I'm going back to the US for Christmas tomorrow! Yay!My travel agent has, thoughtfully, seen fit to provide me with a pamphlet of helpful tips to make my overseas travel less of an anxiety-filled social minefield riddled with white people and guns. I got such a kick out of these that I wanted to share. (I picked most of the fun ones. There are a lot of boring tips too.)
- The yen is very strong against the dollar right now. This will make goods in America seem very cheap -- an excellent opportunity for shopping! However, remember to be polite in your use of money -- America is in the middle of economic malaise right now, and Japanese people with wads of money in their hand might be looked on with envy. Besides, if you are obviously wealthy in an American city, you may be robbed.
- For our valued customers who work in the automotive industry, we advise discretion. If you must say where you work, the preferred phrasing is [English] "I work at the car company".
- Most Americans are very polite, particularly outside of the big cities. However, outside of the big cities, everyone owns guns. Inside the big cities, almost everyone owns guns. Let's be polite together! Japanese don't own guns. Even their riot police don't carry guns so guns are taboo and a bit scary to them. It's hard for them to understand why a law abiding, "nice" person would need to own guns.
- If you go shopping at an American department store, they will ask you if you want to open a credit card account. They are *not* asking whether you want to use a credit card. This may seem strange but it is an American custom to offer customers a credit card, in order to make them spend more money. We suggest politely declining offers of credit cards. You may have to politely decline several times. Don't think of this as rude, the Americans have to do it too.
- Most Americans think we look like Chinese or Koreans. Try not to be too offended. Asians generally do not like to be mixed up! There are differences in the physical features between them and even though to "us" they "all look alike" they think the same about us. We all look alike to them too!
- Most Americans will think that a Japanese person standing on the street is an American, unless they are holding a camera. If you are not comfortable speaking English, you might try bringing along a camera to say "I am a tourist, please don't expect me to speak English." Except, don't try this in the big cities -- tourists get mugged in big cities. We are used to being a big melting pot society where the Japanese aren't. 90% of the people in Japan are native Japanese so it is easy tp pick out the tourists or the non-natives who may not speak Japanese.
- Americans have a social institution called a "gratuity". Basically, the price on the menu at any place which serves food is not the real price. The real price is 20% higher. You have to calculate 20%, write it under the subtotal, and sum to arrive at the real price. Taxis work the same way. It is considered very rude not to pay the "gratuity". You DO NOT tip in Japan. In fact, it is considered rude to tip. If you leave a tip, to them, it is equalivent to saying "I don't think you have enough money, here, let me help you."
- In general, Americans consider it impolite to discuss politics. However, this January Obama will become the new president, and many people are excited! If they ask you what you think of him, a safe answer is [English] "Obama is really cool." or [English] "Obama speaks so well. Not like me. Hehe." Be very careful when pronouncing his name. O BA MA, just like Obama City.
- Most big cities have Japanese food available. You may have to look hard, though -- ask your hotel for some place to eat tempura. Restaurants which say they serve sushi probably only serve makizushi, like California rolls. (Americans think California rolls are [English] "sushi".) If a restaurant says [English] "Asian" they really mean Chinese. They are probably not really Chinese, either. On the same note, in Japan, "American" food doesn't always mean what we think of as American. You probably won't get a bun on your hamburger for example!
- Ladies: if you shop for clothes, ask for where to find [English] "petite". It means normal sized. Ladies who are petite may have difficulty finding clothes which fit in America, except at specialty shops. From experiance, it is difficult to find clothes for a 5'8" average weight woman in Japan. Physically, they are smaller. An Extra Large jacket I bought simply because I was cold and it was rainy, is still too short on my arms and a little snug.
- McDonalds: Has no teriyaki burger in America. Portions are bigger and food is cheaper. Sometimes the person taking the order does not speak English. Please relax! They probably understand the set menu, although it is called [English] "combo", and you can hold up the number with your hands as shown. [Snip of chart for how Americans count on their fingers, which is actually different than how Japanese people count on their fingers, hence the need for a chart.] Mmmm Teriyaki Burgers.... why oh why can't American Micky D's have them??? And as for the counting, they count all on one hand putting fingers DOWN as they count 1-5 (starting with the thumb and going towards the pinky) rather than putting them UP as we do. 6-10 is counted on the same hand but in reverse order putting them up.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to finish work and start packing. Toothbrush, shirts, camera, bullet-proof vest, wad of monopoly money, you know, the bare necessities.