The other day I was out picking up some lunch from a convenience store. It is still surprising to me how it is possible to find several things that are actually edible in a convenience store. In my home country of Canada, I would not expect much. Maybe there are some donuts and coffee to grab with gas, but I have long been wary of those plastic covered sandwiches in the white bread. Or the hotdogs…. I just have to give it a pass.
But Japan is pretty good. I can buy spaghetti in meat sauce, sushi, rice balls, and even oden (a kind of broth that can have meats and vegetables, like a stew, kind of). Anyway, I am in the shop getting my purchases together and a foreign ohenro comes in. I look up from my orange basket and look in his direction. He sees me. I smile. I raise my hand to wave and say hi….. and then that guy turns to his right and just walks away…
Maybe he didn’t see me. Maybe he did not see the tall 6’3 guy with the goofy smile waving to him in a small convenience store. He did have sunglasses on after all…. I turned and saw him at the end of the aisle, and I could sense, maybe, just maybe with his hunched up shoulders and his feet purposefully pointing in the opposite direction that he did not want to interact with me at all.
Maybe it is me. Did I smell. Maybe… I did bathe this morning, and deodorant… yes, okay, check! Bad breath? Hmm… I did have a mint just a few moments ago.. Probably okay… Maybe it is the “cut of my jib”. Maybe I give off a bad vibe. Maybe ….
Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, I have seen this kind of behaviour a whole bunch of times over the past 20 years here in Japan. I even have a clever name for it. I call it, “gaijin snub”.
Gaijin snub is when you meet a fellow non-Japanese person and when you say hi, or make eye contact, or wave, you get blown off, and just flatly ignored. The other person may even sigh, or roll their eyes, or mutter something under their breath as they pass by. In all cases, you have become beneath their notice. You have been gaijin snubbed.
Gaijin snubbing is different than regular snubbing. Gaijin snubbing is when you are offended that other non-Japanese people are actually in Japan and somehow, in someway, interfering with what should have been YOUR cultural experience. Other foreigners get in your way. They want to say hi, probably in English. They smile. You hate smiles. They wave. How un-Japanese and insensitive. You hate them. You hate them because they intrude in what should be your pure Japanese experience. You are like that guy in the book “Shogun”, and here those other nasty foreigners are, cluttering up your mossy landscape. Irritating….
I don’t know how you guys cope with this, or if you even care. For my part, I have been in Japan for a pretty long time, and whenever I see ANYONE who is obviously not from around here I try to say hi, or make friendly contact. Being an expat in Japan can be rough, and sometimes you need a friend. Over the years I have been able to help out a few people along the way. There was a woman who couldn’t get to the airport because her English school bosses screwed her out of her last month’s salary. I could put her on the bus. There was a guy who needed someone to help him talk to the police. I could do that for him. There have been a lot of people who were just lost on the street and I could point them in a good direction. And I made some friends along the way too.
I am not terribly offended at the gaijin snub. I think it says more of the snubber than the snubbed (that would be me). I am not diminished in my willingness to say hi, or ask how can I help. That’s just how I am built. But if you are coming to Japan for the first time, or getting out to travel outside your country, I hope you will refrain from the gaijin snub. It is kind of a jerk move, and you never know who you might meet on your path.
It could be someone who may change your life. It may be someone who becomes a friend. It may be someone who gives you information that you need. It may be just someone who you can be kind to, civil to, and normal towards. You just do not know who you will meet on the road.
In my case, I had a situation where my company was in need of hiring some new teachers. One applicant contacted me and we met at a coffee shop. I recognized him as a guy who had gaijin snubbed me some time before. I am sure he did not recognize me. But I knew who he was. And while he was very kind and thoughtful and pleasant for our interview, I did not hire him. He was a guy who snubbed people who could not obviously benefit him in any perceivable way. I can’t put that kind of guy in front of our students. I didn’t snub him, and I gave him our standard gentle refusal, but we hired someone much better instead.
You never know who you meet.
So while you are on your ohenro route, walking the miles, I hope you will be kind to, and greet every person you meet. Be pleasant. Be of good cheer. It can open some doors you never imagined.