds Part II
Geeky guys with hot girls
358: Little old ladies
Grandmas packing a punch
357: Starbucks sanctuary
Stop the Starbucks insanity
356: Pet name problem
My sweet little... carrot?
355: Unclean Jeans
Jeans McNasty
354: My chosen profession
Lindsay Nelson's the name, English teaching's the game
352/3: Merry Christmas... sort of
Merry and not-so-Merry Christmas in Japan
351: Last temptation of rice crackers
Breaking big bills the hard way
350: Revenge of the nerds
Gaijin girls are just jealous

ISSUES 300-349
ISSUES 250-299
ISSUES 233-249