The Awkward Elephant

What was that?

That person moves different.

IMG_3502I’m not a well-traveled person. I’ve seen my fair share of the U.S. and an insignificant fraction of Canada. Japan is the first country I’ve been required to have a passport for. I’ve also realized recently that I’ve never been a tourist. I mean, I am a tourist, but I live here, so I’m not. I guess I’m not really sure what a tourist is. Okay. I’ve never bought a package deal or been part of a tour group. I’m sticking to it. I hope the soapbox bubbles aren’t getting in the way.

Today I would like to explore true awkwardness. It is true that living among people that look different than you impacts your self-image greatly. Skin is a different shade, body types are different, movements are different. I’m using different too much here. But what happens when you notice the familiar? This is where things get dicey and truly awkward. There are a myriad of ways that the encounter may play out.

There’s the straight ignore. Heads turn away to look at something, anything else. This is very difficult because it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room, but it is the most common occurrence.

It’s funny really.

IMG_3534There’s the track down. This happens when one foreigner sees another and they rush after them. The responses are varied. The one doing the chasing wants to talk but the other may not want anything to do with them. The reactions can be downright cold, or they can be quite warm. Sometimes the person tracked down was actively ignoring the chaser. It results in pure tragic comedy.

There’s the whoops! You approach someone and they don’t speak your language. So then you try the little bit of assumed shared language of Japanese, which could result in some interesting reactions.

There are more but these are representative of the archetypal encounters I’ve had. I began to wonder why. I am guilty of it as well. I mean, are foreigners obligated to acknowledge each other? What language do they speak? Instead of asking we just ignore each other. It is certainly easier. Then there’s the question of working, living, or travelling. Then I thought about what it would be like in a city back home. I am not experienced when it comes to cities but it seems that most people ignore those around them. It makes sense. But still this bothers me.

IMG_3442I think it is the cold elitist that disturbs me. Some encounters have felt as though the other projects an air of superiority over you, especially when they have been on the ground longer or know the language better. They know more about the host country than anybody else. I’ve run into my fair share of people like that back home as well. I guess it makes sense that they travel as well.

This topic blows my mind. I don’t have an answer, only the fact that it happens very often. I get lost in a circular logic that defeats every theory that I come up with. This is my third draft on this topic and I don’t feel any closer to a cohesive thought. Any thoughts? Does it happen in other countries?


About Matthew J. Durocher

Matthew Durocher is a graduate of Michigan Tech University. He acquired his BA in English along with a minor in Music Composition and a certificate in Writing in Spring 2012. His style is one of passion and musicality. One foot is firmly rooted in tradition while the other slides dangerously close to the clouds.
This entry was posted in Culture Shock, Japan, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Awkward Elephant

  1. Pingback: Sorry, that was me | Nihon i Go

  2. ugoagadauyah says:

    Mmm, I understand why one would want to chase a total stranger – loneliness. I also understand why one may either be cold or warm – suspicion, a generous nature. But in these days of uncertainties, I can pardon either reaction.

    • Thanks for responding. There are many reasons but I have found that it can be a random act of kindness that can make all the difference. Things change when action is taken. Not always for the better but it can be better. It’s a difficult thing. I tend to think that a friendly face can make the difference in an otherwise dreary day.

  3. Paula McKaig says:

    I think it’s a natural human thing to want to say hi or make Eye contact with anyone on the street. Unless you think they’re “creepy” looking. And of course you’re not creepy lookin’! Maybe a bit odd though..LOL. ha! I love to get people to look at me and say hi!! Sometimes its like a game. To see how many people I can get to smile back at me and say hello…I’ll have to experiment next time I’m downtownHoughton. Like a different country..

  4. salsachica says:

    I’ve encountered this before in Australia, USA and Turkey. I’m Asian so when I see someone that looks like me when I’m far away from home, I’d smile, make eye contact and if they ignore, no big deal. I find it easier to strike up conversations with total strangers in Asian countries though, like Thailand, Indonesia or Shanghai.

  5. Alyssa says:

    It is normal to want to interact with people who look like you, and it happens to me every country I’ve been to (but super awkward when they speak German or French :). I’m not the hunting type, but I try to make eye contact and say hello if possible, otherwise I leave it alone. But most ignore me, and that’s fine with me. I assume they are busy, or feel comfortable in this environment, or don’t want to dry attention to their minority status 🙂

    • Thanks for the input. I’m not the hunting type either, but I also like to make eye contact and at least head nod. I’m probably making more of this than it is but my curiosity gets the better of me. Sometimes I just want to know why. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Have a great day!

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