Thursday, December 27, 2007

When You Go Home for the Holidays, You Get Reverse Culture Shock...

It was a long, boring flight. I drifted in and out of sleep as cinematic delights such as No Reservations starring Catherine Zeta Jones and High School Musical 2 starring a lot of brightly colored young people played on the cabin's movie screen. A strange phenomenon- I cannot keep my eyes closed longer than 30 seconds or so unless I put a blanket over them. This maneuver enables sleep.

Fitful sleep. Ended frequently by important announcements and the pinging of the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign. Northwest Airlines didn't kill me, but they'll have a second chance next Saturday.

Christmas, as usual, was wonderful. I enjoyed our yearly viewing of A Christmas Story, then opening presents with my mom, my oldest brother and his wife. We ate bountiful meals lovingly cooked. We watched Will Farrell in the intermittantly brilliant and hilarious Elf. Later, that night, my mom and I watched Bad Santa, which is even funnier albeit in a mean-spirited way. I think these two films will also become holiday traditions around here.

Yesterday, in the holiday's aftermath, my mom needed to hit the grocery store. So I had her drop me off at the Albany Mall. After a year and a half of being surrounded almost exclusively by Japanese people, it was strange and disconcerting to be thrown into a sea of Americans. So many hair colors! Shapeless clothes, uncreatively chosen exclusively from the Gap, American Eagle Outfitters and PacSun.

Whatever you're a fan of, there's more than likely a calendar devoted to it. You need a gift for that obsessed fan of My Name is Earl? There's a calendar. There's also one for Ugly Betty. These will soon be marked down 50%. Store clerks don't reflexively say "Irrashaimase!" to you when you walk in, but they do chat you up a bit in a friendly manner. People think nothing of loudly upbraiding their children right in front of you.

I learned a new word, too. While I was checking out books in one of the narrow aisles, a large bodied cracker needed to push a baby carriage through so he could do what I was doing. Very politely and very clearly he said to me, "Scoom."


I know he meant "Excuse me," but it wasn't a slurred version of that phrase because there was no hesitancy about it. I mean, sometimes people slip up and say "Scoo' me" or something similar. No, this was plainly spoken, in a well-practiced voice not too loud not too soft.

And he said it again to the little girl sitting a few feet away reading Japanese comics with her even younger sister hovering about and frequent interruptions from her brother telling her what their mother was up to.


When I tell my lower level students back in Japan they have absolutely nothing to apologize about per their English skills, this is what I have in mind. And "Scoom" will make for an interesting conversation with the upper level students who appreciate bits of strange slang and True Stories of Native Speakers.

So overall, it was a pleasant and amusing splash in the gene pool from which I emerged almost 40 years ago. These are my people and I love them. Mostly, I love them from a distance. I've almost forgotten how to speak English to cashiers, though. Even pleasant ones like the woman who checked me out at Books-A-Million. She was great.

"Would you be interested in signing up for our discount card?"

"Sorry, I live out of the country."

"Oh! Then I guess you wouldn't really have much use for one, huh?"

"Yeah, I probably wouldn't get many chances to use it."

We both chuckled pleasantly about this little exchange. Casual shmoozing, how I've missed you.

Today's Adventure... A Trip to Wal-Mart!

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