Nov 28, 2018
Sometimes, the idea of an English speaker can be so blinding that people in Japan would decide on things that make absolutely no sense to anyone. There are roles that I automatically fall into simply because I am an, or THE, English speaker. One year, for instance, I was asked to be Santa Claus in front of the entire elementary school. The reason why it still makes no sense to me? I am Asian.
As Christmas was approaching, the school wanted to have a special appearance from Santa Claus during the morning assembly. The appearance was not necessarily random. The first year students were performing Jingle Bells that they have been practicing for weeks in music class. Unbeknown to them, Santa Claus was supposed to show up, surprising both the first graders and the rest of the school watching. Santa would say something Christmas-y in English, then leave.
So one evening, right as I was about to leave school, one of the first grade teachers approached me and asked: “Would you mind being Santa Claus tomorrow?”
I went “… What do you mean?” and she explained the plan. I also saw that she was already holding a full Santa costume that apparently another teacher used at a party before. I was thoroughly puzzled, because there is one fourth grader teacher who looks exactly like the image of Santa Claus we often hold: jolly belly, gray hair, a red nose that matches his commonly red face that got me suspicious if he drinks at school. HE would have been the perfect embodiment of Santa Claus, his students would have gotten a kick out of it, but due to the unexplained requirement of having English, I was the default and the only candidate to fulfill this job.
Full of confusion, I knew I had no choice, so I asked for more information.
Me: “So what am I suppose to say?”
Teacher: “Umm……. Something like ‘enjoy Christmas and I hope you get what you want’…. Something like that? Please say it in English.”
Me: “Wait… if it is in English, no one would understand anything.”
Teacher: “Right. That’s okay.”
The point was obvious. Santa just had to speak English. It did not matter if the person filling the role was a skinny young Asian, as long as he was using English, he was “Santa”. It made zero sense to me and still makes zero sense to me now.
The next morning, I arrived at school early just to put the Santa outfit on. They stuck a grey bread onto my face, too. I also stuffed my winter jacket around my stomach just to fluff the costume up, pretending that I had a tummy. I asked the teacher in charge ...
“So I am planning to say ‘To all the students and staff, have a happy season with your family and friends. May you receive what you wanted, and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!’, how is that?”
Without understanding what I said, the teacher replied “Oh that is WONDERFUL!!!! The students will understand the Merry Christmas part! Okay, let’s go hide behind the stage now!!”
In the end, I did my job as Santa, possibly the only time in life that I would be asked to do that, and the children were pleasantly happy to see me. For the next few days, they kept asking me, “You were Santa during the morning assembly, weren’t you?” and I would reply “Oh? I don’t know what you are talking about.”
In the end, I did not lose anything. However, this Santa = English speaker thing will always give me a strange feeling that I will remember. I am sure some people will take offense to it, even though the teachers who asked for my help will likely never think twice about it.