Strange situations often come about when living in a foreign country. When you are no longer the majority but the minority you learn a thing or two. I can assure you I have stumbled upon some interesting situations as an American living abroad in Japan as an ALT (assistant language teacher) for English. I have been living in Japan for seven months now in the city of Yanai.
Yanai city is relatively small. It houses all the necessities that a little town or village can’t offer. There are plenty of basic goods stores, clothing shops, and even a very small mall. There are a number of restaurants and several grocery stores. Yanai’s population according to wiki is 34,634 people (Mar 1, 2011). That is larger than the little measly town of Breezy Point, where my family currently lives back in the States.
Even though Yanai has plenty to offer I often find myself explaining Yanai to others the same way I explained St. Cloud. There is plenty here but nothing to do. The city feels smaller than it really is. Even though the population is rather large, the actual amount of things to do is limited. This is the city in which I live.
Now the funny thing about being a foreigner living in another country is how people react when they see “another foreigner.” What I mean by this is the reaction of the people who are a native Japanese person that is with me and we happen to stumble upon another foreigner. I have written about small day trips that I have taken with Sumitomo-sensei. During these trips there have been several times that we have come across other obviously foreign people.
My reaction to these situations have been nothing out of the ordinary. I nod hello if we make eye contact, but do nothing overly crazy like screaming out “OMG! ANOTHER FOREIGNER WE MUST BE FRIENDS!” But for some reason every other white person traveling within Japan is my best friend. Sumitomo once said to me, “Oh, Amanda look. There is another foreigner. Do you know them?”
I have been asked multiple times if the other white person is my friend, if I know them, or if I know why they are here. Every time it happens I have to tell them no, “I am sorry, but just because they happen to be a foreigner doesn’t mean I know them.” Heck, the only foreign people I currently know in Japan are other ALTs and a few of the exchange students that are studying in Japan from St. Cloud State University.
Here is the story of what happened just yesterday.
There I was, sitting quietly at my desk. Nothing to do, nothing to see. Just trying to think of something to do to fight off the boredom that was looming over me. There had been a few other teachers scattered around the office going about their own tasks. Yet I still had nothing to do.
That is when the phone rang. It had rung often enough that day and I paid it little attention as I often did. That is until I heard someone call my name. I looked up from my computer screen at the teacher who called out to me, it was Norio Yamamoto-sensei. He called my name again as he put down the phone and started to walk my way. “Yes?” I said. As he got closer I could make out the slightly confused look on his face. “Do you know Eric?”
I could feel my face contort into a confused look that matched his own. I open and closed my mouth several times looking for the words to respond. The only thing that I could manage to get out was “What?” “Do you know an Eric?” Yamamoto-sensei asked again. “Eric? No I don’t know a Eric.” I paused for a second thinking again about the question. “No. No, I don’t. Why do you ask?” Sensei’s eyes looked jovial as he almost laughed out loud. “The post office is trying to deliver a package.”
Yes, the post office called the school to see if the foreigner knew of the other foreigner they had been trying to deliver a package to. I can see why they would think to call and ask. The staff at the post office knows that there is an ALT working at the high school. They know that I come to the post office often because I also use the bank there. The fact that they called school to ask if the ALT knew of Eric surprised me.
While I often laugh at these silly little situations I also want to remind people that just because you know a foreigner and are friends with that person does not mean that every other foreigner that looks like your friend or talks like your friend is friends with your friend. The world is a large place filled with many different kinds of people. Heck, even within your own city or town how many of its inhabitants do you know. Do you even know your neighbor?
I wish I could say this for the last time, but I know better. It is bound to happen again.