|RANT 'N' RAVE
When I was interviewed in the States for a
position as an English conversation teacher, the recruiter warned me that if I decided to
live and work in Japan, I would be more than just a conversation teacher. "You will
also be a diplomat. Your students will be very interested in everything about you."
"For example," she explained, "it is conceivable that every day someone
will ask you if you can use chopsticks. Do you think you could conduct yourself
professionally and diplomatically under these conditions?"
I didn't appreciate the gravity of what she was trying to tell me. Chopsticks are
difficult tools to master, and I thought it was a fair question. Confident of my
diplomatic tolerance level, I took the position and moved here four months ago. "Ask
me anything," I thought, "as many times as you can, and I'll reward you with an
interesting answer and a smile to make my country proud."
These sentiments were tested from the beginning. My welcome party was a merciless barrage
of favorite movie, actor, band, color, food questions. One person asked me about
chopsticks. A couple asked if I dye my hair. Five asked my age.
Three hours later I emerged from the izakaya with my diplomatic reserves greatly depleted.
I have yet to fully recover.
Answering the same questions does get tiresome. But it's not the repetition or being
polite that proves most difficult. The exhausting part is not being able to answer the
Why did you come to Japan? What are your hobbies? I don't have good answers to either of
these questions - if I tell the truth - and I am asked them regularly.
My stock answer to the first one begins, "Well, I've always been interested in
Japanese culture..." but the truth is I couldn't stomach another semester of penis
envy theory in contemporary literature. So I quit graduate school and moved here.
I don't have hobbies, because I don't like to do anything regularly. So when I try to
answer the second question, the answer doesn't sound like my life at all. In America I
liked to walk through the woods near the place I grew up. Sometimes I liked to go to the
beach and swim in the ocean or look for sand dollars. Can I call this hiking and swimming?
I don't like to. The essence is far from the same.
The recruiter who warned me about the constant questioning seemed to think that the
difficulty would be in the constant answering. For me, the challenge lies in the futility
of the entire process. Who I am doesn't translate easily into short, interesting, answers.
Because of this the result of the questioning is always the same: the creation of a trite,
dimensionless American who is brought into existence to inhabit this country using my
Many thanks to reader Deanna Burkett for this Rant.