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Saturday, Nov. 27, 2004


Free poinsettias! Torn between cultures

If the United States is my mother country, Japan must be my father country. And as it often is between kids and parents, I sometimes find myself in the middle, wondering which one is right, which one to listen to.

When I ride my bicycle down the street my mother country says: "Can't these people ride any faster? It's unnatural to ride a bicycle sooooo slowly." My father country points an accusing finger at me while saying: "You're the one who is late! These Japanese people are so punctual that they have to slow down so they won't get to their destination too early!"

When I walk into a cafe and see that the "keiki setto" is 700 yen, my father country says: "Wow! A piece of cake and delicious coffee in a beautiful china cup for only 700 yen! What a bargain -- order two." But my mother country butts in with: "That tiny piece of cake and half a cup of coffee for almost 7 bucks? You must be out of your mind!"

When I walk into the 100 yen store, my father country says: "Look how cheap these things are! Buy, buy, buy!" But inevitably my mother country chimes in: "Do you really need that? A penny saved is a penny earned." Damned mother country.

Although my mother country runs on 24/7, I find myself tiptoeing past cash machines after dark in Japan, because here cash machines sleep from 7 p.m. to 8:45 a.m. "This is one reason why this country is safer," my father country reminds me.

My mother country, almost daily, tells me it's time for a bite of chocolate. And in the U.S. you can find chocolate being sold on every corner. In Japan, when I want good chocolate, I head for the Godiva chocolate store. "Very good!" exclaims my mother country. "Yummy!" But when I get to the Godiva store it is closed. "How can you be closed on a weekday? You call this a business?" yells my mother country. "Silly you," chides my father country, "Did you forget it's Tuesday?"

Of course, people don't eat chocolate on Tuesdays in Japan.

I love to shop for shoes in my father country. Japanese shoes are expensive, yes, but stylish, high quality and will last a long time. If the Japanese would just include a small "shoe saw" with each pair, I'd buy a lot more Japanese shoes because I could saw down the heels to a reasonable height. Last week, when walking past a shoe store, a pair of black-and-white cow-print shoes caught my eye. "Kawaii!" I screamed in my father tongue. The price was 13,000 yen. Hmm. I scrutinized the shoes -- stitching good, insoles good, no heel, made in Japan. "But what's with these flimsy soles?" I asked the salesman. "They're driving shoes," he answered. "Driving shoes?" My mother tongue took over. "Absurd! Go jump in a lake, dude!"

And when I see all those beautiful Christmas poinsettias sitting out in rows and rows around a natural Christmas tree in the town square, I think, "Beautiful mother nature!" Then, "Free poinsettias!" After all, if it's not chained down it's free, right? "Wrong," says father nature, "Banish the thought, you degenerate!"

When I see a scarf dropped on the ground, my mother country screams, "Finders keepers!" while my father country tells me to tie it to the nearest post so the owner can find it when she comes back looking for it. And even if she doesn't come back, and every day the scarf fades a little more in the sun and gets tattered a little more in the breeze, I still can't take it because, my father country politely reminds me, "It's not yours."

And so I remain stuck between my mother country and my father country. Unless, perhaps, I have a sister country out there somewhere.

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