Tuesday, June 8, 2010

lost in translation

I keep meaning to bring a camera to school so that I can document an average day at a Japanese middle school. It`s a lot different from American middle school. The schedule changes day to day and week to week. There are special events regularly, so classes are always being cancelled or switched around. Yesterday, a man who survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb came to speak to the students. A little later in the afternoon, this old man groundskeeper asked me if my grandfather fought during World War II, and if he did, if he was a pilot or not.

Japanese people age amazingly well (they usually look like they`re late 20s/early 30s when actually they`re in their 40s), so I have no idea how old this man is. He has age spots, wrinkles, and gray hair, but he also climbs ladders and does manual labor on a daily basis. He could be in his 70s and still working for all I know. So I can assume he was alive in the 40s and old enough to remember it. He is probably around the age that my grandfather would be if he were still alive today (he passed away in his late 60s from cancer about 10 years ago). So there was a pause. I`m sure my face turned red. He asked me this at the lunch table, where I eat with all the other random staff who don`t have homerooms to eat with. I know that my grandfather was in the military, and that he fought in the Korean War, but I have no clue if he was involved in WWII. He was in the Navy I think. So I could at least say that much; that he definitely wasn`t a pilot when the atomic bombs were dropped. Between my broken Japanese and his broken English, I have no idea if he understood me. AWKWARD.

I also had an awkward encounter today, when one of the English teachers informed me that the skirt I wore on Monday was `too sexy.` (I apologize for the punctuation; I don`t know how to make quotation marks on a Japanese keyboard.) It was a floor-length plaid skirt with a little slit in the front. The slit went high enough to show my ankles and part of my calves. I`ve worn it before, but I probably had on tights. That`s the Japanese modesty cure-all: if something is questionable, just throw on a pair of black tights. So I apparently made the male students crazy with desire because they got a glimpse of my pale, unshaven calves. I also learned from this teacher that I shouldn`t eat breakfast during the morning meeting, even though I have no input and no idea what`s going on. I`m just glad that she told me straight up. The Japanese usually deal with problems in a roundabout kind of way that some people refer to as `indirect confrontation.` It`s sort of like when your significant other does something to piss you off, and instead of bringing it up right away, you let it fester and add it to an ongoing list of things that piss you off. Then, once the things that piss you off have formed an uncomfortable ball in your stomach, you spew it out all at once at the person. This is common here. Bosses typically don`t yell at you until it`s almost time for you to be fired. That`s what happened at my last job. So I really like my current job, even though I have to buy a lot of tights to keep it. The students let you know when you have a tiny run in them because `they are just too kind` as one teacher put it.

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