To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Shocking things about the West

Hi, all,

      I suppose I've dwelt quite a bit on my own culture shock--well, maybe "culture bemusement" would be a more accurate phrase. To be fair, I have to acknowledge that people's exposure to western culture through me has been as shocking to some of them. For example, I wrote about one teacher's astonishment when I mentioned that, in the event of a fire in the school, American students are expected to leave the building ("what a weird idea"). Some of them still have trouble believing that American students and teachers do not clean their schools--some people have asked me about this second and even third times. I'm limiting my revelations to America to avoid erring about or otherwise slurring the other fine countries of the western world, though I tend to believe that these observations apply to other countries, too--maybe even California.
      Anyway, I have a stock of such shocking revelations; I have to admit that not all of these have passed my lips, though there has been occasion for each of them. One or two differences may be boonies-related and thus might not be shocking to Tokyo or Osaka people.

Yes, indeed, when you think about it, America is a very strange country with bizarre practices.
      Some of these came up today in my first visit to my second elementary school. I will go there only two or three times a year. I finally experienced some of the famous pitfalls of teaching here. I've been warned since I've been here of kids' excessive interest in nether parts, especially foreign nether parts (I don't know if this would be even stronger in the case of the Dutch, for obvious reasons), but I hadn't experienced it in either of my junior highs or in my other elementary school. Today, I had attempts to feel me up--narrowly averted--and hands in my pockets looking for more than just loose change. Boy, did I react to that quickly. I also had several boys waving their crotches at me shouting, in English, things like "big size" and "penis big" (they will NEVER know--I locked the teachers' men's room when I had to use it)--I'm sure you've heard that this is a stereotype here about white people (how `bout that? The other irony is that, relatively speaking, it's true. I suppose it's a small country and they can't afford to waste space on luxuries--"hey! You should be growing rice there"). I'm also told that female ALTs' breasts are occasionally honked (I don't actually know whether honking sounds are involved). I received my first kancho (student does "this is the church and this is the steeple" and then performs an inpropriety with the steeple--"kancho" is the Japanese word for "enema"), but it was half-hearted and quickly and strongly discouraged, so no damage was done and it won't be repeated. I hope. Oh, God, I dearly hope. One boy, in class, shouted out "sex!" as the answer to every question for the first few minutes, so I renamed him "Sexboy" and, while he seemed quite proud of the new name, the increased attention it created whenever he opened his mouth quieted him down effectively. To give you an idea of what is and isn't proper here, the teacher, a nice older woman, thought this was quite funny, and later herself addressed the kid as "Sexboy." Of course, she doesn't speak English, but I know she understands the two words. I'm finally getting a feel (ouch! that was an unfortunate choice of words) for the proprieties of the country. Actually, it was a great day, with the stuff described above taking up only a small part of it. My other school is only first through fourth grades, and today I taught fourth through sixth grades, so they know more English words and catch on to things more easily. They also are better at communicating with me in Japanese, so we can talk a bit more. I did spend some time after classes with the first through third graders--they're as cute as my regular rugrats. In the small world department, I've mentioned that whenever I go to see a local shrine at the foot of the mountain near me or when I go to climb it, at least once every other week, the dog of the house just under the shrine barks at me incessantly. I may have even described the house, because it's quite nice. It turns out it's the principal of this school's house. Now I know the dog's name, and his master knows who's been stirring his pet up at odd hours.
      By the way, fellow veterans of Catholic school, imagine what would happen if you tried some of this stuff with a teacher whose first name was "Brother" or "Sister"? Just picture the look on the face of tough old Sister Sacred Heart of Jesus when she got her first "kancho." That kid's world would just end.
      First snow today, a couple of inches on the ground and car when I got up--and it mostly stuck. Tomorrow I get snow tires (arranged it yesterday), as many of my colleagues have advised. My car doesn't even like to stick to dry pavement, so I've slowed down much more than I do in snow at home.

O Genki De


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