To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"

Hello, friends,

      I hope you all are well. I'm still finding new ways to keep busy while the students keep finding new ways to keep me entertained. Today, one of the English teachers came up to me and asked how to ask for a favor in English. I confirmed that he had the phrase right, and then he said, "Thank you," and walked away. I had thought more was coming. Of course, it was, but not from him--he'd asked because one of the other teachers, a younger man I've been out with once or twice and who speaks a good bit of English, had asked him how to say it, and later that fellow came up to me to ask a favor. He explained that his older child was just beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus (I'd never thought that was a problem here), and here I began to think, "Hey, I'm not so big. There are a couple of more likely Santas in the office than me!" Then I realized that, of course, Santa is white--and probably American to boot. Were I from around here, I might have gone for a Japanese Santa, but what do I know? Anyway, he was only asking for me to take his son's Christmas request over the phone--I guess Santa just has to sound American. Sometime tonight, before I post this, I guess, I'll be getting the strangest call I've received in Japan. It should be fun. I hope I can communicate with the kid at all--I wouldn't want him thinking American Santa's a dope.
      Yesterday, I had another conversation that would have scared the heck out of me in an American school. The second-year students (8th grade, so roughly 13 year-olds) were reading about a magic box--the standard "3 wishes" scenario, with the third wish left blank, so I was calling on students at quasi-random (avoiding the known land mines, the special-ed and borderline ED kids) asking them what they'd wish for. Some Japanese, as I've mentioned before, are not so shy. One girl said that she wished for a boyfriend. Big laugh from the class. Another, and I should have known better than to call on her just from the look on her face, shouted out, "You! I want you!" and she and all her friends almost fell to the floor laughing and blushing. I pretended to be scared and ran to the front of the room and told the class that now I was too scared to call on any more girls. Class went on, and as time ran down (OK, the regular teacher and I had run out of things to do) I went quickly up and down the aisles, asking each student what he or she wanted--carefully and not at all subtly skipping the extrovert. She would have none of that, however, and when it would have been her turn shouted out again "I want you!" and collapsed in her seat, turning bright red and almost not breathing from laughing so hard. I pointed to her and said to the class, "Look! She's bright red!" Unfortunately, she wasn't the only one blushing, and one of the boys then said, "Look! He's bright red!" That was the first time I'd blushed in school (I had come close once before, when I'd asked a couple of girls cleaning outside on a cold day why they didn't wear pants, before seeing their astounded looks and suddenly remembering that they'd been taught "pants" in the British sense [i.e., "panties" in American English] and, pretending I hadn't realized that [denial seeming the safest course], flapped the cloth of my own pants to show what I meant). A few periods later, while we were cleaning the school, the same girl shouted down the crowded hallway at me: "Peter! I want you!" I wouldn't even explain the connotation of that phrase to a teacher now. The amazing thing is that they haven't kicked me out of the country yet.
      Indeed, not only have I not been kicked out, I've been offered my job again for another year--and I've accepted. I'll be gone until at least 2002. Would you people kindly take good care of America while I'm away? No more of these botched elections, and no more anything from Pat Buchannan. You're in charge.
      Oh, and before I go, one more bit of entertainment from today. After classes, I was making my usual rounds, bothering students (I even played with the girls in the soft-tennis club--soft-tennis with junior high school girls being just about my athletic level), and I poked my head in to listen to some brass band players practice. They burst into the usual mixed chorus of "herro," "goot afternoon," and "Oh! Petah-sensei!" with one addition. One girl shouted, by way of greeting, a line from her textbook--it was a line from early in the book, so she would have read it at least six months ago, and yet it had such special resonance for her that even now, so much later, it bubbled to the surface: "It's a public bath." (This is the answer to the eternal question, "is that a factory?") I have found someone with a very interesting sense of humor.

O genki de


addendum: I did indeed play teleSanta tonight, although the little boy was too shy to speak to me. I did talk to his sister, though. I hope everything went well. I'll bet the real Santa speaks Japanese really well.


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