To: Newsletter
From: Peter Rivard
Subject: Another favorite student


Hello, friends,

       This is another quick topic from the backlog that's been bouncing around in my head while I've been ex communicado.
       I noticed the other night, hovering above myself and a few colleagues at a bar on the other side of town, that I've fallen into the Japanese habit of flattery. Not insincere flattery, but the sort of thing one couldn't express in English without making an ass out of myself. The act of expressing the thought is a way of demonstrating that the relationship is important. Now that I'm taking part in this myself, I've come to appreciate it. Not only is it reassuring to know how I fit in with a friend or group, but I'm glad to be able to offer the same kind of reassurance to others, or at least to indicate how much it means to me. How does that New Wave song go?*
       Of course, I still also express my affection and respect through teasing, and one girl I'm especially fond of recently seemed unsure of how to take me. Her sister is a year behind her, and before spring break I must have said something to her like, "Your sister is a strange girl," "strange" being a frequent tease that usually seems to have about the right effect. Two or three weeks later, after the break, she came up to me and asked me, sounding a little concerned, "Why is Asuka strange?" At first, I didn't quite understand the point of the question, so all I could think of were replies like "I don't know. Do you two have weird parents?" and "Genetics." Then I realized I must have teased her about her sister, so I told her it was just a joke and that her sister is a nice kid. I was amazed she'd held onto that for all those weeks over the break. This girl, Mayuko, is really sweet. She tries very hard to speak to me, and I can always understand what she says. When she can get out a whole, perfect sentence, it's an accomplishment, and I feel a little proud of her. She usually smiles up at me with this fascinated, slightly hopeful, slightly confused smile, kind of like the Mona Lisa. I told Takako, the English teacher at Go-chu, that when Mayuko smiles at me, I always wonder whether it's really a smile or just gas (which made no sense to her whatsoever; I had to explain how we say that about babies' smiles). We talked about her for a while. Takako said that when Mayuko talks to her, even in Japanese, she gives the impression of straining to understand but of being utterly fascinated--something in her affect makes everyone she speaks to feel that she's intensely interested in them, which is really a gift. Weird, weird kid but very sweet; she's been trying a lot harder to initiate conversation with me in English lately.
       Another reason I enjoy going to work every day.

O genki de

Peter
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