In which I repay a random act of kindness by being a jerk

“Wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know.” Picture source:

I was walking down the street in Tokyo this morning when a fellow foreigner acknowledged my existence.

This is a far rarer occurrence than you might think in this country with a very low immigration rate, where running into another “Western” foreigner is pretty uncommon outside of tourist areas, and you might expect that it would lead to at least a smile, if not an actual conversation.  I’ve had many occasions when Japanese who spoke some English struck up random chats with me, but I’ve noticed that the few foreigners who you run into in Japan will, in general, resolutely avoid meeting your eyes.  (Note that I’m talking about foreigners who live here–not tourists.)  Why?  I can only guess.  OK, my guess: foreigners here in Japan struggle so very hard to integrate themselves into the culture that I suspect that they’re loath to, in some sense, admit that they are “others” by sharing in the otherness of some random visitor such as myself.

So, when a clearly foreign guy caught my eye and smiled at me this morning on my way back from a morning visit to the neighborhood shrine, I was so surprised that I don’t think I smiled back.  Then I felt like a total jerk.  Maybe being someone who lives here–you don’t come out of the very busy Ochanomizu station at that time of the morning unless you’re going to work, so I’m guessing that he does–he’s used to getting that reaction from other foreigners.  Still: I felt like even more of an asshole than I usually do.

French notes

le sanctuaire shinto: Shinto shrine

English notes

to meet someone’s eyes: to look directly into someone’s eyes, acknowledging the contact.

How it was used in the post: I’ve noticed that the few foreigners who you run into will, in general, resolutely avoid meeting your eyes.

to be loath to: to be deeply unwilling to do something.  (Definition adapted from Merriam-Webster.)

to loathe: to dislike to the point of disgust. 

Keeping track of the difference between these two is actually quite difficult even for native speakers.  You can read an article about the history of the problem here on the Merriam-Webster web site.  There are two parts to it.  One is keeping straight the fact that the verb ends with an e, and the adjective doesn’t.  The other is that the verb is pronounced with the th of this and the, while the th of the adjective can be pronounced with the th of this and the, or with the th of thin.    

How this showed up in the post: foreigners here in Japan struggle so very hard to integrate themselves into the culture that I suspect that they’re loath to, in some sense, admit that they are “others” by sharing in the otherness of some random visitor such as myself.

11 thoughts on “In which I repay a random act of kindness by being a jerk”

  1. Thank you for this new notion about being loath to . Easy to understand anyway, I guess if you loathe football you’ll be loath to play football .
    I feel for you and what you felt after your missed exchange, I clearly imagine the whole thing. Indeed it is difficult to always avoid this kind of mistakes all along our life . We have many excuses for not always being aware of what is exactly going on around and sometimes we find ourselves ashamed and full of regrets .
    Come on, as Quetzalcoatl taught us, a straw, a paper sheet, a handful of coke and you’ll love yourself again !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Trying to think of if/where I’ve heard the adjective with the voiced ‘th’ – can’t come up with an example off the top of my head. I’m much more familiar with the voiceless version. Regional dialect?

    Ahhh the good ol’ eth vs thorn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In this country of “ordre et beauté” a perfectly clean and pure sheet is compulsory to design a perfect line before proceeding .
      By the way in my younger years I modernized the old “Mote and Beam discourse”. I just realized it doesn’t work in English because in French it is the “Straw and Beam discourse” (funny isn’it?) . You also have to know that in slang a line of this powder was said “un rail”. So one special night God talked to me and the next day I told everybody : “Why beholdest thou the straw that is in thy brother’s nose, but considerest not the rail that is in thine own eye?” Very confident I sent this inspired improvement to the Vatican and something must have gone wrong with the mail since I never heard of it .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Os wizz, being kicked is not the harm source of today’s affair . The major source of hope-downsizing for me is every time (they are rare, sure !) I realize I have been schockingly under the par, under what I consider as right, as what is supposed to be myself . How many beauties opportunities did I spoil, and will beauty keep on crossing my road in spite of this, and shall I be able to behave well or what ?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Growing up in the South, meeting someone’s eyes and acknowledging them is what you do even if you don’t know their names. It’s not to suggest you’re better acquainted than you are, but part of life in that community. But from what I understand of the big city, being too busy, crowded or preoccupied to return such a favor must seen with some thick skin and forgiveness.


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