13 March, 2016

Shopping adventure in Japan

When our boys were younger we got a lot of attention when we were out with them: "Kawaiiiii" (cute) was the cry. Understandably we don't get that any more. Two of them are bigger than me and the other is close behind them. No longer cute, but still worthy of a few polite Japanese stares. Unlike other cultures where people might flock to us, or stroke our
At times we really do feel a bit like aliens
in Japan.
hair, Japanese people are much more subtle.

We rarely go to the shops as a group these days. If we go with one of the guys, it is usually one adult and one or two boys. Today we all ended up at a small local shopping centre. That in itself wouldn't usually get too much attention (it was busy). But today we had one boy whose glasses were about to break. He also needed an eye test for new lenses. But it ended up being a strange situation. I've never had an eye test in Japan, nor accompanied anyone doing so. So I asked for David's linguistic assistance. I'm glad I did, but the whole thing didn't go in a textbook manner.

In my brilliance I also invited our other two boys along because they each had shopping needs that had been put on the back burner recently. One needed new sneakers. I suggested the other boy also come along and see if he could find another pair of shorts in the hopes that spring will arrive soon, and stay. 

Being able to get them to a shop has never been easy, but it is increasingly becoming difficult with two of them not getting home till nearly dinner time many school nights as they train at school for interschool sports competitions.

So we had them all out. The optometrist, shoe store, and clothing store are all very close at this particular shopping centre. Our goal, as usual, was to do this as fast as possible. So my idea was that while the optometrist was working, we could get the other two boys sorted. 

Except that I also wanted to be at the optometrist and see if I could familiarise myself with the language associated with that speciality. Trying to be in two places at the one time didn't work very well and it quickly got worse. At the shoe store every time our son identified a pair he liked the look of and I looked for something in the right size in the piled boxes underneath the display, a worker came over and said something to me that sounded like a polite "Please don't do that" (I was having a fuzzy-brain Japanese day today that didn't help"). I was frustrated. Japanese shopkeepers are usually more helpful than that.

So I slipped across the way to see how David was doing and ask if he could help. They were just looking at frames while they waited for the exam room to be free. I figured picking out frames wasn't beyond my Japanese ability, so I suggested David go and assist our youngest with his shoe shopping. Meanwhile I'd asked our eldest to go over to the clothes store and see if he could locate some acceptable shorts. He came back quickly and said he'd found none! So he stayed and helped me at the optometrist.

Before David returned the exam room became vacant and we were ushered in there. I'm thinking, How bad can this be?

It started fairly well, but soon we were interpreting. Or trying our best to interpret. We were guessing from our previous experiences of optometry and from what we understood. It turns out we were understanding fairly well, but there was that element of doubt that doesn't engender confidence in the native-speaker service provider. I was especially hesitant because glasses are pretty important. They're expensive and if you get it wrong,  and there are consequences beyond the fiscal.

Eventually I sent our eldest son to see if he could fetch his dad, who came and said, "We've got some, you just need to pay for them." So we switched spots. In the shoe store the attendant was digging a bit deeper, trying to use easier Japanese or even fetch up some English. She told me we shouldn't throw these in the washing machine. She also mentioned spray deodorant and something about a waterproofing spray. I'm not sure, but I guess she was probably trying to sell me extra stuff in a roundabout Japanese way. She also tried to sell me some socks and something else . . . but I managed to get away with just shoes.

We touched base at the optometrist and they were fine (reassuring us that we'd be on track), so I took the other two boys to the clothes store to see if my shopping-eye could discern any shorts. It turns out that I did find a whole rack of shorts and even got him to try two pairs on. They left the store as fast as possible (going back to the optometrist), leaving me to buy the suitable shorts. When I got back to the optometrist I found two of the four guys sipping green tea and all the boys were looking at a game on the shop's iPad. Apparently kept by the shop to entertain kids while they waited.

So I shot downstairs to find a small snack to help us get home (it was nearly lunch time and we had a 3 ½-4 ½ km ride home, depending on the route we took).

I returned to the optometrist's shop one more time and found they'd finished. As we straggled off two of the employees lined up and bowed, saying, "Thank you". I didn't look, but I suspect that they watched us for a short while as we walked. I'm certain they don't often have a family of five foreigners in their store.

While we no longer get impassioned "kawaii" exclamations, we still generate attention. It's something you get used to and learn to largely ignore. After all, we still have to get things like this done, even if it is in an ungainly, foreign-like way.

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