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Cultural Differences

I was having lunch at school one day when Noisy Fucker #2 suddenly blurts out – “Am I the fattest one in this school?”

I honestly don’t know how this conversation started, I wasn’t paying attention until it got to this point (don’t you just love coming in on the middle of conversations?). He’s got a bit of a beer gut, but I wouldn’t really call him fat. But as an aside, I would like to take this opportunity to rename him to Noisy Gentleman. Although he is still quite enamored with his own voice, I actually like him. He tries to speak to me in English, which is always a bonus in my book. Noisy Fucker #1 however, will remain now and forevermore, Noisy Fucker.

Anyway, Noisy Gentleman takes a look around, searching for someone who can go toe to toe on the scales with him. He calls out to a female teacher. “Hey, what’s your waist size?” he asks. “It’s 84 centimeters.” she responds simply. “Shit, I won!” Noisy Gentleman exclaims. He is, indeed, the fattest person in this school.

But wait-a-minute, back up that train for a moment. Let’s take a look at what just happened there, cause it blew my socks right off. But just in case you didn’t catch the subtleties, let’s run it through the Japanese Indirectness Translator™

NG (To female teacher): Hey, what’s your waist size? (JIT: Hey, how fat are you?)
Female Teacher: It’s 84 centimeters. (JIT: Not that fat.)
NG: Shit, I won! (JIT: Fuck, you’re not fatter than me.)

See, this conversation would have never happened in America. I can’t imagine the amount of Bounty quicker-picker-upper paper towels it would take to clean up what was left of Noisy Gentleman if he asked a woman in America how fat she was. And then the female teacher, who isn’t even fat, casually answers the question, not feeling at all offended or ready to come down upon him with the Furies of a Thousand Hells or anything like that. That just blew my mind.

In America, it’s very much an eggshell issue. If a girl turns to her boyfriend/male emotional whore friend and asks “Does this outfit make me look fat?”, the question the male deals with isn’t “Hmm. Does that make her look fat?” No, it’s “How can I answer no without getting painfully and brutally killed?” It’s a bastardly question all men avoid getting hit with. Say no too fast, and she accuses you of lying to please her. Look too hard, and she gets pissed off because you actually have to think about it. Scientific studies (conducted by me) state that the male must say no in exactly 2.7 seconds, complete with ONE brief glance before staring her directly in her eyes, then looking down at the ground like the broken shell of a man you are.

But in Japan, no, no, no. “How fat are you?” “Only a little” is perfectly acceptable. No blood or anything. I think I mentioned before that for all the politeness and indirectness Japanese people are believed to observe, they will cut to the quick on certain topics, and weight is one of them. A Japanese person will tell you straight to your face “Whoa, you put on a few pounds there, didn’t you?” They will tell other people about the weight gain/loss of their friends. One of my Japanese female friends said to me the other week “I saw my friend, I hadn’t seen her in a while. She got kinda fat.” This isn’t backstabbing either, I’m sure she said directly to her friend “You got kinda fat, huh?” I had an accident last week and got all scraped up, which had my hands and arms in bandages. Luckily, that was the extent of my injuries. The teachers asked me if I was okay. “Yeah, just scratches, no bones were broken.” I responded. “Well, of course,” the Vice Principal says, “You’ve got some extra meat on you, so that was probably protection.”

What the fuck is that?! That’s the worst condolences I’ve ever heard in my life, ever.

Japanese people are very concerned about their weight. You will meet girls who look like popsicle sticks who say “Oh my God! I’m so fat, I need to go on a diet!” No woman, you need MORE MCDONALDS. I will pay for your first Happy Meal even. It’s amazing. If you are in Japan, and not quite at the target weight for your height, just don’t bother going to the doctor. It’ll probably go something like this…

Patient: Well Doc, I’ve had a headache for the past three days…
Doctor: I see. Have you tried losing some weight?
Patient 2: Doctor, I’m having muscle cramps…
Doctor: Ah yes. Why don’t you go on a diet?
Patient 3: Doctor, doctor! Help, I’ve been shot!
Doctor: Well, you’ve got some extra meat, so you’re probably okay. Now let’s try getting rid of the rest, eh?

On the bright side though, if a Japanese person ever tells you you’ve lost some weight, YOU KNOW they’re not lying about it.

Later during that same lunch, two sannensei girls came to the teachers room. As they were standing at the door, one of the male teachers was walking by, with his lunch in hand – some bakery bread. “Ah, a pastry!” one of the girls said. “Yeah, it’s pretty sad, isn’t it?” The male teacher says. “Everyone else has their nice prepared bento and all I’ve got is this pastry.”

What’s wrong with pastry, you ask? Well, you’re not Japanese, so you’re not reading between the lines as they do. Here, I’ll help you again.

This male teacher is complaining because every other male teacher has bento, prepared lunches that were made for them by the little misses. He however does not, a sentiment he later confirms when he says “The wife’s been busy lately.” God forbid he actually make his own lunch. No, instead he buys convenience store pastries and complains about it to 15-year old girls. Sure, that’s a great solution.

Before he returns to his desk, he has some final wisdom to impart to the two girls. “When you girls get older, make sure to treat your husbands right.” (Note: The word he used in Japanese was “danna” – which means husband but also has a sort of superior/master connotation to it) The girls bow their heads and obediently say “Hai!”

I began to prepare my statement to the media once the Feminist Movement stormed down upon this school and called for this teacher’s resignation, soul, and maybe even testicles on a particularly aggressive day. But wait, this is Japan. There is no Feminist Movement here. Nobody really gave a second thought to a male teacher telling two 15-year-old girls to become good little wives and make their husbands lunches everyday. Lunch continued on completely unabated.

I just don’t see this happening in America. But I dunno, maybe I’ve had some different experiences. I was in the honors track in high school, and for whatever reason, the male female ratio was always badly lopsided. Something like 30 girls and 5 guys in a class. And guys, trust me on this one, this was definitely not a good thing. One of my English teachers, he used to tempt the belly of the beast too. He’d randomly throw out sexist statements like “Because we all know women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Right fellas?” And he’d look to us for approval, and we wouldn’t even need to look up – we could just feel 30 pairs of female eyes boring holes into our skulls, ready to pounce and tear the meat off our skins should we say something they didn’t approve of. “No opinion” one of us would meekly say, and we’d all silently pray that we’d live to at least see 5th period.

Eight years later, I finally realize what he was trying to do. Make men out of us. Cause if you can face 30+ angry, opinionated, honor student teenage girls, and come out of it still alive with the clothes on your back and the equipment still between your legs, then, well, damnit you can do anything. Suddenly, the small stuff isn’t so scary anymore. Like roller coasters. Or wild, untamed lions. Or, zombies.

God bless you, Mr. Souza.

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Categories: Gaijin Smash
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