20 October, 2012

Exceptional encounters

Well, Thrift Shop is over for me for another round. I started typing this while sitting in my comfy chair in the lounge room with my this-Thrift Shop-Find ticked around my legs. It is a blue-green tartan woollen lap rug. Perfect! And a huge bargain at 100 yen! Tomorrow I'll follow up with a photo post showing some of our "finds". It really is a bit like a treasure hunt, except the treasure is unique to each person.

But tonight I just want to be thankful for a couple of lunch-time conversations. (And I ended up getting distracted by an Aussie comedy and not getting back to posting this last night.)

This is the book my colleague is translating.
Firstly I joined my husband in the cafeteria to eat some Japanese curry rice. He introduced me to a couple who'd sat down there too and whom he'd just met. It turned out that the man works with a Christian publishing house here in Japan. In the course of our conversation I asked him for sone advice about the book translation proposal that I'm putting together (see here for some background). It was a useful context to make.

Then my husband ducked off to check on the spending status of our boys, who'd scoffed their food and ran find their own treasures.

I then noticed an Australian couple sitting across the way (there are only four Australian families at the school, including us) and so I took my tray and mosied on over for a bit of a chinwag. It was great! It feels like you've come home when someone else understands you better than most others in your vicinity.

We talked about a range of things, including our trip to the Red Centre of Australia in July. Almost inevitably we ended up on the "what areas we're misunderstood" or "what makes Australians just a bit different from other foreigners". We find that as a minority amongst the foreigners in this corner of the world, there are things about us that others find hard to fathom, or even irritating.

Here are a few, though it is actually really hard to write these things in a way that is potentially understandable (and not too offensive) to those who aren't Australia.

  • Our humour is often misunderstood. Sarcasm is often used in a friendly way and not to be taken seriously. In fact, teasing someone or "pulling someone's leg" is more a gesture of friendship than anything. And the more energy we put into it, the better our relationship with that person is likely to be. To be more formal and stand-offish usually means that there is a problem in the relationship.
  • We tend not to be in great awe of people in authority. This means that we often don't hesitate to question someone in authority. We also don't show the same the awe and respect for our politicians and national leaders, like some countries do.
  • We tend to be more direct. We don't beat around the bush.
  • We are very much aware that, though we look like other Westerners, we aren't necessarily the same as others. It is more than our accents that are different.
  • We tend to be more laid back than some other nations.
Of course all these characteristics have their negatives, but then all cultures have negatives to them and I'm not defending Australians, saying that we're great and perfect. 

It was just nice to talk with some other Aussies who've also struck cross-cultural misunderstandings with other Westerners here in Japan. It's nice to know that you're not alone.

1 comment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Can definitely relate to all four points. It was really challenging being the only Aussie in a school for a number of years. I think you are right that these characteristics have both positive and negative aspects to them. Something I've learned to say about other cultures and it has helped me a lot is "It's not wrong, it's different." I think this perspective has enabled me to adapt more easily than I might otherwise have. I also think that tends to be a fairly common Aussie attitude whereas some other cultures seem to think that if it's not the same as they do it, then it's wrong. Just saying!