Teaching In Socks

birds of a feather
August 11, 2008, 7:56 am
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I had my first chance encounter with a fellow foreigner in Ako the other day. I strolled into the Post Office to withdraw some cash (the post office is also the national bank of sorts in Japan) and was met with the sight of a another white dude in a tie. I did a quick double-take just to make sure I was not in fact looking into a mirror. While I am often confused by mirrors, and their inherent trickery, this time I was not deceived, theguy existed.

My first inclination was to give the guy the customary white guy head nod–which really is a universal head nod–however, I quickly reconsidered. I didn’t want to give off the impression that I was trying to start some sort of foreigner club. When you’re American not named Hemingway,  this rarely goes over well.

Plus, it wasn’t like the guy was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap, a Liverpool jersey, or even reading some sort of magazine or book that I might have an interest in. This was just another white dude in a tie. We have have no basis for any sort of bond other than the fact that somewhere down the line our  ancestors obviously rocked around European caves or castles within a relatively similar geographical proximity.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, I think it would be a bit bold of me, and perhaps counter-intuitive to my decision to move to Japan if I just started being unusually friendly with anyone who shares familiar facial features. Sure, It’s one thing if you share a common dialect, but I still had no idea what his native tongue was–he was stone quiet in his tie.

And it was a bad tie at that. Dark, uninteresting colors. It was like he was wearing a tie for the sake of wearing a tie. Something looked off.

He had on a short-sleeve, bleach white dress shirt and wore the kind of dress shoes that might have been issued to him rather than purchased. They were clean and well-maintained, but unnecessarily plain and clunky. Much like his tie. Tom Wolfe said you can always tell who a person really is by there shoes and this guy wasn’t passing any of my shoe test.

The other odd thing was that he wasn’t doing anything.  He stood there waiting and occasionally shooting me an awkward glances as I operated the ATM in English.

As I made my withdrawal, I recalled that when my trainer and I had to bike through town to go to my company classes, he mentioned how people might get the impression that we were Mormons. I asked him if this meant I should be on the lookout for Japanese drivers trying to swerve at us, and again, as he often did, he just chuckled and avoided giving a answer. He did parlay to me that the reason we might be mistaken for this brand of missionary is because Mormons always travel in twos, wear ties, and are the only people in Japan that wear helmets when riding bicycles. I guess their faith doesn’t go deep enough to assuage their fear of head injuries.

With this information in mind, I looked around the room and sure enough saw another guy, across the room in a similar getup, although he was Japanese. I suppose they were tag-teaming, Missionaries are smart about this sort of thing I imagine. They probably do an outstanding  salvation-centric version of good cop/bad cop.   As I left the post office, I saw them sporting matching bright red helmets as they hopped their bikes down the road. Suspicions confirmed.

There might have been a few advantages to knowing another English speaking person in Ako. A don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything specifically against Mormons, Just missionaries. In the grand scheme, I think avoiding a rambling, fanatical, religious diatribe trumps making a new friend most days. Plus this guy must be desperate. from what I can tell so far, Japan is about as happily agnostic as a country can be.