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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO
Parents, please keep your kids away from me at feeding time
Dear Parents of Japan,
You do not know me personally, but perhaps you have seen me or a person like me at a local restaurant. I am not of Asian descent. I am Anglo-Saxon.
If you have noticed me, you might have been curious about my experiences in your country. You might have wondered where I was from or what it was like to live abroad. Or perhaps you gave no thought to me at all.
Even if you have taken no notice of my presence, your child has . . .
Japan has many lovely customs. Wonderful and mysterious historical assets can be explored in any town. People are polite and gracious. Most make wonderful guests or hosts. Japanese people tend to be pleasant and hide their true feelings (even to a fault). People take pride in their job and community. These are all wonderful cultural aspects of the land of the rising sun.
As a foreigner, I find myself amused and bemused by much of what Japan has to offer, but there are times when agitation is at the forefront of my emotions. Sometimes I find myself feeling like I was brought here as a source of entertainment, dare I say a carnival freak show.
Eating out is generally pleasurable, but when I do it, I always seem to get placed next to a family with a small, inquisitive child. Without fail the tiny child will become drawn to me as if in some mystic trance. He will sway back and forth behind the safety of his seat, peering over the edge at the strange creature that sits only a few feet from his very touch. Some tiny tots become so enthralled at the sight that they find themselves straddled across their seat for a better show.
These curious children that spy me and become enticed by me pick up on the fact that I am not within the norms of their cultural schema. The children are trying to redefine it and decide where I fit. I'm sure their thinking goes a bit like this:"Is that a human? I think so. Is that a female? All signs point to yes. What am I missing? (Five minutes pass.) I'm still missing something."
Most of the time parents just ignore their gawking child as he stares me down in hopes of catching a glimpse of my forked tongue. But there are those rare gratifying moments when I feel parents do understand that social decency transcends ethnicity and scold their overly inquisitive children by simply saying, "Minaide. Shitsurei da!" ("Don't look! It's rude"). And wouldn't you know it? Those children stop staring and go back to enjoying their outing.
I often find myself asking, "Why don't all Japanese parents teach their children to not be rude little turnips?" I'm human too, deshō?
Of course, I can think of a thousand excuses to defend a child's uncomfortable glare — I am fabulous, after all. But, how many of my meals have to be ruined by a dancing pony trotting inches from my head as a child snakes around the back of my chair? Am I so amazing that even stuffed tiny horses must encroach upon my personal space?
Gawking is rude, period. It's even ruder when accompanied with a pink prancing pony! Parents should set good examples and teach their offspring how not to be intrusive and downright rude to people, regardless of ethnicity.
The biggest question I find myself asking is, would those same Japanese parents tolerate their child climbing over the back of his seat to stare down a Japanese person eating?
I am not blind to the fact that we all find ourselves discreetly stealing glances at the unusual. We're human, after all. But while glances are tolerable, gawking is shameful.
The next time you see me in a restaurant, take notice of your child's behavior and how being intently observed is affecting me. We all deserve respect, even if we are outsiders. Don't you agree?
Send comments on this issue and Hotline to Nagatacho submissions of 500-700 words to firstname.lastname@example.org