Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Won't Miss #509 - foreigners who don't want foreign friends
There's a knee jerk reaction that some (usually long-term) foreigners have toward other foreigners. They say that they don't want foreign friends and don't associate with other foreigners. Some of them have what sound like reasonable excuses, like they don't want to spend all of their time speaking English. Trust me when I say that no one spends so much time with a friend that opportunities to speak Japanese are seriously undermined. Others simply claim they don't like foreigners, as if we're all exactly the same and can be summarily dismissed. The bottom line is that this is a prejudice and a psychological problem that some foreigners have. I'm not suggesting that foreign folks instantly like or seek to become friends with other foreigners, but rather that they also should not instantly reject them based on being foreign either. If a person in America were to instantly dismiss an entire group based on some arbitrary characteristics, no one would see it as understandable or reasonable. They would see it for what it is, a form of prejudice.
I don't miss this bigotry that some foreign people adopted after coming to Japan.
Posted by Orchid64 at 8:00 AM
Labels: attitudes, foreigners, friends, prejudice, won't miss
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And a shame for them too, but I am sure they don't get it. Some of the most interesting people I have met in Tokyo are non-Anglo foreigners: French, Spanish, Filipino, etc.ReplyDelete
I think that people should always be regarded as individual entities worthy of equivalent attention and respect regardless of background. The only reason to eliminate them from contention is that they prove themselves incompatible to you. I found lots of nice people in Japan, Anglo and otherwise. I never ruled someone out based on any factor other than they didn't personally appeal to me.Delete
Indeed, it is a shame.
I love all people and have all kinds of friends. The flip side of this is my run ins with people who don't want Japanese friends. Crazy!ReplyDelete
It seems pretty silly not to want Japanese friends when you're living in Japan. That would eliminate 98% of the people in the country!Delete
I'm guessing the reason not to want Japanese friends is the potential to be "used" for English practice. That is a concern, but it's no reason to rule a huge group of people out. Rather, it is a reason to learn Japanese and to speak Japanese with Japanese friends. ;-)
I do meet up with some Japanese "friends" from time to time, but its not something I really look forward to, to be perfectly honest. It's just not intellectually stimulating to talk to them, because there are so many topics that must never be mentioned, i.e. the slightest criticism of Japanese matters or things, so the conversation remains always in shallow waters, e.g. cultural differences, food, the climate, what they saw on TV, etc.Delete
I'm over 40 but my Japanese peers here seem to never have progressed from their early 20s.
Actually, I had the same problem in Japan as well and I assumed after coming to America that it would be different. Well, it was, but it's still not great. People in America will discuss deeper topics, but often do so in a polarized and competitive way. I've found that, while conversations tended to be shallow and vapid in Japan, they tend to be one-sided here.Delete
Every time I talk to someone here, they tend to either be just as shallow in their range of topics, or simply talk on and on and on and never consider or listen to my views with an ear toward actually seeing my viewpoint. It has been an immense source of frustration here that I am treated constantly as if I don't know anything by people who have well-developed opinions, but lack real-world experience and insight, not to mention they seem to forget that I have experiences they don't.
There are many cases of this, but a very telling one was a conversation about my cultural readjustment here in which I was expressing how hard it is to be around people. The other party said, "well, this is a culturally diverse area and it's not uncommon to hear people speak languages you can't understand." She said this because she assumed I was lie other Americans and that I was only comfortable in a homogeneous situation in which I understand completely what is going on. Never mind that I spent 23 years living in a country in which I didn't fully understand a lot of what was said most of the time. I told her that that was actually better for me because it was hearing and fully understanding the petty and inane things being said around me (not to mention personal details) that made me uncomfortable!
What I'm finding here is that you can't really have real conversations with people here either. You can compete for talk time or you can be a listen bot for their continual barrage of opinions.
While a lot of conversations in Japan focused on banality, at least there was balance and I felt they were actually listening when I was talking rather than thinking about what they wanted to say and waiting for an opening to start talking about what was on their minds again.
There's room for plenty of disappointment on both sides of the Pacific. :-p
I think you are right that there is an unfortunate "trend" in most post-capitalist countries (best qualifier I could come up with) that people do not try to really listen and understand one's point, but are simply "scanning" what they hear for certain keywords that support the opinion they were going to voice anyway. It may have to do with the increased amount of information and opinions and the decreasing amount of time we have to think things through. Yet, in a private conversation, there should not be so much pressure.Delete
I found that the Japanese are the same when they talk to each other - maybe even more so, as I often hear one person finish the sentence for the other one. When they talk to foreigners, I think they must make an extra effort to understand because of different non-verbal clues and pronunciation issues on part of the foreigner, so maybe that's why it feels they really listen.
I still feel more relaxed and engaged when I talk with "Western" people, though, simply because there is no need to be so careful. In Japan, a slight misstep will always be taken personally and result in the relationship becoming awkward (or even never hearing again from said person). This is what I meant with shallow - if you want to keep your Japanese friends, you will have to shut off any kind of critical thinking and, what's worse to me, all irony and sarcasm. They don't seem to be able to laugh at themselves, at least not when a foreigner is around.
You make some very good points, and I'm certain that you're right that there is a higher level of attention leveled at foreigners when they speak (esp. in English) as an act of courtesy or by virtue of language problems. That has to be chalked up to one of the good points of not being a part of the mainstream culture - an advantage of being different.Delete
I had heard of some people who made someone angry and never heard from them again, though I never personally had that experience in Japan. I think that, by the time I was in a position to have Japanese friends, I'd learned a few things about keeping my mouth shut and the sensitivity of the Japanese psyche. That is, I knew that disagreeing with someone, esp. too vociferously, would be potentially offensive. I learned to be incredibly diplomatic all of the time. I'm learning that I may have to do the same thing here, but the difference is that I'll be steamrolled over for it and it will not be appreciated. I knew in Japan that being judicious, thoughtful, and patient when talking to people meant something to them. There was something next to real joy in their eyes when their views were validated, and true hurt when they were disagreed with. Here, people are thicker skinned, but that comes along with the more aggressive approach.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
I never understood this :/. Although, the people I knew who were like this weren't all that nice so I wouldn't have wanted to hang out with them anyway!ReplyDelete
You make an excellent point, NeonRaine. They aren't very nice people, and I guess one wouldn't want to be friends with them!Delete
I have to admit that I’ve begun avoiding getting too close to other foreigners, but not because of their nationality. It just gets depressing saying goodbye all the time when they “go home“.ReplyDelete
It really is depressing, Sophelia. I can definitely relate to you on that one.Delete