Observations From An Enkai Redux

February 24, 2010

For some reason still unknown to me, one of my junior high schools threw an enkai (party) Wednesday night. It might have been the Vice Principal’s birthday…or he might be retiring. Or he might be promoted? Or I might just be making situations up. Regardless, I spent a good three hours in a small, cuckoo clock adorned restaurant with my co-workers. Here are some unconnected observations/anecdotes:

– It’s a testament to my Japanese skills that I’ve reached the point where I can pluck out certain words from a conversation and actually know what they mean. Unfortunately, it’s not very helpful when “water” is the only word I can make out in a long-ass sentence. It’s still terrifying to find myself caught amongst a Japanese conversation without having the slightest idea what’s going on (aside from the presence of H20). I sort of just sit there quietly, scooping more mashed potatoes onto my plate to look like I’m occupied with something. It’s kinda awkward.

– Even more awkward? Becoming the center of conversation. My co-workers deserve credit for being very accommodating – they try to speak in English when asking me questions (which range from “what’s your blood type” to “what’s the age range of girl’s you’ll date”). But it’s still weird having half a table…mostly of girls, just to kick it a little further…looking at you as you explain how many times you’ve been to Disneyland in your life. The worst, though, hits when conversation on the other side of the table suddenly vanishes and you are the only person talking. Like realizing you just stepped into quicksand…while discussing where in Japan you’ve visited.

– Fun food moment of the night: an employee brings out a tasty looking dish. It appears to be vegetables and noodles. I dig in, plopping a few onions and peppers onto my plate. Waiting beneath the veggies are a blanket of little fish. Little fish that look slightly slimy and still have their heads. In most situations, I would have simply fainted at the realization my dinner could stare back at me. I braved it though and ate one of the eye-ballin-me fish. I only consumed one.

– Restaurant owners assume since I’m foreign I can only eat with a fork, so they bring one out to me specially. I wish I could feign outrage at how, just because I’m from America, I can’t use chopsticks. Tragically, it probably saved me a lot of embarrassment using silverware. Even then I still came damn close to humiliating myself. This is why my Pop-Tarts and apple diet makes so much sense to me.

– Conversation in the car on the way to the restaurant:

Teacher 1: So what are the famous foods in America.

Me: Hmmmmm, that’s a good question (thinking how to say this…)

Teacher 1: Is it fast food?

Me: Yeah, that sounds right!

Teacher 2: Yes, hamburgers!

Me: Yes America has good burgers.

Teacher 1: When I went to American McDonald’s, the size of the food…so big. In Japan, I think the size is regular. But in America…everything was so big.

Me: *nodding head*

Teacher 1: In Japan, people share lots of food. But in America…*awkward laugh*

Me: *still nodding head*

Reminder that the fact McDonald’s is the apex of American cuisine goes unchallenged. Because…well…

– I sorta of zoned out of conversation at one point, when someone asked me a question. As I do for most inquiries I don’t actually understand, I simply said “hai.” Turns out I agreed to marry one of my co-workers. Whoops! I quickly talked my way out of this by saying I was “too young” and “too immature.” Just like a romantic comedy.

– Trying to be funny in the presence of Japanese-only speakers is no easy feat. Excluding the chuckles I get for the “help me I’m so lost right now” comments (which are actually cries for help), I can’t really make anyone laugh by doing what I do in America: bust out out-of-date Internet memes and Austin Powers quotes. Throw me a friggin’ bone here, Japan! (See that!). I did discover, however, the secret to being funny when no one understands you…make weird gestures. I could get some laughs and even some “kawaiis!” by simply emoting with my hands and face – picture The Daily Show playing an embarrassing clip from FOX News, followed by Jon Stewart making a funny face/noise. That’s what I do.

Sex And The City somehow became popular in Japan at one point. And it becomes really clear which people fell for its charms when you talk to them.

– The Japanese can eat so much food. And not all of it comes with eyes.

(Japanese Fun Fact #45: Many of my students and co-workers agree…sleeping counts as a hobby in Japan. Can’t say I argue with this.)

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