There are things you learn so well that they become ingrained – even in a culture that isn’t your own. In the two years I’ve lived in Japan, I now know without a doubt that “ちょっと待ってね,” means “wait a little bit, okay?” “大丈夫?” means “You okay?” and “できた!” means “I was able to do it!” I don’t have to translate for myself anymore – I hear the phrases and I know how to respond. Likewise, I now instinctively know:
- to take my shoes off at the door
- not to point
- to bow briefly when thanking someone
- to avoid mixing sake and beer. Oof.
- to double check that anything I order doesn’t involve mayonnaise.
- to add さん to the name of someone who is outside of my familiar circle
- that 1 packet of dashi powder goes into 2 cups of water
- that Level 2 curry will be too spicy for me
- that walking on bicycle-overrun sidewalks requires as much attention as driving
- that I must not park my bike near a train station unless I want it to be stolen
- to ignore the doorbell. If it’s not FedEx, I’m not opening it.
- to avoid any treats involving anko. Sorry. I’ve tried; can’t get into it.
But then there are things I can’t seem to remember, even by rote. Like when Last Train leaves. Or how to conjugate many い and な adjectives. Not to trust sushi from Supa Tamade. To walk on the left side of the road. To let the taxi driver open the passenger door for me with the automatic switch. That “2 long, round things” is 2本, not 2っぽん. That I need to pay my gas bill with the bill that comes to my house in the official envelope, not the thin slip that gets dunked in my mailbox each month. That clothes made for thin, angular Japanese women won’t look good on me. That my adult students react like deer in headlights to the question, “How is everyone tonight?” That my young students have no idea what I’m saying 99% of the time.
So I should carry a copy of Why Not Japan?’s last train schedule with me at all times, right? And I should devise mnemonic devices for those darn adjectives and counters, right? And I should look at each student individually and ask how they are – or not even ask anyone at all? And I should avoid Supa Tamade like the plague, even though it’s next door and cheap, right? And I should speak only in nouns to the kids, right? Of course, right.
You’d think I’d know by now. But I don’t.