As nice as my co-workers are, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it’s just a facade from some of them. It’s expected in a workplace located in a foreign country where the people around you all speak a different language.
Sometimes I witness whispering, giggling, and gossiping in the staff room at both of my schools. Sometimes I know it’s about someone else, but sometimes I suspect it’s about me. Today I had a staff meeting at one of my schools that lasted until 5:00, which is an hour after I usually go home. It was my first meeting after the new school term started, so the procedure was a little new to me. I thought the meeting might have lasted until 4:00, but I was prepared to stay longer and didn’t mind doing so.
No one told me it was okay to leave at my usual time. Since I was expected to attend, I figured that I was supposed to stay for the entire meeting. When the meeting finished around 4:50, we returned from the conference room and I got some last minute work done and got ready to go. I said my usual farewell, but heard giggles from some people as I was leaving. This happened before when I said “itte kimasu” (I’ll be back) when leaving after the sports festival, since I had to ride my bike back home and wait for a ride. When I heard the giggles, I wondered if I had done or said something strange. All I said today was “Otsukaresama desu, osaki ni shitsurei shimasu” (roughly translated as “good work, please excuse me for leaving ahead of you”), like I do everyday. I don’t know if the giggling was about something else or directed at my remark, but I smiled and kept walking.
As I was about to leave, one of the teachers ran after me and explained to me that the meeting lasted until five, but that it was okay for me to leave at four. Well it’s no use telling me that AFTER the meeting has ended! I was going to explain that I decided to stay until the end regardless of the time, but she ran off again. I walked out of the building frustrated and annoyed, wondering if I was right about the giggling.
It’s things like this that make me question who’s being sincere to me and who isn’t. It’s so frustrating when one day I’m having a good time with them, and then the next day I feel like I’m being ridiculed. But that’s what encourages me to focus more on the students.
The children (at least the majority of them) like me no matter what. Even though I can’t understand what they’re saying, even though my skin is darker than theirs, even though my hair is sometimes wild and curly, they still like me, and there’s no question about it. Some students will call my name as if they have something to say, and when I say “Yes?” they just look at me and smile. They like to hug me and hold my hand and talk to me, and even the simplest things I say fascinate them.
Unfortunately, it only lasts for a short time until they grow up and get exposed to the wonderful mess that we call “the media,” that dictates to them what’s desirable, what they should look like, and what they should be looking for when it comes to beauty and acceptance. Curiosity and fascination about people from other countries becomes a matter of “us versus them.” And it seems only natural to gossip, of which many if not all of us are guilty. Sure, there’s the occasional bullying and the naive declarations of the “strangeness” about a person, but they don’t know any better, and so we correct them.
So I tell myself that no matter how much I may embarrass myself in front of the teachers, or what I may misunderstand, I won’t give up because it’s not about them. It’s about the kids. In a country that’s constantly glorifying white skin, blond hair and non-brown eyes in the media, the world of Japanese children is one of non-discrimination and acceptance.
Maybe I’m making too much out of something that may not be such a big deal, but I may never know.