Anne Crescini

Look a Foreigner!

I live in the boonies of Fukuoka Prefecture, and their are very few other foreigners here. Out of a pretty robust population of 96,000 people, only 500 are foreigners. In Kitakyushu, where I used to live, there were a few more foreigners, but yeah, I stood out there, too. Once, My husband and I went to a big university hospital there, and when we approached the reception desk, the nurse looked like she was gonna faint. She stuttered all over herself for about 30 seconds, and while I was amused by the scene, I felt sorry for her because she looked so uncomfortable. So I told her, “Hey, I can speak Japanese, you know.” She instantly relaxed and smiled, and she longer looked as if she was gonna pass out. I’ve had a ton of fun experiences like this, so I’d like to share some of them with you here.

1. A couple years ago, I went in for an Upper GI endoscopy, or in layman’s terms, a stomach camera. The doctor chuckled gleefully and said, *Wow. The American stomach looks exactly like the Japanese one!” Um, yeah. That is not surprising there, doc. And just today, when I got an MRI, the doctor praised the shape of my skull. He was moved by its contours and structure. He said Japanese heads are just a plain, boring round shape. He then pointed at a chubby nurse and said, “See! Look at her round head.” I wonder how she felt about that…

2. When I lived in Kobe, I got a bit lost in Sannomiya, and I spied a nice-looking construction guy. When I went up to ask him for directions to the station, he froze like a deer in the headlights when he saw my white face. All he could get out was, “Straight! Straight!” It wasn’t straight…

3. Once, I went in for a health checkup, and the nurse at the reception checking me in said in a way too loud voice, “CAN YOU SPEAK JAPANESE?” I often wonder why people speak in a crazy loud voice when speaking to foreigners. Do they think that we are all of a sudden going to understand a language that we don’t know just because they scream at us? Anyway, my mom did the same thing when I was a kid. We would go to Burger King, and in the drive thru she would scream her order. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.

Anyway, back to my story. I said, “Yep. I can speak Japanese.* So she said, “OK, well if it is ok with you, I am going to write that on your chart.* Well, I guess that is ok, but obviously they didn’t look at the chart, because when it was my turn to see the doctor for the breast exam, the nurse once again spoke in an abnormally loud voice (with useful gestures, too!) to explain the process to prepare for the exam. SO TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT AND BRA, THEN PUT THEM INTO THE BASKET. TELL US WHEN YOU ARE READY!!” I seriously wanted to laugh. The lady in the next room getting the same explaination got the normal Hakata dialect version, minus the gestures and extra decibels. That’s no fun…

4. When I went through I highway toll gate in Kitakyushu, the guy working the gate said, “Oh. It is a foreigner.” Well, he was a cute old guy, and certainly meant no harm. Probably just wanted to practice his English. But hey, at least call me, “the honorable foreigner…”

5. Right after we moved to Munakata, we went to an orientation at the kids’ new elementary school. This sixth grader looked at us and then tripped over her feet and fell over. Yep, we moved to the boonies all right.

6. And I have yet another health check up story for you. I see a pattern here…I was having a pretty extensive check up, and had to go to another building for the Pap smear. I was in a group with two other ladies, so the nurse called ahead and informed them she was bringing Ms. Takahashi, Ms. Tanaka, and the honorable foreigner. At least she called me honorable. However, I would rather she just call me by my name, since I was having zero communication problems, and there was no reason to single me out as a foreigner. All Japanese supposedly learn the katakana alphabet, in which foreign names are written, in the first grade; however, they all seem to forget it when they see my name in the katakana script before their eyes. You should see the level of panic when they see it in English….

So there you have it. Unlike many foreigners, I really don’t get mad when stuff like this happens. Well, I was pretty irritated when the customs guy at the airport thought I was a drug smuggler. But that is another story for another blog. Anyway, I know there are few foreigners in Japan, and most Japanese are not used to us. And because they are not used to us, they panic. It can’t be helped. Most of the time, they mean absolutely no harm, and probably actually mean to flatter me. Seriously, I welcome these experiences, because they just give me more material for my blog. I wonder what will happen next…

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