Tag Archives: stereotypes

You Know You’re in Canada When…

It was 21 degrees Celsius two days ago. It was a beautiful day, actually warmer than Tokyo. But now, forget about that…

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I took this picture a few minutes ago. It’s snowing! I’m definitely not in Japan anymore.

Got any stories about how you know you’re in Canada? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Culture of Politeness

Canadians are known around the world for their politeness. So are Japanese. And the British (to some extent).

Americans are not known for politeness. Neither are Chinese. Or French.

320px-Flag_of_Canada.svgIt’s interesting to notice attitudes about these people. As a Canadian, I can confirm that Canadian society is polite, in general. There are rude people, as in any place you may visit. But Canadians are more likely to help a stranger who’s in distress. They’re more likely to run to the aid of a person who has fallen in the street. They’re more likely to smile at a stranger on the street and say hello. There’s a genuine warmth there. There’s a joke that if someone steps on another person’s foot accidentally, both people apologise. One apologises for being the one at fault, while the other apologises for the situation existing in the first place. Canada’s a society that says sorry whether it’s an actual apology or a way to relieve whatever tensions there may be.

320px-Flag_of_Japan.svgIn Japan, customer service is incredibly polite. The customer is always right. The customer is not always polite, though. I have witnessed outraged customers shouting at staff who are only following procedures, yet they continue to apologise for the inconvenience, even if they’re not at fault. Whenever there’s a problem, there’s always an apology. If there’s an accident, there’s an apology, repeatedly. Japan likes its efficient train system. If it’s disrupted even by thirty seconds, there’s an apology. Like Canada, Japan apologises, but it tends to be one way. People are generally polite to each other, but that’s to maintain harmony. It’s not because of genuine concern for one another. I have seen elderly people fall in the middle of the street while every single person walks past ignoring them. That’s to prevent the elderly person from being embarrassed. In Tokyo, people ignore each other. It’s crowded, and they just want to get where they’re going. Eye contact is not polite and avoided. But most people I have met are wonderful people. Very kind and friendly. But there’s one thing you’ll find about Japanese people. They’re not direct. They take a minute to say something that would normally take a North American ten seconds to say. Politeness is how they communicate, how they maintain the peace, not how they feel.

320px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svgThe British are a curious case. The image outside of the UK is of a country that is cultured and polite. But then speak with someone from the UK, and you’ll notice that they may be friendly, but many can swear like a sailor. And don’t get me started on hooliganism. I know people from both sides of the coin. There are those who are incredibly polite and friendly. And then there are those who are incredibly blunt and show a large amount of confidence.

320px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svgAmericans get a bad rap, mostly because of the foreign policy of the government. They’re viewed as the police of the world, and thanks to some bad apples, the tourists are viewed as boorish, loud, and self-centred. There’s a sense of self-entitlement. However, I find that it depends on where they’re from and their background. Most Americans I’ve met are pretty much just like Canadians. Friendly, open, and polite. But thanks to the image and some tourists, all the stories you hear about are of Americans who say, “I’m ‘murican! Why don’t you speak ‘murican? We saved your ass in the war. You should give us what we want. Why are there so many Mexican-speaking people in Spain? Go back to Mexico!” Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there are some people who have that attitude. You can thank Donald Trump for making this stereotype even stronger. But really, if you go to the United States, you’re bound to be greeted by friendly, polite people who will go out of their way to help you if you’re lost. At least outside the big cities.

Flag_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China.svgThe Chinese are notorious for being bad tourists. But it’s not entirely the people’s fault. The government actively tried to get people to stop being polite because they view it as too western. From what I’ve heard, before the revolution, the Chinese were very polite, hardworking people. But when the revolution happened, things changed. There seems to be an attitude of defying everything that is not Chinese. There are territorial disputes with nearly every neighbouring country. They don’t back down, even if they really have no claim to the territory. There’s an image of Chinese people always being angry, speaking angrily, and always shouting. I’ve heard about how drivers will run over people on the road, then run back over them to make sure they’re dead so that they don’t get sued by an injured victim. Dead people don’t sue. I’m sure that’s not always the case, though. From what students have told me, they’ve met some wonderful, polite people in China. I have known very friendly and nice people from China. Again, you can’t assume a group of people isn’t polite based on a stereotype. There are genuinely good people in China.

Flag_of_France.svgThe French are very well-known for their food, the beautiful landscape, amazing cities, and an incredibly strong pride in their language and heritage. This pride can come across as being rude, especially if you try to speak English first while you’re in France. But from what I’ve been told, if you try to use French, they’ll appreciate it and then try to help you out in English. Doesn’t seem that bad, does it? But sometimes it goes too far. And this is actually a French Canadian example. This is an unconfirmed story about some French Canadians criticising French pilots of a French airline in France using English to speak to air traffic control. They said something along the lines of, “If they’re in France, they should speak French!” Sorry, my fellow Canadians, but it’s international aviation law that requires them to speak English. It’s to prevent unnecessary deaths and destruction. But to be honest, I haven’t met a French (or French Canadian) who was rude. They’ve all been polite, normal people.

It doesn’t really matter where a person is from. I’ve heard people in Saudi Arabia are extremely generous and hospitable with guests. The idea that Germans are unsmiling robotic people is shattered by Oktoberfest. The lingering impression that the southern United States is racist is destroyed by stories of incredible hospitality. The opposite can be true for anywhere, as well. You find all kinds of people, rude or polite, friendly or angry, reserved or brash. Every place has every kind of person. I think we need to drop the stereotypes and actually meet people from other countries. Then we will know what the world is really like.

Have you had your stereotypes shattered? Or have they been confirmed? Share your stories in the comments below.

What You Think Is Japanese Isn’t Japanese

I subscribe to a YouTube channel called Texan in Tokyo, and they made a video called 3 Popular “Japanese Things” that don’t exist in Japan! Watch it first, and then I’ll add some of my comments about these three things.

Finished? Okay, let’s look at these things.

First of all is the sweet green tea. I’ve heard that’s become common in North America, but since I’ve been in Japan for nearly eleven years, I really have no idea about it. However, that stuff just does not exist here. I can confirm it. I’ve told people about it, and they thought it was strange. And why would you want it sweetened anyway? Real green tea is great!

Second is the hibachi grill restaurants. As it said in the video, they exist in Okinawa, but the rest of Japan doesn’t have them. There’s something called teppanyaki, but it’s not the same. You don’t see the performance done by chefs at your table like in hibachi grill restaurants in North America. Actually, one of my favourite restaurants is Japanese Village, which is a teppan grill restaurant, as they call it, but it is not. My wife found the whole experience strange when she went there. None of the food was Japanese. And there’s no such thing as shabu shabu soup. Shabu shabu is a kind of Japanese cuisine, but it’s not a soup.

And the third one was the North American version of sushi. I agree, roll sushi (maki) is more popular in North America, but is not so common in Japan. You can find it in supermarkets and sushi restaurants, but they are not the most popular. Nigiri sushi (fish on top of a rice ball) is real sushi. Thankfully, Tokyo Express in Edmonton serves plenty of nigiri sushi.

A lot of this is what makes me want to search out authentic Japanese food in Edmonton. Places that are authentic will likely see business from me more often.

What are some stereotypes you have about Japan? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll let you know what the reality is.

101 Days to Canada – A Retrospective on Japan

It still doesn’t seem real. I’m here, in my apartment in Japan, and Canada seems so far away. It’s not just distance, but time, as well. When I first came to Japan, I had no idea my time here would be nearly eleven years. I’d intended on two. A lot of things happened, both expected and surprising. I’d like to look back on a few of those events.

Grocery shopping

This is one of the first things I did. I’m used to it now, but there are a few differences that surprised me. One is that salt is with the oil and soy sauce, not the spices. Took me a long time to find it. Also, packaging is a bit too much here. Large trays for a single piece of fish or meat. Individually wrapped cookies. And so many kinds of soy sauce, I had no idea what to buy.

Summer

I was expecting hot and humid, but I’d never experienced it for four straight months before. I remember walking home one night around one in the morning, and it was still hot and humid. But you know what? I love Japan’s summer now.

Earthquakes

I’d always expected to feel earthquakes, and now I feel slightly desensitised to them. However, the big earthquake on March 11, 2011 is something I’ll never forget. You can read about my experience here (written just two days after the earthquake, and the entire experience was very fresh in my mind) and here (this second one was from this year and includes videos).

Trains

I knew that the train system in Japan was amazing, but I was expecting it to be difficult to use. On the contrary, it was quite easy. The only difficulty I had was with the Tokyo subway system, where nothing was in English. There’s English now, though. But I love Japan’s train system so much, it’s one of the things I’m going to miss terribly. I wish Canada would build a convenient and efficient system like this. Much easier than flying and driving all the time.

Suicide

I knew about people jumping in front of trains before I came here. I just never thought I’d witness it.  And I did.  Right in front of me. It was just a couple days after I climbed Mt. Fuji in August 2005. Everything was in slow motion as it happened. You can read about that experience here. I still remember the entire thing very clearly.

Mt. Fuji

One of my highlights, and I did it early. The weather was perfect, and the view was amazing. They say you should only do it once. Well, I want to do it again! And the next time, have a better camera.

Teaching children

Before starting my English teaching job, I’d never really had any experience with children, other than having been one. But I was an unusual child, wanting to study, wanting to have my nose in a science book or encyclopedia. My first lesson was nerve-wracking. Now, I have no problems with kids.

Mayonnaise

I don’t like mayonnaise. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere in Japan. If I want a sandwich, I have to make it myself, or else I’ll get a huge glob of mayonnaise in my mouth. Ugh. I even wanted beef stew one day from Family Mart, and guess what I saw. Mayonnaise on top. What the hell?

Cold apartments

It’s damn cold inside in winter! No central heating, poor insulation, and a single air conditioner in one room. I used that air conditioner a lot when I was single. My apartment was tiny then.

Tiny apartments

My first two apartments were so small. My mom visited me after I’d been in Japan for a year, and she laughed the first time she saw my apartment. That was my first apartment, the one without internet. Nice view, though.

Ignoring the law

Japan is a safe country with law-abiding citizens. That is in most ways, they are. There are two cases where I see people constantly breaking the law. The first is smoking laws. I’ve seen people smoking in no-smoking areas, next to no-smoking signs, and even on train platforms and inside stations. The second is driving laws. People run red lights all the time, don’t signal, and don’t yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. I’ve been nearly hit by cars on six or seven occasions.

There’s a lot more I could say here. I think I could write a book about it. Maybe I will one day.

Did anything surprise you? If you’ve been to another country, is there something that surprised you? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Were You a Stereotype?

When reading a book or watching a movie or TV show, I’ve often noticed the typical stereotypes. You know, like the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader, the goth, and so on. Were you a stereotype when you were a kid or teenager? How about now?

I was a nerd. I was always good at math and science, as well as computers. I was programming when I was 7, reading science books and encyclopedias, and I was very quiet. In high school, I moved into the geek category. Still a nerd, but I became a big Star Trek fan. Now, I’m still a geek. I still love science and Star Trek. But I’m also a big sci-fi and fantasy fan.

However, in school, I never wore a pocket protector or glasses. I played hockey. I was a strong skater. I loved skiing. My classmates in school thought I couldn’t do sports because I was a nerd, so always kept me as a goalkeeper. I hated that. Now, I’m not as quiet, I am often talking, and I love the outdoors and hiking. I guess I don’t fit the stereotypes 100%.

How about you?