Friday, September 2, 2011

Charming Bitches

The people of this island chain really are charming bitches. Ask any tourist or short-stay visitor and they will inevitably fall over themselves to tell you how nice everyone is in Japan. This is where I usually get tight-lipped lest I betray myself as a so-called "bitter lifer" minus the lifer.

People love to comment on your appearance here and like other countries in Asia, weight is not a taboo subject. Girls are not brought up believing that their partners should never ever comment on their weight or that they should tell others they aren't fat even if they are. I'm hesitant to even bring this up because it opens such a floodgate for me of a great number of things, so I will have to just promise you, dear readers, that I will dedicate a much longer post to this in the future.

As a butter-scented barbarian, you get used to the comments about how big you are (which in my experience tends to refer more to height but I suppose you never know) but how small your face is. And don't forget your tall (=big) nose. On a positive note, I've come to love my nose, which appendage I hadn't given much thought to before. I am totally rocking a tall nose and it's all thanks to uninvited daily commentary on my appearance.

When I spent a few months in China right after high school, I endured a comment from a nosy student who was twice my age in which she told me how perplexing it was that I was so "this" (as she spread her hands wide) and my boyfriend was so "this" (close up that gap). I told her I was sorry to have perplexed her so. She also asked me how much money I was making teaching English in the stix. At the time I wrote it off as an amusing cultural moment to be shared later with Westerners who would act appalled on hearing of it.

On the same trip, I ran out of a family dinner after my best friend, a gorgeous girl of Chinese heritage and with the biggest natural breasts you've ever seen on an Asian woman, fled from the table in tears upon an aunt's disparaging remarks about how fat she was getting in Canada (if slim is the new fat, then yes, I suppose she was right).

Despite often feeling like a big clumsy elephant when navigating certain Tokyo spaces, no one has called me an elephant. While remarks about my appearance coupled with unwarranted petting of my hair can wear thin at times, people are remarkably nice and I've allowed myself to feel vainly flattered even when the words received probably fall in the "empty compliment" category of stuff that comes out of Japanese people's mouths. When people praise the beau for finding such a pretty whitie, I am secretly pleased. Why am copping to all this? I'm starting to regret it. For starters, none of you lovely people know me and so questions of whether my compliments are deserved or whether I am an elephant will have to wait. For now.

It came to my attention several weeks ago that the beau's boss and one of his customers thought they should make comments to him on my weight. In short, they told him I had gained. I spent a painful week after that crying and trying to let it roll off my back. Full disclosure: I have recently gained 5 pounds give or take (possibly more give) and was already painfully aware of it. That they felt it was their duty to comment on this to the beau makes me incredibly spiteful. And yet, their conversation was perfectly normal in their eyes and I find myself not faulting them for it (his boss has also commented directly to me when I've lost weight). By way of reference to the actual conversation, they had been discussing the customer's wife's weight and I guess felt it would only be right to include me in the topic of conversation. For further reference, the wife and I are the same age while the customer is probably 15-20 years older, she hasn't worked since they married, has no children and stays at home all day playing some Internet computer game and polishing off two bottles of champagne by herself. Now there's a charming bitch.

So I've snuffled over Skype (hi mom!) and cried to friends in the middle of a fucking club, which for one of them must have been a flashback to our Waseda days except I was crying over a guy, not a piece of shit Japanese woman. I don't make it a habit to cry in night clubs but with some people you can't help but let your guard come all the way down. I also knew this particular girlfriend would have some snappy things to say (when I was crying over that boy, she told me I was a poodle during an elaborate analogy of dog pedigrees).

The hurt has now been replaced with mostly anger and resentment. I practice in my head what I want to say to the boss the next time I see her and she hopefully asks me if I've lost weight. I'm going to calmly and with light notes of shittiness tell her that I could hardly not lose weight after she had so kindly brought it to my attention that I had been overeating. I may then grow some real balls and let her know, sweetly of course, that it's considered rude and inappropriate in some circles to tell someone that their partner has gained weight, especially when one has so many flaws of their own.

I feel like I've run out of steam on this and no longer know why I even began penning it. I have so much more I want to confide in you but I can't just yet. In the meantime, chin up and eyes watchful for all the charming bitches up in here.

I take it back

I eat my words. The check-out lady who frazzles my patience has been temporarily removed from my shit list. The other morning I was in there early buying my beverages for the day and as she handed me my change she pointedly chirped out, kyou mo ganbatte kudasai (try your best again today!). I had taken to wearing sunglasses in the store like some affected teenager or simply avoiding eye contact with her so as to help block out the constant barrage of commentary, but this was so unexpected it broke my steely concentration and I had to smile and thank her. And I meant it.