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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Reverse Culture Shock

I had spent one full year living in Japan. I had battled with cultural shocks, I had battled my own pre-conceived ideas about life and culture. I had sat on a crowded train carriage, to look around and notice I was the only foreigner around. I had 1 year of ups and downs and sideways curves. 1 year of struggling with the language, and just plain struggling to fit in. 1 year of stress and problems at work caused by Bill and Shane. I wasn’t yet ready to leave Japan, but god was I ready to go back home for a holiday.

When I came to Japan, naturally, I was extremely open to the Japan experience. I was a big Australian sponge, ready and primed to extract meaning and experiences from everything around me. I had eaten lots of Japanese food, I had even studied a smidgeon of Japanese. I had made some Japanese friends in Australia in the weeks prior to my trip to Japan. I was locked and loaded for Japan. As such, when I landed, nothing really took me by surprise. I had no singular “culture-shock”, that all the travel books like to talk about. I said “wow, that’s interesting”, and “hm, that’s a bit different” more times than I could count (and I still do!), but nothing seriously hit me in the face, or took the wind out of me.

When I went into a shop in Japan for the first time, everyone looked at me, smiled, and almost shouted : "Irraishaimase!". I was a bit confused, and had no idea how to appropriately respond, so I simply nodded my head, smiled awkwardly and proceeded with my purchase. I later asked a Japanese person what "Irraishaimase" means. He said : "It is for when you go into a shop. The shop people are welcoming you. If they do not welcome you, it is very rude in Japanese culture, because you are the customer. You don't even need to respond, because you are the customer!" He explained.

Even after he told me that it was not necessary to respond, I still had a lot of trouble with this. Naturally, I was brought up in Australia to respond to people who talk to you. When you walk into a shop, and 3 people drop what they're doing, flash you a big smile, and say heartily "WELCOME TO OUR SHOP!", it's hard to ignore that. Once I tried to reply back. A staff member looked right at me, and said "Irrashaimase!", and I looked back, smiled, and said "Arigatou Gozaimasu!". She looked at me uncomfortably. I looked back. She slowly turned back to her work, obviously unsure of how best to respond. I realised this approach wasn't working either. All I was doing was transferring the awkwardness I was feeling back onto her.
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Posted by Ajay :: 9:44 AM :: 0 comments

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