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Chopstick Diplomat

Illustration by Marie

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 questions truthfully.

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 name.

Many thanks to reader Deanna Burkett for this Rant.

Metropolis Online
349: Life in the cycle lane
Playing chicken with a ladybike
348: Daisuki na Tokyo
Tokyo's my favorite!
347: Nihongo dake!
Why am I not fluent in Japanese yet?
346: People make the city
The beauty of Tokyo's people
345: Cross Training
Commuting by train in Tokyo
344: Yellow Line Fever
A guide for the blind... and a pain in the neck
343: Welcome to Tokyo
What did you bring me?
342: Positive thinking
Three reasons why we love Japan
341: I'm a rounder...
Veterans of Japan vs. Japan rookies
340: Discard your bank cards
The labour of replacing lost bank cards
339: Shoganai...
It can't be helped
338: Respect your environment
Poluution problem in Tokyo
337: Strike Three - You're Enlightened
How omiyage ruins a vacation
336: Missing manners
No manners outside of Japan
335: Goodbye jitensha
Is stealing bikes a popular pastime in Japan?
334: War of the Words
English borrows from other languages too!
333: ENGLISH ONLY, please
Don't bother writing your name in Japanese
332: A menu carved in stone
No special requests for lunch!
331: The Zen of Looking Busy
The art behind faking work
330: Lyrical Phlegm
Japan's spitting dilemma
329: Rock harder, Japan
Big, bad and ugly concerts
328: Noise Deficiency
The unrelenting quiet that is not Japan
327: Chopstick Diplomat
Constant questioning = constant answering
326: Game over
Cutting off the game for regular scheduled program
325: Grown pains
The hooligan behavior of middle-aged salarymen
324: The Price of Fame
Young teen actors light up on-screen
323: A Customary Affair
The universal language of consumerism
322: Robber barons
JR steals from the rich.. and the poor
321: Tegami Or Not Tegami
Deny the letter to save money
320: The Garbage Men
Variations of the "salaryman"
319: Holidaze
Japan - Home of the lamest holidays in the world
318: Box your ears
Be the karaoke star you've always dreamed of
317: The winter of my discontent
No oden if it's spring please!
316: The Bells
Going insane from bells and voices
315: The Big Tokyo Trash Mystery
No garbage cans + too much garbage= a clean city?
314: The Kamikaze Spirit
The war may be over but the spirit lives on
313: Movie Mania
Laughing alone in the corner
312: Geek parade
What's going on with gaijin men?
311: Gleaming gomi
Rinse it out before you throw it out
310: Lower Mathematics
Teaching practical mathematical equations
309: Escalator clots
Blocking the flow of escalator traffic
308: Sky's the limit
Favorite channel on the hit list
307: Bring on the studmuffins
Thanks to the "Men looking for women"
306: Burning Rubber
Narrowly averting bicycle collisions
305: Fishy Business
The sushi wasn't dead
304: The Invisible Gaijin
When gaijins collide
303: Talk work only
The Japanese perception of idleness
302: From kotatsu, with love
A blanket covered electric coffee table
300: Why 2K?
The millennium bug ain't no big deal

ISSUES 350-381
ISSUES 250-299

ISSUES 233-249