Okay, I have been putting this post off for some time but today I am going to tell you a little story about culture shock and me. What’s truly shocking about culture shock is that it can still happen after we have lived in Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Thailand. And yet…
The good news is that from our cosy little holiday flat in Istanbul, it finally feels okay to make this wee confession.
I am not in love with Japan.
Gasp! (You.) Sigh. (Me.)
It might still happen… I mean, it could. There’s still time for our relationship to deepen and it’s not that I dislike Japan. But, if I am being honest, there’s a little voice in my head saying, “Really, Japan, it’s not you… it’s me.”
As a Canadian, I thought that I would love (I’m talking about LOVE here) the structure and order that characterize life in Japan. I have a deep appreciation of both but, as it turns out (and who could have predicted it) not THIS much!
There are rules for every (single, blooming) thing in Japan. If you are Japanese, these rules must be imprinted on your DNA… or perhaps there’s a handbook somewhere that I have not yet been able to get my hands on. An example. I was waiting to use the ATM at the train station a few weeks ago and I wanted to give the person at the machine a bit of privacy so I leaned against the wall to wait. Along comes a woman and she proceeds to stand directly behind the woman at the cash machine. WTF? (You know… I never say that!) And then, in the midst of my red-hot righteous indignation, I see that the woman-in-waiting is standing exactly where she is supposed to be standing – exactly where I am supposed to be standing – on the large green footsteps painted onto the floor so that people will not become confused about how to form a line at the ATM. It’s not her fault… she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. It’s not you. It’s me.
So you might be thinking any or all of the following:
1. Big deal.
2. Pay closer attention to the footprints.
3. It’s a lovely country… they have sushi.
4. Stop whining and/or suck it up.
You would not be wrong. But what you’ll need to factor in is that every transaction and interaction in Japan is governed by a zillion formal and informal rules and I am in constant violation of a majority of them. I could write a whole series of posts about the ridiculously complex recycling rules at my apartment building. If we get evicted from our apartment, you’ll know that I put the plastics in the wrong bin and that is just. not. permitted. So you’ll need to take the ATM example, multiply my frustration by 10,000 and then you’ll start to have an idea of how I am feeling. I’m a control freak who cannot control all of this control.
I do love a happy ending, though, and Japan and I may get our happy ending yet. A funny thing is happening as a consequence of my interaction with all these rules. I am becoming rebellious. (Really!) Sometimes I walk on the wrong side of the stairs or the sidewalk just to shake things up. On a more serious note, I am beginning to say no. “No, that’s too much… or not enough.” “No, that’s not a good idea.” “No, I totally disagree with your point.” “No, I do not have an opinion about this issue nor could I care less.” No.
You know what? This feels freaking great. A little scary but also amazing. Awesome.
If you know me, you probably think of me as a person who speaks her mind but the truth is that I always have quite a lot on my mind and only a very small fraction of that mind-i-ness gets expressed. (Ask DP, he’ll vouch for that.) In fact, I have spent many years biting my tongue, playing along, and trying to be a good, cooperative (oh-so-Canadian) colleague and employee.
Do you know Alanis Morissette’s song Thank U in which she thanks India for having taught her important lessons that she needed at the time?
So, thanks, Japan for unintentionally teaching me to stand up for myself. (Now that’s ironic.)