09 May, 2009

Another challenging conversation at the gym

Whoa, had a doozy at the gym the other day. Some time ago I was approached by a trainer on behalf of one of their clients interested in doing some English conversation practice because she was going to visit her daughter who was doing a year-long working holiday in Australia. I legitimately claimed I didn't have time, but managed to find someone else who did and passed on their details. I promptly forgot about the incident, but on Good Friday received a flustered phone call from the trainer asking me to come in the next day to receive a present. A bit weird, especially as I'd already been to the gym that day. Anyway, I promised to come in the next day and it turned out to be a chocolate bunny from Australia from that same lady. Well, we enjoyed the bunny and presumed that was the end of it. A week or so later when I was at the gym again, the same trainer whispered in my ear that the giver of the bunny was just across the room. So I rushed on over and did the best "Japanese thank you" complete with bowing. And again put it out of my head. Last Thursday I went to the gym and only a few minutes into the circuit, the lady next to me turned and addressed me by name (that should have clued me in) and asked me where I came from. My standard response slipped out, "Australia." (At which point she could definitely tell that I'd forgotten her face.) She replied, "Yes, but where in Australia?" "Brisbane." "My daughter is coming home next week from a year in Sydney." (That should have rung alarm bells, but it took several minutes longer to clue in.) We engaged in some more small talk about Australia as we progressed through the stations. The thing about Curves is that once start you are next to the same people for the whole 30 minutes. I usually don't end up in long conversations, though. Usually because people don't believe that I can speak Japanese at all, so they don't try. After about five minutes or so it clicked - this is the woman who gave us the bunny and I should say how tasty it was...So I swallowed my pride at the earlier mistake and thanked her again. Then came the tough end of the conversation, she immediately asked, "Why do they have chocolate bunnies? Isn't it usually chocolate eggs? Is any animal okay?" Ho, boy. I don't think I could have answered that question in English let alone Japanese. When I replayed the conversation with my husband, he told me it probably goes back to a pagan festival which fell at the same time as Easter...way back! Maybe it was a good thing I didn't know that. I could just claim ignorance! The other challenge with any conversation for me at Curves in Japanese is that every 30 seconds you have to 'change stations'. So I am alternatively jogging and exerting myself on a machine with loudish music in the background. It is hard to hear and being a little short of breath, hard to talk too. Maintaining a decent thread of conversation is pretty hard at the best of times. The conversation basically petered out. I felt, yet again, a failure as a missionary because of my language. Though I really don't think that it would've been easy to turn such a weird aspect of our culture to an opportunity to explain the real meaning of Easter. The other theme in here, that you might have picked up is my poor memory of the lady's face. Asians do not all look alike, in fact there is tremendous variety in their facial structure and skin, as well as personality and dress taste. However, to us they still look more alike than Westerners do. I think I rely a lot on a person's hair to tell them apart. That just doesn't work very well here in Japan. Unless they have some significant thing about them or I've had repeated contact with them, I often don't remember faces and even less frequently remember names. This can be very embarrassing. I've even had someone bawl me out on this fact! It is probably good practise for coming back to Australia next month. There are many people who know our faces and names better than we know their's. This is also embarrassing and confusing. For our kids too. Many have 'seen' them grow up through our prayer letters, yet our boys can hardly remember anyone from Australia. Our two youngest were 2 yo and 3 months last time we left Australia after our last home assignment after all.

3 comments:

Susan said...

Totally been there...the problem for me in Japan is that I remembered the face but can't remember the name or where I know them from...It was espeically hard in Sapporo, because we were there so long and knew contacts from a variety of places. We would see someone at the store and smile and greet each other and then Tim would turn to me and ask where I knew them from, I would just keep smiling and whisper back, "I have no clue! But smile and be friendly."

Good for you for trying!! That is all you can do. Name and Information overload is rough. God will bless your efforts and people can see your heart of love and concern.

venzy said...

Wendy, what a humble post! Thanks for sharing this. I'm still racking my brains for how to turn from chocolate bunnies to Easter; it feels like one of those things we should know by rote! And hmm, how to show the boys we're happy to see them and love them over time without overwhelming them? Playing Lego seemed to work OK last time.

Wendy said...

Venzy, You're on the right track re the boys. If you 'show' them you like them it is much better than trying to elicit conversation or any such polite adult-like thing. Playing Lego with them will still win their hearts any day :) So will running around with them in the backyard or even playing a board game. Our eldest is hankering after chess partners at present...