SOLSC #8 Being a Bad Guest


Today I bowled in a tournament.  It is when I bowl in a tournament that I am most aware of what a bad American I am because this is the place where I am surrounded by Japanese people that I know but cannot talk to.  Yes, I’ve become one of those people who moves to a foreign country and then doesn’t learn the host language.  I always defend myself with the fact that I don’t plan to stay long and Japanese is really hard to learn.  But it’s been five years now.  I have bowled with some of these people for five years and I can’t speak to them.  It’s really unforgiveable.

Fortunately, bowling has its own language.  Of course, that language is English, but at least there are some things I can say that they will understand – “nice shot,” “good game,”  “lucky!”  It’s not that I want to have long, intellectual conversations.  I just want to be nice and polite like they are.

If I could understand my opponents, maybe I wouldn’t think they were so nice.  But when I  don’t understand a language, I just block the sound of talking.  I assume the person is kind and has good intentions because I have no words to contradict that idea.  This is particularly true with Japanese people because they are not often physically expressive.  They just seem calm and peaceful.   Even in a bowling center with the whirring of the machines, crashing of balls hitting pins, cheering, music playing, and babies crying, it’s still fairly quiet in my head.

But I wonder what they think of me?  Do they resent that I live here and can’t speak to them?  Do they think I’m so serious about my bowling that I don’t want to be distracted by conversation?  Or do they think I’m just snobby?  I guess when I resigned myself to not learning the language I also gave up the right to want others to think I’m nice and considerate.


13 thoughts on “SOLSC #8 Being a Bad Guest

  1. beachhousefarmhouse

    I am fascinated by your experience Lee and love reading about your life in Japan. I have been to Japan for only 4 days as a tag on bit at the end of a long flight from Chicago after a month long holiday in the US. The language there is so hard and the culture so very different from my own Aussie world. I understand you not committing to learn the language, I hear it takes many years. A smile speaks the same language the world over and I am sure you are good at that. 🙂

    1. Lee Post author

      An excellent reminder that I should make sure I’m smiling a bit extra. Thanks! Japan is a wonderful country and Japanese people are kind and gracious. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to live here. 🙂

  2. Erika Victor

    Oh, I totally relate. I move from country to country picking up only a bit of the local language and I am sure the locals could not judge me as harshly as I judge myself. I wish I was a good language learner and made time for it, but I don’t. I find that little bits can go a long way, but I have strong memories of being shouted at in Germany by the man who came to the door to make sure I had a television license for not speaking better German. I have decided that most people think I am not very smart when I speak so little. I moved again this summer and should really take lessons Bahasa lessons here.

    1. Lee Post author

      Yes, Erika, I was thinking that people probably think I’m not that bright. I’m very good at apologizing in Japanese! What is Bahasa? Where are you? N

  3. mlvteach

    Your piece was a great reminder to me to actually get back to the Rosetta Stone course on which I need to be working. My daughter married a Frenchman and lives in Paris, so I visit her quite often and find that the high school and college French does me very little good. I can understand a lot of things, but can barely speak. Pretty humbling! Since I will no doubt have French-speaking grandchildren, some day, I think it’s time to go back to the books….

    1. Lee Post author

      It is challenging studying another language while working full time and slicing! Of course, I am surrounded by native speakers so those aren’t great excuses for me. Good luck with your French!

  4. Marcie

    So amazing to stop and think about language. It truly is the key to open new doors or the road block preventing so much learning. I loved reading about your experience in Japan through the lens of bowling. Such a great slice!

  5. spillarke

    So stuck up that, Lee Corey. Said NO ONE EVER! Your smile and kind ways speak volumes. Though I’ve never been in a bowling alley with you–I imagine you do get pretty serious there. : )

  6. Ms. Kelly

    Is there a difference in attire from what you would wear in the United States for a bowling tournament?

    1. Lee Post author

      What a great question! I could do a whole slice on what Japanese females wear for tournaments. Actually, I thought about it yesterday, but I’ve been a bit negative and I didn’t want it to come out condescending or like I’m making fun. The similarities are bowling shirts – often with your name on the back. But Japanese girls look very cute when they bowl. Cute short, ruffled skirts that match the shirt. Hair in a ponytail pulled to the side. Glittery things in hair or makeup. Sometimes thigh high socks. The non-bowling hand might have really long bejeweled fake nails. Yesterday was a less formal tournament so I wore jeans and a tshirt. The other female on my pair was dressed as described above (minus the thigh-high socks).


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