Every now and then Yuuki and I surprise each other through small cultural differences. Sometimes from outright ignorance of how things are done in each other’s culture, and sometimes it stems from misleading stereotypes.
For instance, many of us that have known the ‘fun’ of being called a gaijin (外人) know the frustration of being asked if we want a fork, or simply being given a fork instead of chopsticks. We know it usually comes from a kind thought, but I know myself and plenty of others feel a bit patronized when we feel like we’re being told, “you have blond hair, of course you can’t use chopsticks.”
It becomes almost a source of pride and a challenge where no matter the circumstances, many foreigners will choose chopsticks over forks or spoons.
Yuuki laughs at me when I try to eat things like oyakodon (親子丼) with chopsticks. But there’s that stubborn part of me that will never admit that, yeah, would be much easier to use a spoon. At least not until I get frustrated enough to give in.
Another weird thing that cropped up even before I met Yuuki was the matter of soy sauce. My family (I assumed everyone else did too but I realize now I’ve never asked) always put soy sauce on rice. That was what soy sauce was made for. Flash-forward to living in Japan, and no one does it. Soy sauce goes on your meat, maybe your veggies. Never the rice. It was a strange sort of culture shock for me.
I stopped putting soy sauce on my rice while in Japan too, but now that I’m back in America I’ll admit I sometimes still do. But, I think that also has something to do with the quality of the rice.
As a foreigner going to Japan, you’re always warned about various rules for etiquette. When there was some chicken that was hard to separate, Yuuki told me to just stab it and grab each chopstick in each hand. I was very hesitant to do so – it seemed so rude! He told me it wasn’t something you should do in front of a teacher or a boss, but outside of that most people do it anyway. But five minutes after that when I tried to pass him a piece of chicken from my chopsticks he immediately flinched back and said no, no, no. That’s what we do with bones after they’re cremated.
As you can imagine, I had quite the appetite after hearing that.
Also, it surprised me that he didn’t use deodorant. I made him buy some.He didn’t smell like body odor or anything – it was just too weird to me that he didn’t use it after the training all my life that you need it every day or ELSE. But then I watched this video (by the Youtube-famous amwf couple Rachel and Jun):
After watching it I told him he doesn’t have to wear it, now that I understand it better (however I’ll admit, I like the smell of the deodorant he chose, so I’m glad he didn’t throw it away). It also made more sense to me why I had a choice of one deodorant at the store in Japan I went to. I remember doubting my reading skills so much that I asked a sales associate. Sure enough, one to choose from.
For Yuuki it seems to be how incredibly sweet things are here. One of the Nepali refugees I met said the same thing. He didn’t understand why we sometimes make even our meat sweet. “If I’m going to eat meat, it should be salty!” he said. I couldn’t fully disagree or agree with him because Hawaiian pizza is pretty gross to me, but…mmmm orange chicken…
In addition, Yuuki tries to put soy sauce and mayonnaise on everything. Today it was cucumbers. Tomorrow – THE WORLD. Seriously though, I’ve always loved mayo and hated that I loved it…but he’s helping cure me of it just by adding it to every thing possible and grossing me out.
Also, he thinks it’s strange that I take showers in the morning. I don’t know how else I’d be able to function at 6:30 a.m.
He also considers me outgoing and doesn’t think of me as shy – I’ve always considered myself shy and socially awkward*. I think most of the people I meet in America, at least in large gatherings, would also classify me as shy.
I know this wasn’t a very consequential post, but I feel like I haven’t written about Japan in awhile and we ate rice for dinner. ‘Twas on my mindtank.
* Especially after this past Tuesday. More on that later, I’m sure…