We all respond to strangeness or foreignness in different ways. Below are some personal stories of how my family has responded to strangeness.
My Parents Visit Japan
My parents had the exact opposite temperaments in many ways. My dad was a party-animal, fraternity-boy from a big city who became a salesman. My mom was a quiet country girl who became a school teacher. Being divorced, they each came and visited me separately during my time in Japan. And both had very different responses to the foreignness of Japan.
My father was often angry and frustrated with Japan. He didn’t understand why more Japanese people didn’t speak English. He wanted his coffee served the same way it was back in Ohio. He resisted taking his shoes off when entering a home. Japan barely touched my dad — he wouldn’t let it.
My mother visited the year after my father. She arrived at the airport all smiles and excited. But the next morning, after our first day, I woke up to find that she had been up for a few hours crying alone in my ‘living room’. She said she was scared. She sobbed saying she did not understand the language, the money, or the signs and she felt she stood out and looked awkward. I realized I had thrown her into the foreignness too quickly. So I sat and taught her the money, taught her a few words, drew a little map of my neighborhood and we set out for 1/2 hour of shopping. After little outings like this, within 3 days I could send her out to buy our tofu and vegetables on her own. After that we went on long trips and had great experiences. My mother was ecstatically happy and loved Japan and my Japanese friends loved her.
One parent kept strangeness always at a far distance, the other let it affect her deeply and personally. I am like my mother, I love new cultures, but fortunately I don’t have one ounce of the sad reflex when confronted by the unusual.
My Son in NYC
One summer, when my son was only 7 years-old, he and I did a day trip to New York City. He loved running in Central Park, staring up at skyscrapers and chasing pigeons. For lunch we went to Chinatown. The world changed. I spoke some Chinese to store owners, we ate very unique food in a restaurant with almost only Chinese clients. My son started to cry during the meal. “What’s wrong?” I inquired, expecting him to love these new experiences. He said he was sad that he could not understand the language and felt lost. So after the meal we walked 3 blocks and left the Chinese behind. His mood picked up right away. He is now 11 years-old and loves new, strange experiences, but I remember, like my mom, I did not pay attention to slow introductions.
Questions to Readers: Tell me a short story to illustrate how you have observed response-to-strangeness in your life? Put it on your blog and link here if you want — or just leave a nice long comment.