Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Top Ten Things I Missed The Most About America

Hello one and all! Did you miss me?

I just had an amazing 3-week trip back to America, and frankly, I couldn't be more depressed about being back in Japan. I mean, I'm trying to ramp myself up for being here (I'll eat some delicious tempura, which is deep-fried vegetables and giant shrimp in a wheat-based batter over sticky white rice) and I'm actually adjusting better than I thought (considering the tears that wouldn't stop as I went through security at O'Hare). But there's no place like home, and I'm gonna tell you why in this post.

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This is Tempura-don, which is what I'm having for dinner tonight. Please be both impressed and jealous. Thank you.
Here's a list of the ten things I missed the most and painfully realized while in America after my third year in Japan.

10) Morning Comics & Sudoku

Classic Get Fuzzy.
You wake up earlier than you intend, maybe 8 AM or so. You pull off your blankets, meander into the kitchen. There's some coffee left that your dad had made earlier that morning. You pour a cup, add some french vanilla creamer, and mosey into the living room. You plop down; the morning comics, crossword, and latest sudoku game is on the coffee table. You pick it up and start your day.

I never realized how much I took for granted these kinds of mornings. I did this every day that I was home and thoroughly enjoyed how easy it was to start off my day with a little bit of amusing, light reading and a quick mind game with the news going on about Trump and Clinton (because obviously there are no other candidates to talk about) in the background. It was the perfect little thing that I had missed that never occurred to me.

9) Getting around with ease; knowing where to go and how to get there

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. - Denis Waitley
This was a big one for me. I needed to get my watch fixed; I knew that I could go to Nordstrom's on Appleton and pay a little over 8 dollars to get a new battery. I needed to get my hair done; I knew exactly who to see and had no anxiety about whether or not the color would turn out orange, because there was no reason for it to. I had to buy souvenirs, get good winter boots, new pants that fit, dog bones for my friends' dogs' Christmas presents. I knew exactly where to go, had a general idea of how much I would spend, and best of all, didn't need to look the places up on Google before heading out.

I've been in Tateyama Town for over two and a half years and I still sometimes need to use my GPS to get through Toyama City. I would have to visit more than three stores to find a good pair of pants, have no clue where to get legitimate winter boots that can handle cold and snow, or a new watch battery, and I don't dye my hair in Japan because of all of the horror stories of going blonder at the salon (tl;dr, white people hair is very different from Japanese people hair). To be able to travel around with ease and not have to worry about what to say when I got there, work around language barriers, separate my expectations of how to find something in America vs. Japan, etc. was a huge weight off of my chest I never realized I had been carrying around.

8) Central Heating & Insulation

Central heating; we have the technology, why don't we FREAKING USE IT.
No more crowding in one room where the heat is the strongest, or being unable to motivate yourself to go to the kitchen and cook because it's matching the 32 degree weather outside and you can see your breath and your windows fog up from the steam. No more waking up and dreading your trip to the bathroom because you fear your pee will freeze as it meets the toilet water. No more sleeping halfway down your bed because your apartment wall leaks in cold air like Trump leaks hot air. NO. MORE.

7) Driving in America; gas prices, no tolls, turning on red, getting honked at and more

Gas cost an average $1.85 per gallon while I was home. That's 49 cents a liter, or about 58 yen. Gas in Japan costs about 3 to 4 times more than this, depending on where you get it from.

I drove from Tateyama Town to Myoko in Ishikawa, roughly an hour and a half drive. It cost me around $30 in tolls to do so. It cost my parents about $3 in tolls from Chicago to Menomonee Falls in the same amount of time.

You can't turn on red in Japan, which I'm convinced is the reason people smoke so much here. There's nothing else to do at those damned timed lights.

While in the car with Brooke and Ellen (Brooke was driving), we were honked at more during around an hour of commuting than I have ever been in two and a half years of driving in a foreign country. It was a relief to me to be able to know when I made a mistake, to hear others call idiots out on THEIR mistakes, and to know that no matter where I go people are more than ready to tell me what I'm doing wrong. Although a percentage of it is road-raged assholes who can't control themselves, I think it's important to communicate when you or someone else inconveniences another, and I think it shows a level of awareness on the road that is otherwise not communicated in Japan, where the level of driving is so incompetent I would not be surprised if people were driving with their eyes closed 80% of the time.

6) Small talk & Friendliness

Creator: xkcd

Japanese people are polite. Japanese people are kind. They are considerate, they put others before themselves, they are always willing to drop what they are doing to help others. But Japan is seriously lacking in one category; that is small talk and friendliness.

Don't get me wrong; Japanese people are extremely nice. But friendliness is a tricky concept. Friendliness in Japan may be more of an obligation, an expectation. You HAVE to do regular greetings; "Good work today"; "Happy new year, please regard me kindly this year as well"; "The food was delicious".

But there are no such expectations to be friendly in America. People can be dicks if they want to, and they will be excused for it ("They must be in a hurry for something"; "They must be having a hard day"; "I didn't really feel like conversing right now anyway"). But more often than not, Americans are extremely friendly people who will go out of their way to make small talk when there is no expectation to do so.

A big change to me was going to a grocery store where I knew no one and didn't shop at regularly and talking to the cashier about the weather, about all of the cheese I was buying, about my life in Japan. And not just the cashier, but the people in line, too, who were genuinely curious about me and felt the need to engage me in conversation. Not because that was the polite thing to do or because there was any social pressure to do so, but because they genuinely wanted to talk to me.

This level of friendliness is not found in Japan; if you go to a convenience store and watch consumers talk to the cashiers, it will go as follows:

Cashier: "Welcome to our store."
Costumer: "A pack of Marlboro"
Cashier: "Okay, thank you for your purchase. Your total comes to 1232 yen. Would you like a fork with your meal?"
Costumer: "No."
Cashier: "Understood, thank you. Here are your goods. Please come again soon."
Costumer: (Takes everything without saying thank you, and leaves as the cashier bows after them)

In Japan, if you are the customer then you are not expected to treat the worker well or in a friendly manner whatsoever because they are doing their job, and their job is to treat you like a god or goddess and make sure you have the best possible, smoothest experience and you feel absolutely no pressure to reciprocate any of that. Because you are the customer. And while this is totally understandable from a cultural point of view, where Japan consistently works in rankings (the person "on top" able to talk down to the person "below them," going so far as to use different grammatical structures depending on if you are the person higher up or the person lower down), returning to America made me realize how cold such transactions can come off when you're used to making friendly chit-chat and talking to people as people and not as employees or this person is below me and I owe them nothing.

5) Dating Prospects

I just did a post on dating in Japan, so probably this is still fresh in my mind. But DAMN, Japanese guys are the worst to try to date. And I don't mean all Japanese guys; I've met some wonderful Japanese men that my non-foreign and foreign girl friends are dating and I've often thought, "Where the HELL did you find these guys? They're wonderful." But apparently it's not in the cards for me to date here, because all I've found are guys who work too hard and have no hobbies, or guys who just aren't into opinionated, out-spoken foreign women who intimidate them with their independence. Like, I get it, cultures are different, and I'm experiencing this culture in a very unique way so my experience is probably different from the next girl's.

But when I'm in America, I feel DAMN good. No longer do I have to weigh 100 pounds to feel like I fit in. No longer do I have to smile and nod like an idiot and censor what I really want to say. No longer do I have to feel bad for swearing, consider what I'm wearing unladylike and thus undesirable, or give a single damn what other people think of me. When I'm in America, I feel like my opinion is actually worth something, and I feel attractive without putting too much work into it. And I do pretty well here as far as attracting men goes, because being forward is seen as a GOOD thing here, and I've been working my whole life to be able to step up and say, "WITNESS ME". But now that I'm back in Japan, I can look forward to another year of feeling like a hideous troll who doesn't deserve a cool boyfriend. Evangeline Kuma summarized best what she didn't miss about Japan on her blog post here:

"Gaijin Girl Bridge Troll Syndrome.

'Gaijin' means foreigner, and bridge troll is what many western women turn into the minute they land in Japan. The gaijin boys with anime idealizations are off chasing the Japanese girls, leaving the gaijin girls to try their luck with Japanese boys - who are often bemused/intimidated/flat-out terrified by gaijin girls, with their bootylicious gaijin curves and their feminism and their un-ladylike behavior and their inherent inability to provide an aesthetically pleasing packed 'obento' lunch like mom makes...Japanese boys also lack the thrusting confidence of gaijin guys, leaving gaijin girls to resort to laying it on thick like mayonnaise on a Japanese pizza if they want to get a date. When I first got to Japan, I had a major-scale crush on this one Japanese guy, who told me flat-out that he didn't see me 'as a woman.' Bridge troll level: over 9000."

4) Television

You've got hilarious family antics on Modern Family; strong, independent, and compassionate women all while maintaining comedy on Parks and Recreation; you've got serious, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning, impossible-to-stop-watching episodes of Breaking Bad (still haven't fully recovered that one); you have shit-just-got-real Mr. Robot; just stupid enough to stay funny Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, Friends, South Park, Family Guy, Bob's Burgers - the list goes on and on. And while I do NOT miss the five-minute commercial breaks that overrun the show every three minutes, I DO miss the quality puns, the laugh tracks, and the sarcasm that you can't find on Japanese television. Yeah, they've got great variety and dramas, but I love me a good pun and quotes that you can log away and repeat in the future.

3) Speaking English; Never Feeling Stupid

Daily life in Japan
I speak Japanese at near-fluency. I have business level fluency, with a level N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (the highest is N1, which I've taken but haven't received the results of yet). I've studied Japanese for almost ten years. But there is probably not a day that goes by where I don't second guess myself, make easy mistakes, or can't say precisely what I want to say (and I have no idea how some of my friends, who speak lower-level Japanese, get by without going crazy every day).

In English, I'm pretty charming (she wrote humbly). I crack jokes, I've mastered sarcasm, and I'm very good at engaging people in conversation to ease tension in rooms. Some of this carries over into Japanese; a lot of it is untranslatable. Being back in America and being able to speak without thinking twice about what I was going to say, speaking at a pace that competes with the fast-spoken TV show Gilmore Girls, and reacting naturally was something I had no idea I missed until I was making people laugh around me, and I once again realized how important language and communication is in my life.

2) Food

For this one, I'll just post pictures of food that I was able to eat in America and cannot find easily in Japan. Enjoy.

Do you hear that? It's the sound of me gently weeping 6,000 miles away from the best cheese in the world.

1) Family & Friends

Try to spot the Japanese girl

This is the biggest one for me. By far, always and forever, the thing I will miss most about Wisconsin are the people in it who have shaped my life for the better and have filled my days with laughter and entertainment. The picture above was taken when I visited Madison. I shot out a Facebook message to everyone I could think of from my first year in college over six and a half years ago, and we had an amazing turn out. People came from as far as Minneapolis and Chicago to see me, to meet old friends, to engage in the old shenanigans we had loved so. The fact that I have that kind of community, no matter how many years pass, that people are still willing to go out of their way, put their life on hold and come out to see each other and catch up, fills me with an overwhelming happiness that I am a part of it, and sadness that I cannot be more often.

I was able to visit with three friend groups that I have been a part of for many years now, some from high school and more from college. And every time we meet it is like no time has passed, yet we appreciate every minute we have together because we don't know how long it will last. Everyone took such good care of me, from buying my meals to letting me crash at their places, getting me coffee and meeting me for dinner, driving me places and so much more. They are wonderful, amazing people.

My best friends, Brooke and Ellen, were the ones I saw the most. These are the two girls who have been with me since senior year of high school. We have emailed weekly for two and a half years while I've been in Japan and they've had major life events going on themselves. Through our busy schedules, despite time and distance keeping us apart, we have figured out a way to stay in touch and take advantage of the time we have together when I'm home. They are the best friends I could ask for, who know how to take better care of me than I do (Exhibit A: Ellen coming to my house with cheesy Pringles and french onion dip, which is possibly the strangest food combination you could ask for but she remembered how much I loved those two things. Exhibit B: Brooke driving me from Madison to Menomonee Falls, an hour and a half drive, just because I needed a ride and even though she would turn around and head back immediately after dropping me off because she had stuff to do). You can't write these kind of friendships. They are impossibly strong, that run so deep, where you can say whatever you need to and you will trust their response to be exactly what you need.

And of course, my parents. Whether I was spending my early mornings drinking coffee and watching nature documentaries with my dad, or discussing politics with him (most of the time without it getting too heated), or watching Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld or Young Frankenstein and laughing, or getting lunch with my grandfather together, I was enjoying time just being in the living room that I grew up in, being my daddy's little girl and soaking up every minute we had together. Meanwhile, I enjoyed smoke breaks with my mom while we talked about things many mothers and daughters don't have the relationship to discuss, sat on a stool as she hurried around the kitchen preparing for dinners and parties while I asked if I could help and she always said no, went to a movie together even though she had a cold, and made me some of my favorite meals just because I was home. I have never appreciated my parents more than I have since moving out and moving to the other side of the world, where we Skype weekly. But even that is not enough, and it was enough for me to resolve I would move back to America - someday, if not sooner than I think - if not for everything else on this list, but to be closer to the two parents who will always love me irrevocably, and take care of me even when I think I'm independent, and always guide me in the right direction. There is nothing like the love a child has for their parents, and certainly that goes both ways.

Up next time...

Once I adjust to being back in Japan and have learned to suppress the depression of leaving cheese behind, I'll write about ten things I'll miss about Japan that America can't compete with. Thanks for reading. Until next time.



  1. My 3 most favorite parts of this post:

    3. Learning about cultural differences- specifically the grammatical changes based on rank & that men in Japan can just choose if you're a woman or not based on how they feel.

    2. This sentence: "to engage in the old shenanigans we had loved so" because it sounds like you are at least one thousand years old.

    1. When you specified that Brooke was driving when we got honked at.

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