Feeling at home in a foreign culture

So, a few days ago I accompanied Aven to the local home & garden store to buy a few things she needed to start growing herbs and vegetables from our garden…um I mean balcony 😊

What kind of sand? What size pot? How do you read that Kanji? We were a bit lost and so ended up asking the cashier for help. Turned out we needed to buy more stuff! A very kind lady gave Aven a quick crash course while I took a load of soil, stones, herbs, plants etc. over to the car. As I was pushing the trolly across a road with lots of foot traffic, disaster struck. My carefully packed mini-mountain of agriculture fell down a small incline and things got scattered everywhere. The heavy sandbags fell and squished some of our precious plant babies. Pots went rolling merrily down the hill. Awkward! Now I don’t know about you but one would expect somebody to stop and help me pick up my things but nope, this is Japan. People carried on walking straight past me pretending not to notice. It reminded me of our time in Hokkaido where I once slipped on the ice and fell. Nobody around checked if I was okay, they just pretended not to notice. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have been living here for 2 years I probably would have gotten upset. But I know now that different cultures have different ways of showing politeness. In some cultures, it would be polite to stop and help someone who had an embarrassing or awkward experience like myself. However, in Japan, you show politeness by not interfering. Jumping in to help someone could make that person feel even more embarrassed or uncomfortable so just carry on and mind your own business. While I had my accident at the home & garden, the friendly assistant was going out of her way in showing politeness in helping Aven understand the different kinds of soil and explaining the Japanese writing. It’s not that the Japanese are impolite; they just have a different way of showing it within different contexts. This is a small example of one of the many ways in which missionaries and other ex-pats need to adapt to living abroad. It is important to look for core values before judging based on exteriors. A lesson we need to learn continuously.

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