Jun 9, 2016

Awkward Gaijin Moments

Awkward Gaijin Moments photo

We’ve been putting out the odd Tweet of late resulting from moments as a foreigner in Japan that made us feel like a plonker. The Tweets served to deflect the awkwardness we felt, presumably by forcing it on others. So, in the same spirit, we thought we’d collate these awkward foreigner-in-Japan moments. Maybe some of them will be shared by people reading this. Maybe not. Maybe they’re just examples of our neurosis, and we need to get out more. Or less, perhaps!!  

Anyway, here they are, these awkward gaijin moments that we’ve experienced. It’d be great to hear about yours, too.  

Waiting for the train, In the wrong place

Some platforms in Japan’s train stations accommodate trains that, although on the same line, come with different door positions, different stations to be stopped at etc. Sometimes we’re not sure if we’re standing by the correct markings to meet the train doors. On occasion, we think, Great, we’re first in line!, only to realise that we’re the only person in the line, and that all the locals are queueing somewhere else. Actually, we’ve been scarred enough times by this. These days, when unsure, we tend to just skulk in the center of the platform and give up any hope of getting a seat.

A Frosty Reaction to A Chat Up Line

This isn’t a frosty reaction to our chat up lines (although nothing could be more of a cast-iron guarantee). No, this is something far more awkward. What we’re talking about here is when you see a fellow gaijin (almost exclusively a dude) breaking out some Japanese on a local member of the opposite sex in the hopes of, well, that. Not in the club though, that’s almost a given. This is happening in the sobering light of day; in a bookstore, at crossing lights (as witnessed just today), when waiting in line … . The faux incidental approach, Like yeah, it’s cool you know I’m just chattin’ .. whatever … is awkward on an almost unbearable scale, and, well, it doesn’t work, does it?! DOES IT?!  

Actually, props for trying to those who have. We never could, and fully admit that it’s down simply to a lack of courage rather than desire. We wish we had it in us, just as long as no other gaijin are in sight, you understand.

Meet the Fockers (The Japanese Cut)

Is there much that needs to be written about this? Meeting the parents of a partner is awkward at the best of times, for all concerned. In this blogger’s case, it was made very clear before hand that THE dad wasn’t at all happy about the lack of Japanese in this blogger’s genes (i.e none at all). The first meet went something like this; 

Japanese partner, “Dad this is (name) from (country that isn’t Japan).”.

Me, in my early-stage Japanese, “Hello! Nice to meet you.”.

Dad, (looks me up and down) “Hai, domo.”. (Turns back to what he was doing).

For those that don’t understand the greeting, Hai, domo, it’s basically what you might say when you really can’t be bothered to say anything at all. Still, at least he said something.  

We never spoke again.

What’s On The Other Side Of That Door?

Went for a haircut the other day. At a new place. It was one of those 1,000 yen / 10 min jobs. We waltzed in, sat down, and then saw the ticket machine. At the previous place, staff operated the machine after cutting was complete. We didn’t know what to do. In the end, stood in front of the touch-screen machine and not understanding much of the kanji on display, a member of staff, without saying a word, slapped at the ‘buttons’ and handed us a ticket. Awkward foreigner in Japan moment.

The point is, that moment when you muster up the courage to step through that door (restaurant, hair salon, bar, clinic, … ) only to realize you’re totally unprepared for what’s waiting on the other side. Awkward foreigner in Japan moment.

The 自己紹介 / Self-Introduction

You can’t work in Japan without having to give many a 自己紹介 / self-introduction. They should write that somewhere on the visa application forms. It’s a tough one in the early stages of life in Japan. You either have to have someone up there with you interpreting, or you’ve got to suck it up and fumble through some Japanese. More advanced speakers then face the challenge of trying to crack a joke or two. Hard enough in your native tongue in front of your fellow countryfolk.  

Our worst experience of this was when we faced the prospect of introducing Japanese colleagues whom we barely knew and whose names we couldn’t remember (we were still fairly new ourselves). Everyone was sat around a table taking it in turns to introduce colleagues to a new member of staff. As our turn approached we broke into a cold sweat, furiously trying to remember names, think of something to say, and then how to say it in Japanese. Fortunately, time was on our side i.e it ran out.

The Gaijin Nod

Much has been written about the awkward circumstance of passing other gaijin in the street, so we’ll keep this brief; We concur. It remains awkward. Although quite why, we’re not sure.

Being Served by Fellow Gaijin

Similar to the passing-fellow-gaijin-in-the-street scenario, although differing in that interaction is unavoidable. The bar is the tricky one for us. Do we speak English (in our case, the native tongue) or do we go Japanese? Is it arrogant to assume that English would be appropriate? If we break out the Japanese do we look like we’re showing off? What if we speak Japanese, and they think , Why are you speaking to me in Japanese when clearly neither of us is actually Japanese? It’s all too much. We only came here to relax over a beer!

Maybe we’re over thinking this situation.

These are just some of the awkward gaijin moments we’ve faced in Japan. There are probably many more that we can’t bare to think about. No doubt they will continue to pop up from time to time. As we said, at the start, it would be great hear some of yours, too.  

Twitter: City_Cost_Japan


Image (cropped / duplicated)

Karl Baron Flickr License 



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  • Muha

    on Jun 9

    Explaining how does electronic toilet seat work? And when you press this button, this little pipe will come out and shot fountain of water right into your... wall across :)

  • City-Cost

    on Jun 10

    @Muha Brilliant!! Totally forgot about that. We'll add another; not being able to find where the 'flush' button is!

  • helloalissa

    on Jun 10

    How does this door open? Does it slide or swing? Bonus: Am I supposed to take my shoes off or not?

  • City-Cost

    on Jun 10

    @helloalissa Like these! We sometimes miss those 'touch' panels on doors that look like they should be automatic. Staying on the theme of doors, there are still occasion s, particularly in places like izakaya, where it can be difficult to interpret whether toilet doors lead to women's or men's.