Thursday, January 27, 2005

Foreign Competition

I knew that I was in trouble when I heard the math teacher say in awe: “Oh, much more than last year . . . !” In Japanese, that sort of expression is a linguistic possibility. I overheard this comment as I was sitting at my desk sorting flash cards, but since I have spent many years in Japan, and because I knew what day it was, I was immediately able to interpret this comment to mean: “OH・MY・GOODNESS . . . , this year’s German exchange students are way better looking than last year's!!!” Some time ago I made reference to Kazamaura’s special relationship with Doshisha University and to the “Cultural Exchange with Doshisha Exchange Students” program. In recent years these visiting exchange students have all been Germans, and today was the day for this year’s crop of Germans to visit my junior high school. As the math teacher passed my desk he cocked his head at me and said: “I don’t know, Luke-sensei, I wonder which is better.” Being functionally conversant in Japanese I immediately understood that he was saying: “Guess what Luke-sensei, these German dudes look way cooler than you and consequently your ratings are going to go way, way down and in fact I’m not even sure why I didn’t realize before that in the big picture you’re actually pretty lame!” I’m sure he meant it kindly.

Cape Oma: Taking Time Out of the Day to Experience Being the Northern-Most Gaijin in Honshu

But honestly, how I am I supposed to compete with über -Germans in a country where Germany and Germans are held in awe? Even if I give up my "mature" look, shave my beard and get an expensive hair cut I can’t be as cool as the sexilingual (I think that’s the adjective for a “speaker of six languages”) mega-man in the middle. Nice guys, nice ladies, very talented, I had a great time with them, but I’m going to have a rough few months now that the junior high kids feel they have been gypped in the kakkoii department. Good thing the adults appreciate me for my user-friendliness! I wish you well, my German friends. Have fun back in Kyoto! But tomorrow, I think I will begin setting up a clandestine program to keep kakkoii gaijin off my turf. It’s not good for my work environment.

Post Script: It was pretty funny to watch the German students squirm as the ancient ex-superintendent of schools told them that Japanese people his age have a special place in their hearts for Germans and then (turning to pat me, the Canadian, on the arm reassuringly) said "not, of course, that it has anything to do with our axis alliance or the fight with the Americans."