Trying Hard to Look Non-Japanese – Gaijinhan

Trying Hard to Look Non-Japanese

I just came back from a trip to Toronto and New York by Air Canada, which doesn’t have very good reviews. I was apprehensive about taking that airline because a quick Google search shows the average rating is only about 2.5 stars out of 5. That’s pretty horrible for an airline, especially since I come from Singapore, whose airline is always in the top 3. Even before going on the flight, Air Canada changed the schedule 2-3 times, but my lack of expectations for the airline actually made the flight a surprisingly pleasant one. The flight was more comfortable than I had expected with food that tasted pretty good. The lack of formality of the flight attendants also made the entire experience less stressful, even though I was hoping they could try to ram the carts against seats a few times less.

As I was boarding the aircraft with souvenirs on my left hand and passport on my right, it was natural for me to hold my boarding pass in my open passport facing the left, where a (presumably) Canadian female flight attendant stood. To the right, though, was a (presumably) Japanese female flight attendant. As my passport opened to the left and the Canadian lady was available, I naturally moved to show my boarding pass to her. But for some reason, the Japanese lady interjected and got me to twist my right wrist in an awkward position to show her my boarding pass and she directed me to the path where my seat is, in Japanese language.

My passport was obviously orange—starkly different from the Japanese crimson-colored ones. She obviously didn’t care to see that I’m not Japanese and decided to communicate with me based on my Asian face. On the plane during meal time, another Canadian lady asked me in English what I would like to have. Before I could answer, the Japanese lady cut in and repeated the entire question in Japanese. I replied in English, and she served me my meal while continuing to communicate with me in Japanese. The same thing happened during snack time when I asked for a drink in English and she responded in Japanese. I don’t understand her insistence on speaking Japanese with me. Does her world of Asian faces only include Japanese people. That’s very unlikely given that she flies on Air Canada, where Canadian-Asians are aplenty.

When I first arrived at Japan, as a form of practice, I try as much as possible to use the language wherever I go and whatever I do. I installed the Japanese OS for the laptop I bought in Singapore. I set the language to Japanese for the phones I bought in Japan. I use Facebook in Japanese and read Japanese novels. I search for things with Japanese text and place orders at restaurants and cafes in Japanese. I wanted to blend in, and wanted people to think I’m Japanese and speak with me in Japanese. But 7 years later, I’m over that. I don’t enjoy reading text in Japanese anymore. I prefer to speak in English if my interlocutor speaks the language fluently. I skip all the skippable texts in the 3DS games I play because they’re all in Japanese. My phone language is set to English and the next PC I buy, I intend to get one with a US keyboard and English OS.

In Japan, speaking to me in Japanese or assuming I’m Japanese is perfectly fine because I would assume another Asian face here is Japanese as well. But outside, I’d prefer people do not assume I’m Japanese. If there’s a way to look non-Japanese, I would do it (not plastic surgery).

I’m fine with speaking Japanese, but like I’ve said before, if I start a conversation with you in one language and you can speak it fine, please don’t insist on changing the language if there is no compelling reason to do so.

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