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Saturday, March 7, 2009
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
The way the pieces fit together in my local jigsaw puzzle of suburbia is that my property borders on that of seven other homes. Four of these families I have a nod-and-smile acquaintance with. The other three I might recognize by voice, for their words sometimes cut right through our walls.
Yet as long as they hold their tongues, I could pass those same people on the street and never know them, despite their houses standing so close to mine we could play leapfrog across our rooftops.
But I bet they all know me, the local foreigner. And I bet at least one of them finds me undesirable.
I can make that bet thanks to the wonderful data at NationMaster.com, which is like a Starbucks for information nerds. The numbers are compiled from a variety of sources and the "factaccinos" are delicious.
For example, at NationMaster.com you can learn that 11 percent of Japanese find it undesirable to live next to someone of a different race. In a different stat, 17 percent of Japanese find it undesirable to live next to an immigrant.
I am not sure into which category I fall. Perhaps both. So let's add and divide by two. Thus 14 percent of my neighbors, roughly one in seven, in all likelihood wish I lived someplace else.
Which one could it be?
Could it be the sweet little old widow lady on our left, the one with the dog? The dog that never stops yapping, even in its sleep.
Or could it be the dinosaur couple to her front, people whose land but kisses our walkway? The couple that sometimes growl and snap at each other, as if Mr. and Mrs. T-Rex.
Or is it their fellow walkway kisser, that house to the dinosaur's left? The one with the Oz-like garden, brimming with flowers of every color. People who perhaps glare with green-thumbed contempt at our homegrown patch of weeds.
Yet just across their walk, and directly to our front, blooms not a patch but a jungle. That house and its ill-kept yard humbles our weed plot. I hope these folks don't find me undesirable, for their overgrown mess makes my land look fabulous.
Or could it be the tall, dark house on our right? From which I hear only the soft whispers of television. Or, on occasion, the giggle of a child.
Or is it the old couple to the back of that, the ones who are hard of hearing and can only communicate through screams? Sample conversation:
She: Looks fine today!!
An exchange that I hear every morning when they wake — at 5 a.m. But no matter, the husband often retreats to his garage where he enjoys pounding things with a hammer.
Or is it the house to our rear, people I have never seen, despite their balcony being only a meter from my office window? The idea of them peeking in at me gives me the willies, so I keep my curtains closed.
Yet, I often hear the housewife march along her balcony in what sounds like high heels. She hangs a futon and then beats it with a club. I hear her grunt as she swings. I pity that futon, getting walloped as it is, only two arms' length from my head. Might that head be the truer target?
"NationMaster.com does not lie," I tell my wife. "At least one of these people is out to get me."
"Rubbish," she says. "And how about some stats on you? Which neighbors do you find undesirable? All!?"
"No, no," I tell her, "Only the ones that live nearby."
But now I am motivated to check out other countries, of which for these categories NationMaster.com lists only 16. The survey average, on the anti-race/anti-immigrant neighbor index, is about 11 percent (Remember: add and divide by two). At 14 percent, Japan ties Austria for second place. First are the Belgians — at 18.5 percent. When you've got great chocolate, I guess you can't trust anyone.
Meanwhile, Japan ranks tops in the world in finding the following neighbors undesirable: drug addicts, political extremists, and the emotionally unstable.
"Aha," pokes my wife. "There's another category you might fit — foreigner, immigrant, and psycho."
I laugh . . . and tell her to shut up. And then say I'm as emotionally stable as the next guy.
From somewhere a child giggles.
"The best way to make good neighbors is to get to know them," says my wife. "If you do, then all the stats in the world mean nothing."
OK, I concede that. I concede our neighbors are cooperative and I bet they're very nice. I concede NationMaster.com doesn't know so very much. Factaccinos might be fun but they don't represent real people and as such are not reliable.
But I think I'll keep my curtains closed anyway.
Just to be safe.