Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hiding in plain sight...

Sometimes it's prudent to hide
This ties in a little with a couple of previous posts where I talked a bout the "gaijin nod" greeting and my, not always completely clear ethnicity.

Earlier this week I found myself on a business trip to the Kyoto area and as I was walking from the meeting venue during a short break I was quickly approached by a confused looking female tourist who had gotten lost and wanted to ask how to get to some temple in the area. Her relief in finding an English speaker was quite short lived though as I had no idea as to the location of the place she wanted to go (to add to the intial confusion, she was Asian-American and looked basically Japanese in my eyes). I didn't bother to explain that I wasn't Japanese, just that I "wasn't from the area".

Later in the day as I was heading home in the Shinkansen train I saw a quite confused looking tourist trying to find his seat and unsuccessfully trying to ask several passengers without really getting any help due to language problems. As I've myself many years ago also have been a tourist here without understanding much Japanese, I do make a small effort to help tourists on the basis that I would have appreciated the same.

As he was looking very confused I called out to him, checked out his ticket (and yep, he had an unreserved seat ticket and was in a car for reserved seats) and told him where the unreserved cars were but that he likely could just take an empty seat in the half-full train if he just moved if someone came. He seemed very relieved to have gotten some help and said "thank you so much, you're the first Japanese person I've met this trip that can speak good English!". Fearing that revealing my non-Japaneseness would force me into a long uninteresting conversation I just shrugged it off with "well, it's Japan" and demonstratively immersed myself in the iPad.

So it's almost like having a secret identity that I hide and protect, but unfortunately I don't have any kind of special powers or anything noteworthy, but the secret identity can at least protect me from tourist related conversations which is not that bad in the end.



sigma1 said...

Does your secret power/vague ethnic phenotype also protect you from equally troublesome conversations from unknown natives as to why you can speak Japanese? :-) If so that wouldn't be such a bad one to have.

Corinne said...

You were in Kyoto and you didn't come see me!? Ripped off! :D

That's awesome! Damn I wish I had some kind of super-hero like cape so it wouldn't be so bleedin' obvious that white girl can speak English and not speak Japanese!

Chris said...

"I just shrugged it off with "well, it's Japan" and demonstratively immersed myself in the iPad."

iPad for the wiiin!!!

There are sooo many ways to use the damn thing it's amazing ;)

HD Paper toss is fun as hell BTW :)
When your not doing work of course..;)

John in Osaka said...

Huh, I've been imagining you having a vaguely Swedish accent, but you would think that a tourist would pick up on that.

Mr. S. said...

I am full 'pale-face', but I had a bit of fun once on a commuter train in Toronto. A group of four Japanese women were trying to listen to a phone message left on a cell-phone, but were talking about how none of them could understand it. Of all the people in the car, one of them approached me shyly to get some help, asking me in serviceable English. I answered and offered to help in my intermediate Japanese. The looks of shock: priceless.

Anonymous said...

No super power? You can be called the chameleon! People will think you are japanese and japense will think you are one of them until you screw up and they disvocer you, then you just play your "I am an alien" card

TheGhost said...

Well, at least the natives don`t stare at you all the time.
It will drive you crazy after a while.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Sigma1 - Unfortunately not always but quite often. Anyone engaging with my in a little longer conversation will pick up that I'm native though which of course will trigger some form of "you speak Japanese so well" thing, but hey, that's just basic courtesy from the Japanese side

Corinne - Oh, it's in Kyoto you stay! I'll keep it in mind for next time, you, me, Ash and Ryota would make for a pretty interesting group!

Chris - Can't beat the iPad! Those apps are so cheap too, got mine loaded up quite heavy now with everything from power saving info, games and work stuff!

John - Actually my Swedish accent is quite vague and probably don't really show up that much when speaking Japanese. On one occassion though a native English speaker picked up that I was Swedish though when we were speaking English.

Mr. S. - Not only that, you can also eavesdrop on their conversation and make them really embarrased when you reveal that you understood EVERYTHING!

Canthusme - Well, "the chameleon" is taken, but I really should get a costume and a real super name!

Ghost - Yeah, I can imagine that it can get quite tiresome! Not everyone wants to be the center of attention *all the time*

Martin said...

When I used this name generator your super hero name should be -"The Charming Enigma".

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