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Notes from Abroad: Liz Furuya ’12


Asian Studies Major
Studying abroad in Kansai Gaidai in Osaka, Japan

Living situation: Host family

Favorite food: Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki.

Favorite class: Here, at Kansai it’s ceramics.

Advice:  While in a foreign country, trying out new things and experiencing various parts of native culture is important, but it’s also important not to forget your own roots.

“Lost in translation”: Have a story about miscommunication? When someone just didn’t understand what you were saying or vice versa? What did you learn from it? ”

When filling out the home-stay housing questionnaire form, I requested my family have at least one member who could speak English.  My reasoning was this: if ever there were any issues that my feeble Japanese couldn’t adequately express, I wouldn’t be trapped in an unbearably miserable situation.  Thus far there haven’t been any unbearable situations, just a few completely ludicrous ones.

The first arose when my host mom deemed I was competent enough to finally undertake my share of household chores.  My host dad is completely fluent in English and she speaks almost none.  One Sunday morning, my host mom went grocery shopping, and the duty of instruction fell to my host dad.  He provided me with a list, and it seemed reasonable.  Plus, I was more than happy to see that the ever-cumbersome task of doing laundry was not included.

However, as he began to demonstrate how to clean, I found myself thinking that I’d stumbled across the unfortunate love child of Alice in Wonderland and Amelia Bedilia.  First he used the mop, without water, to sweep all the dust into a corner.  Then he used rags, with water, to scrub the floor, stairs, and doorframes (at which point I stifled a laugh, because he was too short to reach the top of the door and was trying to accomplish the task by jumping around while flailing his arms).  When he finished the demonstration, he went outside and dumped the water into the storm gutter.  He never managed to explain what was to come of the dust and without warning he placed the mop, rags, and a bucket of water in my hands, wished me luck, and left the house.

After a grueling 2 hours, I completed the task, feeling like I’d unwittingly become Cinderella version 2.0.  But, I was so happy to be done that I forgot all about the experience until that following Sunday, when I had to do it all over again.  However, when I began my set of weekly chores, my host mom stopped me and asked me what I was doing.  I told her I was attempting to mop, she laughed so hard that she began to tear up. 

She told me that she did all the household chores; therefore it was impossible for him to understand how to take care of the house.  She then proceeded to show me, using the mop with some water, how I was actually supposed to do things. Including the explanation, it took less than 20 minutes, language barriers and all.

This story, which in retrospect has become funny, represents my first culture shock in Japan.  I didn’t realize that generally men have very little to do with household matters, and women become somewhat like domestic servants after marriage.  So, given that general trend, why did my host mom let my host dad explain the chores? Was she deferring to him in this instance, given his higher level of English education, or just because he was the man of the house?  I’m still not sure of the answer, but I am sure that there will be plenty more amusing instances when I’ll have a chance to get some insight.

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