Saturday, October 18, 2008


It Takes a Village -or- Stepping Out with my Paltry Language Skills

I have said before that I never imagined I would use my degree in International Relations to become a Japanese housewife, but here I am, and now it seems I really should have taken Home Economics rather than French as an elective in high school because I certainly can't speak French. Who knew that my daughter would be embroidering her own place mat in kindergarten and that I, her mother, would be called upon to sew a simple hem around the rectangle of fabric sent home by the school? Homes without ovens in Japan? Not so surprising. Homes without sewing machines? SCANDALOUS! The in-laws are out of town and I can't sew. A button? Sure. Something with corners involved? Not a chance. It just so happens that my next door neighbor used to work in a fabric store. Her gorgeous quilts are on display whenever she airs them on sunny days. I have seen her sewing machine out on her table on numerous occasions. I muster up my courage, have an imaginary conversation in my mind and head next door. She isn't home. Three different times I trek next door, ring the doorbell and she isn't home. I am in a panic. Mina came home from school and informed me that all the other girls returned their place mats, neatly hemmed, the very next day. I have lined up a friend's mother-in-law as plan B or I can suffer the humiliation of taking my rectangle to the tailor. Finally! I catch her just before she is heading out for an evening run (yes, all housewives are perfect in Japan, excluding the foreign ones). I explain the situation to her, but rather than ask her directly to sew the damn thing for me, I ask her if she knows of a shop where I can take it to get it done. Now, if I can manage to be passive aggressive in Japanese, how lacking can my language skills be? On cue, she offers to do it for me, I protest saying she is so busy, she says she can do it in her sleep, I tell her how envious and embarrassed I am, kowtow, kiss her feet, etc., etc. Thank GOD! The next morning, the doorbell rings - here you go, Mina! I will have to make her some blueberry muffins to show my appreciation - with a mix from a box of course!

Thursday, October 09, 2008


When Kindness Feels Like a Slap in the Face

When I picked Mina up from kindergarten this afternoon, her teacher asked me to wait to speak with her. I step aside and my pulse quickens as I try to imagine what mistake I have made as the teacher individually bids farewell to to the remaining members of the class. On Tuesday we had a parent-teacher conference and everything went well. Toshi even asked if he really needs to come with me all the time, because I seem to understand everything and do most of the talking. I ask Mina if she knows what her teacher wants to talk to me about. She shakes her head. Finally her teacher approaches, pulls a flyer out of her apron and tells me that the the principal thought I might find this information useful. It is an advertisement for free Japanese lessons for foreigners organized by the city. "We aren't saying that you have to go; we just thought you might be interested." Oh. Oh, well, thank you so very much and please thank the principal for her kindness as well. Oh, look there she is now, I can thank her personally myself. Thank you, thank you, really, thank you. We walk through the gate, turn the corner, and here they come, predictable as ever, the tears that advertise my shame to the world. Yes, I did say that as soon as Sam enters preschool I hope that I will have more time to study and yes, I am always complaining about how crap my Japanese is and I do realize that I apologize every other day for my inability to speak Japanese properly, but that is part of speaking Japanese properly! I swear, I am trying as hard as I possibly can. First, I want to give up. Just forget it. I can speak Japanese well enough to communicate. My Japanese is not pretty, but it is functional. Who cares? Then, I want to set unrealistic goals for myself. I'll show them. I am going to pass the first level of the Japanese language proficiency test if it kills me (and it just might, the test is that difficult). Then, I face the facts. I am embarrassed that I have lived in this country for nine years, I am not fluent in the language and it shows. If I know myself at all, I will probably turn off the computer, wipe the running mascara off my cheeks and dig out the old textbooks. Still, this blow to my confidence could not come at a worse time. Next month I have to sit through two interviews in Japanese. One with the principal mentioned above, who so kindly expressed her concern for my deficiency. The other with the principal of the elementary school, who also happens to be a Catholic nun. So much for letting go of my security blanket (aka: Toshi).

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