The Japanese have it so much harder when it comes to a culture shock /Pro japonce je kulturni sok mnohem vice sokujiciThe Japanese have it so much harder when it comes to a culture shock | Czechmatediary
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The Japanese have it so much harder when it comes to a culture shock /Pro japonce je kulturni sok mnohem vice sokujici

hug flickr image MaryLena is a very lovely lady who agreed to share one of her emails she wrote to me in the past. She and her husband are a die-hard travelers who have traveled all over the world, including the Czech Republic. Many years ago her family was also kind enough to host an exchange student from Japan who has become like a son to them. Here is one of her wonderful stories about Akira’ culture shock with America. Since it is about hugging – and most Czechs would much rather shake hands – I thought I would share it with you:
CZ: MaryLena je jedna fanjova pani, ktera s manzelem procestovala cely svet, vcetne Ceske republiky. Dovolila mi, abych jeden z jejich emailu (adresovanych mne) publikovla, protoze se mi opravdu moc libil. Zabyva se totiz tematem kulturniho soku a to objimani (misto potrasani si rukami), tedy neco na co vetsina Cechu neni moc zvykla:

Dear Tanya,
I have one funny story I will share with you which was the real beginning of our awakening to cultural differences.
Our oldest son brought home his college roommate “for dinner”. During the course of the evening, he explained that Akira’s family would have to restrict their funding of his education to address some health issues of his father. (Both Akira’s parents were children in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Both were left with lifelong injuries to their internal systems and Akira’s daughter has a mutation to one kidney which we believe goes back to her grandparents’ early exposure to radiation.)
Our son suggested if Akira could live with a family, work parttime, and attend a community college instead of continuing in a residential private college, he would have a better chance of finishing his education before the funds ran out. We agreed and he stayed three years.
When he had been with us about three months, he asked Dave, Jr why we did not respect him or trust him. Dave was shocked. He responded, “They’ve given you keys to everything they own! Why would you think they don’t respect you or trust you?”
Akira’s answer was priceless. He said, “Well, everytime I come into the house the hug me. Everytime I go out they hug me and if I get too close in between, they hug me again even in front of my friends! And, when I leave the house, they always say, ‘Be careful’. What am I doing wrong?”

Dave, Jr. explained that we are huggers and getting hugged is a risk you run in our family. Akira told him that in Japan you don’t hug people when non family members are present. You don’t even touch them after the age of four!!
Dave also explained that when we said, “Be Careful”, it was just a family code to remind you that you are loved, you are cherished.
So the four of us sat down together. We made a deal that if there were non family members present, we would restrain our touching and hugging but there it was just family, you take your chances. Further, as far as the “be careful”, he had to choose between that and “I love you”. So, we alternated “be careful” with “remember, you’re an Anderegg”.
But it was strange how differently we viewed those two simple situations.
The followup to all that is when we arrived in Japan ten years ago to visit him, he greeted us at the airport with arms wide open, grinning from ear to ear. He hugged us right there in the airport and whispered in my ear, “Mom, look how western I still am!”
Before we went to Prague we were told it was rude to point with a single finger. We saw an extraordinary example of the difference in a lovely guide we had at the Hall of Mirrors. He was so wonderfully gracious to our little group but every gesture was with all four fingers extended and it really was a much more graceful way to draw our attention to something.


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4 comments… add one
  • Nicola July 15, 2009, 2:42 am

    Dear Tanja,
    First of all my compliments to you for the awesome blog (I follow it every day very interested).
    About culture shock there is one (in my opinion) very wrong thing that I red in MaryLena’s letter: The american family tryed to adapt to some japanese habits because their host was japanese. I think that if they are in America the japanese guy shouldn’t pretend anything. He just should have to totally adapt to American culture. He cannot pretend an american family living in America to adopt japanese habits, it is not fair, not right, not good and totally non sense.
    Ciao.

  • Tanja July 15, 2009, 3:37 pm

    Hi Nicola,

    I see what you are saying – am usually of a similar opinion, meaning that if someone moves/lives in America they should assimilate (learn the language etc…). But in this case, Akira was feeling really uncomfortable so they had to tone those hugs down a bit. And they still hug him so that is a compromise 🙂

    By the way, thank you for your wonderful compliment!

  • MaryLena Anderegg August 1, 2009, 7:14 pm

    Dear Nicola and Tanja,
    There is a lovely followup to my story…30 years later…we returned to Japan to visit with Akira and his family. His oldest son had returned to Japan last year and was married in the traditional civil ceremony manner. Then, the couple lived together as husband and wife and save money until they can afford a religious ceremony. They were saving for a large wedding.
    When the son learned we were coming for a visit, he went to his in-laws and asked their approval for a much smaller wedding so they could have it while we were there. He told his in-laws that his “American grandmother” was coming to Japan and he wanted us to be at their wedding. They had a beautiful ceremony at a gorgeous wedding chapel on the shores of the China Sea.
    And, PS, both Akira and his children are as big a huggers as we….even in Japan. In fact, he and the children often hold our hands in public…most unusual. Akira’s American wife is partially responsible for that, I’m sure.
    I so enjoy the various outlooks on your blog, Tanja.

  • Tanja August 2, 2009, 9:42 am

    Hi MaryLena,

    Thank you! It is so interesting when you talk about the Japanese culture in comparison with the Czech one. I did not know that it is weird for them to hold hands in public. How about people who are dating? Is that considered to be strange too when they hold hands?

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