One Startling Trip to America
I went back for two weeks, or as we say in Japan, a fortnight. That’s a long time when every waking moment is filled with The Horror. By which I mean that between jet lag and culture shock, I feel lucky to have made it back to Japan at all. When I finally stepped off the plane at Narita I teared up so much that I just hugged the first flight attendant I saw. She happened to be from Korean Air, but I figured, eh, close enough. They’re very soft too, those Koreans.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like the U.S. It’s just that it’s so . . . how to put this . . . American. You know what I mean? For one thing, there’s a lot of gaijin everywhere, and everybody’s huge and they all speak English. Very unsettling. And suddenly, the whole nation has tattoos. Since when did everyone start looking like carnies on break from running the Tilt-a-Whirl? I felt like the only Japanese guy in the whole airport. Which is weird, since I’m about as white as Vanilla Ice. Anyway, since I had half an hour until my connection, I stopped off at the Sky Lounge for a calming tonic. I ordered a nice, familiar Asahi beer, and instantly things got a bit better. Funny though, it tasted a bit off, so I figured I’d better have another one just to make sure. Four beers later, I finally read the fine print on the bottle: Brewed in Canada. Well, there you go. Thus ensued a spiral of reverse culture shock.
#1 Americans Smell Funny
Now, I don’t mean sweaty, which would be one thing, but more like a fruit cocktail. Every shampoo and soap and hair spray has some scent. There’s a variety of odors even for deodorants. Riding the shuttle bus at the airport was like hanging out with the Fruit of the Loom guys. At least in Japan, everybody just smells like grilled fish. Man, I get hungry just thinking about all those delicious people on the train.
#2 Gum, Gum Everywhere
I stepped out of the airport, and boom—like did you ever notice how much old gum there is on the sidewalk? It’s a sea of black polka-dots. Who even chews that much gum? And why spit it out on the sidewalk? Makes no sense. When I showed people my pictures of Japan they were like, Wow, it’s so clean. Why isn’t there any litter? Now there’s a strange question. Like why would there be litter? You mean people actually throw trash on the ground? That’s nuts. Folks in Japan understand common courtesy. The proper thing to do is to wait until no one’s looking and then stuff it into someone else’s bicycle basket. That’s just civic responsibility.
#3 The American Restaurant Experience
Now, you probably don’t know this, but I eat out every meal. I mean, if you looked in my tiny Japanese fridge, you’d be like, Yo, where’s all the food? I don’t even use the little lightbulb anymore since there’s nothing to see. Saves on electricity. It’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking, but hey, all that slicing and dicing, jeez. What a lot of work. Me wash potatoes? Please. I calculated that in my life I’ve eaten at 25,962 restaurants. Although I’m not real good with math, so maybe I forgot to carry a 1 or something, but anyway, a freaking lot of restaurants, is what I’m saying.
The thing about restaurants in the U.S. is that they look fabulous, but the food’s straight out of Doctor Seuss. I went to this Pan Asian place first. The walls were cast in oblique lighting with bamboo plants in every corner and tables set with cloth napkins and extra forks and knives just in case you dropped one or two. By the way, where the hell is Pan Asia anyway? Judging from the cooks, I’m guessing somewhere near Mexico. Anyway it took about fifteen minutes to get my first beer. That’s about fourteen and a half minutes longer than I’m accustomed to. In Japan, you just shout “nama!” and Sha-Zam, beer appears. It’s freaking magical.
But apparently in Pan Asia, unlike real Asia, a beer takes forever and the food comes all at once. I’d forgotten that Americans don’t order little by little and share. You just get one giant plate of stuff and chow down until your stomach’s the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe that’s more efficient, I don’t know. I got some scallop and arugula dish. According to the menu, it was “pan-crusted and seared, in an uni cream reduction with a red pepper emulsion and drizzled with raspberry coulis.” I was like, Can’t I just get some food? Oh, right. I’ll shut up now and eat my emulsion.
The thing is, I eat scallops on a weekly basis in Japan. Some people go to church; I eat scallops. When the rapture comes, don’t go crying to me because you didn’t eat enough bivalve mollusks, is all I’m saying. But where was I? Oh yeah. What those big white fatty things floating in the uni reduction were, I have no idea. But those were not freaking scallops. The whole dish was uber-rich and mega-oily and super-sweet, and now I’m out of adjectives but anyway there sure was a whole lot of it. That set the tone for my entire visit. And now I’m fat. Your fault, America, not mine. Not mine.
Then the bill came and it was about fifty dollars a person, on top of which we had to leave a tip. It’s no wonder Americans don’t do much karaoke. They’ve got no money left after dinner. America is berry, berry expensive country.
#4 The American Restroom Experience
And then I went to the men’s room. Hey, half a dozen Sky Lounge cocktails and a few more in Pan Asia and I was ready to explode. Anyway, I don’t know if you know this, but Americans can’t construct a toilet stall that comes all the way to the ground. Like you can actually see people’s legs while they’re doing Number 2. Jeezus, who wants to watch that? It’s gross. In Japan, you may not always get a commode, but what you get is almost always clean and plus you have your own private little room. In the U.S., if you really gotta take a poo—seriously, my advice is just go out to the park and find a tall bush. Trust me on this. Take some toilet paper or use a rabbit or something. They’re gentle and fluffy anyway. I mean, Americans have the potty cleanliness of infants. Like, they say it’s the greatest country on earth, but if your citizens can’t lift the lid before making pee pee, you may want to reconsider your standard of measurement.
#5 What’s up with These People?
And then walking from the restaurant, I met a couple of nice ladies. They were dressed well and said they were from out of town, and I was like, Oh me too. The one lady had this Gucci-looking purse and said she only needed a dollar in order to get somewhere. There was something wrong with her car that I was unable fathom and for some reason she couldn’t just go to the ATM. I was like, Uh, sorry, I have to cross the street now. And then that nice lady called me all sorts of horrible names. Like we were in high school or something. I was like, Well at least I don’t have some godawful butterfly tattooed on my thigh. Bitch. Only I didn’t actually say that because I’m too polite. Plus there’s a lot of guns in the U.S. You never know when some fruit salad-smelling broad’s packing heat and gonna blast your ass. Ken Seeroi takes no chances on vacation.
But it’s All Good
Okay, well, maybe not all. So no country’s perfect. It helps to have perspective. Although a few things gave me The Fear, I also found a lot of good. Like America has a ton of nature. It’s got trees and grass and space. There’s actually room, and people hang out in parks and skateboard and play catch instead of spending all day shopping for seasonally-appropriate chopsticks that match their place mats. Best of all, Americans talk. They talk a lot, to each other, to strangers, to everyone. Man, it’s gotta be easy to learn English with everyone being so chatty. And in many ways, they’re more polite than the Japanese. It’s like the opposite of the restaurants. Japanese people look fabulously polite, but a lot is just outward appearance. If the U.S. doesn’t seem especially well-mannered, at least most people are polite enough not to swoon over foreigners who can use their cutlery, eat their food, and speak their language. Americans may be rough around the edges, but way down deep inside of those marshmallow exteriors, there’s a lot of genuinely nice people. I’d definitely go back. Say in about a year.
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