Friday, March 02, 2012

Words Apart

And upon my return I found myself completely devoid of culture shock, or reverse-culture shock, or whatever it is that my own particular case warrants. From the airplane to the train to the front door. Over the course of the first few days, I seamlessly fit back in, knew where to move all the pieces. It was if these two years never happened. It was if I had been here just last week, going through all the motions of my life.

But there was one difference, a difference that I couldn't have predicted. My ability with the language, albeit rusty, was still there, yet I was speaking slightly out of context. What I mean by this is that when one lives abroad, language serves only as the vehicle. Knowing how to navigate the roads is something else. My two years back in my home country, speaking my own language had made me lose my verbal Japanese cues, had made me forget the nuances. Bizarrely, they were there when I was in the States, and presented themselves when I would talk to myself, phrases like, "おかしいな!" or " いたい!" or " 暑い、" or even the occasional "はい!" Yet back here in Japan, my vehicle of language was driving off road. Japanese society is filled with 決めた言い方, or stock phrases. Certain phrases are heard in certain circumstances, every time. And I'd misplaced them, and found myself using regularly constructed Japanese, which sounded strangely out of place. Another disconnect was my body language. I moved through space as an American, making me feel conspicuous and huge. My wife's family were treating me the same as always, as if these two years hadn't happened. But I wasn't the same, and felt slightly out of step. I wondered if they noticed the disjunct.

Now three weeks after my return, the rough edges have worn away, perhaps washed away in the bath, or worn down by the sheets of the futon.

On the turntable: Neil Young, "Year of the Horse"
On the nighttable: G. E. Morrison, "An Australian in China"


Zacky Chan said...

Hey good to hear you made it back to Japan. I'll let you know if I head down to Kansai.

ted said...

Welcome, Zack!