This week's post comes from Maria Rainier who contacted me, like, a month ago, and offered to write a post. I'm pleased with how it turned out, even though it was a long time coming. Like me, Maria has experience living in Japan, and her views on cultural cross-pollination and adjustment, while unique, certainly resonate to some degree with my experience. That being said, her opinions are entirely her own and I welcome the diversity she brings to core::minimalist. I hope you enjoy her article, and feel free to give her link a click once you have reached the end!
Around the World in a Little Over 80 Days and What I Learned About Cultural Arrogance
Until I arrived, America was my promised land. And then it all went to hell. People didn’t greet me with huge smiles when I entered convenience stores and they didn’t give me an exaggerated bow when I left (they also threw my change back at me instead of placing it in a little plastic tray and gently nudging it across the counter toward me). Nobody had any sense of personal space in concerts or bars. Nobody had any manners. My friends gave me funny looks when I gave themomiage, or gifts. Everyone told me to stop apologizing.
To a college-bound kid who grew up in Japan, America was a nightmare.
And then there were the questions. It’s not news to most kids who grow up abroad that when you go (or go back) to America, you get an interesting array of questions. Here are some—word for word—that I was asked:
Do you eat raw fish?
Do you live in teepees?
Is Japan that island off the coast of Africa or somewhere?
Do you guys have gnats? I hate gnats.
Is Hiroshima still in ruins?
I won’t go into the Hiroshima bit. I want to, but I won’t. Instead, I highly recommend a great book, Stephen Walker’s Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
Cultural Superiority: the American Way
What I will go into, however, is how appalled I was that when I offered a couple of American friends Japanese chocolate candies—and anyone who’s ever had Japanese candy knows that it’s phenomenal—they took one look at the foreign writing on it and said, “I don’t eat furren food.”
This would not be the last time I’d hear something to the effect of, “Why doesn’t the world do things theAmerican way?”
For a few years, I went through an I-hate-American-and-I-can’t-wait-to-graduate phase for this very reason. I found the Americans around me to be self-righteous, self-important, and self-serving. If it wasn’t in English and if it didn’t praise the Lawd or Amurrica (as the two are synonymous to many Americans I know), it was trash.
Cultural Superiority: Not Just the American Way
In 2007, I studied abroad in Europe. My home-stay family lived in northern Italy, where locals spoke more German than Italian. I found that if I spoke Italian to the town baker or gelato man, I got dirty looks. These looks, however, were nothing in comparison to the derision on the faces of Romans to whom I accidentally spoke German. German was the “lesser” language, while Italian was the language of the oppressors.
Similarly, when I visited my family in Japan that same year, I found that if there was a Mandarin-speaking person in a Japanese town, the usually humble and open-minded Japanese turned up their noses and protected their purses. Koreans and southeastern Asians had the same effect on many Japanese I saw.
Not too long ago, a Chinese trawler bumped into a Japanese patrol boat around what the Japanese call the Ryukyu Islands, which they boldly deemed their territory and therefore held the Chinese captain and crew hostage for days before returning them to their country. The history between these countries can’t be discounted—before WWII, Japan defeated Russia, China, and Korea, and the Imperial Army’s conduct there was less than reputable. Post-WWII turf wars aside, China and Japan haven’t been buddy-buddy on anything: China keeps kidnapping Japanese citizens and putting lead in their toothpaste, and many Japanese refuse to admit to the Nanking atrocity. That many Japanese citizens hold deep grudges and prejudices against the Chinese and feel a sense of cultural superiority over them is no exaggeration.
This sounds oddly familiar. Since the colonists’ defeat of the English oh-so-very-long-ago, many Americans can’t stop poking fun at the Brits and Europeans (and the latter can only laugh at American antics). Meanwhile, North American treatment of Latin Americans is beyond abysmal. That racial epithets—most of which I didn’t even know existed before I came to America—can be so blithely dropped in everyday conversation is a point in itself.
The Kamikaze Incident
Bigotry is alive and well, not that it’s news. In September of this year, an American military base employee in Japan ran over an elderly Japanese man going home from his garden plot across the road. He died three hours later. He also happened to be the vice chairman of the anti-base housing coalition, which happened to be having a very important meeting that day with a prominent Japanese official to prevent the nearby military base’s planned expansion. Local Japanese often fall victim to military personnel’s drunken driving and prejudices, ear-splitting and low-flying jets, and the humiliation of living under the thumb of the country that dropped not one but two atomic bombs on them over sixty years ago.
On that base, whispers quickly abounded among American military and civilians: Did he do it on purpose?
What for, how, and why, I might ask?
You know, they used to be kamikaze. . . .
Oh, right. That hugely misunderstood band of brothers who were forced or brain-washed into dying for their lying government and Emperor because if they didn’t, their families would be punished and they’d be sent to a deadly war in the Southeast, anyway. That thing that no one in Japan talks about anymore because it’s ludicrous and horrifying even to them. That thing that’s been falsely linked by the ever-so-fair-and-balanced Fox News to the 9/11 terrorists when in fact the kamikaze never once targeted civilians in a non-combat situation. Oh, yeah. That thing.
But I Don’t Mean to be a Killjoy
Yeah, American prejudices and examples of cultural superiority annoy me more than anyone else’s, I think. That’s my own bigotry. Bigotry is alive and well. Again, it’s not news. You don’t have to look far for it, either. I found it around the world.
The good news in all this? That there are sane people around the world, too, whose kindness knows few, if any, culturally implemented bounds. It was an American who let me cut thirty people in the security line at the Kansai International Airport when I had five minutes before my plane took off. It was a Japanese man that let me charge my camera battery and warm my frosted hands in his sake store in Iwakuni. It was a My Lai massacre survivor who hugged me when I told her that my mother was a Hiroshima victim. It was in Grand Cayman that locals and Americans worked together to shelter and feed abused and stray animals on the island. These are the truths that let me sleep at night.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online programs and blogging about student life issues. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.