How to be an Alien

Mar 18,2013

I got a comment! And it made me think that at least one person still wants me to write, so I'll give it the old college try. The comment went like this:


■ Time Received
2013/03/17 20:15:03

■ Name

■ E-mail

■ Content
Sorry to hear that you are getting burned out on your blog... maybe it is just the doldrums of winter. Spring is coming, or should I say has arrived, depending on where you live in this country, so maybe new ideas and new comments on life will also SPRING forth! hahahhaha. I enjoy reading what you write on your blog, so hope that you don't give it up. I have been busy working a lot lately, so have not kept up with you or written a comment in a while. So sorry.
But with the end of the fiscal year come lots of changes, and again with the start of the new one. Maybe you can find something that makes you want to write your blog again???

Luckily, this year's Nendo change happens over a weekend, so you can start a fresh week, a fresh month and a fresh nendo all at the same time, instead of having co-workers sitting next to you on Tues and gone to some other place on Wed., which I personally find to be a really weird situation, not to mention finding out about the change only a few days before it really happens..

Good grief. Now I am going to get comments (maybe, huh) about my extremely run-on sentence... So anyway, you do have fans out here, so don't throw in the towel just yet!


Thanks, Kim. The title of the post is a reference to George Mikes's landmark 1946 humourous expedition into the intricacies of British culture from the perspective of one recently emigrated from Hungary. I first became aware of the book during one of my first-year classes at the university where I do most of my teaching; a student had a simplified version of it for his reading homework and I had to give it look just based on the title alone. It seemed like a blast at first glance, though my student claimed it was too difficult for him and made no sense. (You can read a clear scan of the simplified version here: Penguin Readers Level 3). I decided I had to order a copy for my wife.

One of the things we do to entertain ourselves instead of watching television is to read out loud to each other, I in her native language and she in mine. She loved the book, and we decided to order the original text, full of challenging terms and concepts, along with two other titles in the series, How to be Inimitable and How to be Decadent. In doing so, the thing that stuck me most throughout is how relevant it is to one's experience moving from a western country to Japan. Much has been made of the similarities between Japan and the UK, but I think everyone who decides to make a permanent home here should read this if they haven't already. (Granted, Japan isn't officially welcoming of immigrants, but we'll probably always be a small minority of the population. At least, my neighbors don't seem to mind my presence that much, and the rest of the country is free to ignore me if it chooses. I'll leave it to crusaders like Arudou Debito to try to get us treated like just plain folks.) At several places in the book, you can simply switch the relevant national or ethnic group and the effect is the same. From the first book:

It is a shame and bad taste to be an alien, and it is no use pretending otherwise. There is no way out of it. A criminal may improve and become a decent member of society. A foreigner cannot improve. Once a foreigner, always a foreigner. There is no way out for him. He may become British [holder of Japanese citizenship]; he can never become English [Japanese, in the sense most people mean]. So it is better to reconcile yourself to the sorrowful reality. There are some noble English [Japanese] people who might forgive you. There are some magnanimous should who realise that it is not your fault, only your misfortune. They will treat you with condescension, understanding and sympathy. They will invite you into their homes. Just as they keep lap-dogs and other pets, they are quite prepared to keep a few foreigners.

And it goes on from there. From last night's reading of How to be Decadent:

The world is divisible into two categories, the English [Japanese]and the foreigners...Americans, Canadians, and Australians [Chinese, Taiwanese, and Koreans] aren't English [Japanese], but they aren't exactly foreigners, either; they are Americans, Canadians, and Australians [Chinese, Taiwanese, and Koreans].

I should promote this book for our library here, not only for locals who can read English to appreciate our plight, but also for people like me to see that plenty of people have had the same feelings we've had on moving to the birthplace of the English language, lest we think our experience is unique and take ourselves too seriously.

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