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.