Monday, December 18, 2006

Test Week!

It's not as fun as Discovery Channel's Shark Week, but it's Test Week at our school. Our B students have to do a lot of reading, our A students test for listening comprehension. And so far, so good.

Our Superstar told me about her debate. The topic was whether or not Japan should adopt English as its official second language. It's already the unofficial second language. She and her friends stayed overnight in a freezing dormitory in Shizuoka, then debated in English well enough to finish 8th out of 52 schools from all over the country.

8th in the nation. Not too shabby!

Here are some quirks of living in Japan:

1) When Japanese tv features Western movies... and by that I mean English-language films... they don't censor the language and only a little of the content. Even on the movie channels via SkyPerfect you get the full effect of language, although if there's any full-frontal nudity, the lower bits are turned into a digital mosaic. I watched American Pie on Fox Japan last night and it was salty.

2) At supermarkets, you bag your groceries yourself. You put your basket on the counter, the cashier rings you up, and places plastic bags in with your items. There are tables nearby where everyone mills about, bagging up their goods.

Shopping carts are kind of funky, too. They're made shallow so you can place one of the smaller plastic baskets on top, and another underneath.

3) When you enter a shop, the employees shout "Irrashaimase!" at you. It means, roughly, "May I help you?" but also serves as an all-purpose greeting. In ultra-busy shopping centers, for example the giant Kalmia mall-and-train-station complex in Toyohashi, counter workers are shouting that nonstop. Sometimes they're synchronized so it sounds like stereo harmony, and other times they're off-synch so you get polyphony.

You also have to shout it through your nose with a slight whine to it.

4) Speaking of nasally whines, women both young and old often sing out "Bai bai," with the same sinusoid inflection.

5) Restaurants usually give you either fresh, hot towels to wipe your hands with before you dine, or else pre-packaged wetnaps. You'll commonly see older men wiping their faces too.

6) Young women here love black boots. Tall black boots with stilletto heels, even if they can't walk in them. These are usually matched with short skirts.

7) When you go on vacation, it's good manners to bring back a box of sweets for your coworkers. Or English teachers. We often get chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from students who visit Australia or Hawaii, or bean-paste infused sweets from places in Japan. Some of which I love, some of which I'm not too fond of.

8) If you work for a Japanese company, be prepared for afterwork drinking parties. These are common with college students, too (which just goes to show binge drinking is the universal denominator for college students). If you have too much to drink at one of these parties, it's okay to throw up on the train platform. This is called "platform pizza." Purato-foma pizza... or something like that.

9) People want to learn English here, but after they do, they're frequently too shy to speak it in front of foreigners. On the other hand, children from elementary age to high school will often shout "Hello!" at you as they pass you on the sidewalk. Responding in kind causes them to either start giggling, run away... or both.

10) Don't assume that blonde speaks English. She might be German or French, or even from South America.

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