Monday, 12 March 2012

Some of the best questions I was asked in Japan.

Living in Japan as a “foreigner” is a fascinating experience, particularly if you are based in a tiny town, as I was, where you are the only person for miles/kilometres around who stands out as visibly different.

Especially up in the north of Japan and even more so in the rural areas of that region, normal people don’t encounter those from other cultural background on a day-to-day level and often the native English speaker who is teaching EFL in the community’s schools becomes the single point of real, human contact with different traditions, festivals and ideas.

I loved having all kinds of exchanges, often in all manner of situations – over the ice cream freezer at the local convenience store, chequing to use a busy washroom, releasing salmon into the town’s river with a bunch of dignitaries from the local area – with anyone and everyone who wanted to share things about their own lives and in turn ask me abut mine.

But it was a situation which lead to some of the best questions I have ever been asked, both by children and by adults. You can find the selected highlights below. My own, personal favorites were always the ones which were very closed and assuming – “It’s like this, isn’t it?” – even whilst having it (sometimes) very wrong.

“You don’t have rice in England, do you?”
“What language do you speak in England? French?” (Much like England and English, the roots for the country and the language name are also the same in Japanese).
“It’s always foggy in London, right?” (This is a really common misconception it seems…as though we all still lived in the smog of a Dickens’ novel.)
"How do you speak such good English?"

And the best exchange perhaps ever with a group of kids which exemplified for me how odd they found it that I could be from England but live in Japan:

Adorable first grader:  “Ms. Heather, aren’t you always really tired?”

Me:  “No! Why would I be tired?”

Adorable first grader:  “Because you have such a long journey to work and home every day.”

Me: “Well, it only takes me about 15 minutes, or 35 minutes in the winter.”

Adorable first grader:  “What?! But you live so far away and you have to take the plane and everything….”

Me (very much catching on): Guys, I don’t take the plane to school everyday. I cycle, or in winter I walk.

Adorable first grader (incredulous) : But you’re from England!!!!

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