Thursday, February 5, 2009

On Patience

I usually wake up too late on Thursdays to eat breakfast before my morning class, so I was starving today as I was biking to the train station around noon, on my way to my afternoon classes. I got some food on the way, but didn't eat it until I got to the station, and even then I felt a bit weird eating in a public place. This is because people don't eat on the streets much here, like they do in Canada. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anyone eat while walking. People do eat sitting outside, or while waiting for the train though, and on the train too it's quite acceptable, except on local trains that have seats along the sides, like the TTC. I knew about this custom of not eating on the streets from reading, and it's nothing new for me because Ukraine is somewhat conservative that way too. I don't think people usually eat on the streets in Ukraine either. But of course it took getting used to.

Anyways, this is a small culture difference between Japan and Canada, but being exposed to it yet again, now when I am an adult as opposed to a teenager in Ukraine, allowed me to practice a very important skill that I sort of lost during my 8 years in Canada: patience. I thought about this today as I was biking to the station, with my lunch right in front of me but so unreachable. I think in many ways people are a lot more patient here. Of course, I might be generalizing, and I've only lived here for 6 months, but still. I actually like it that I have to be more patient, it makes me more aware of my surroundings, and more considerate towards other people. In Canada sometimes I caught myself doing things that I might not have done in Ukraine. My excuse was, it's ok, everyone in Toronto does it, so I can too, even if it doesn't feel right. Here I have no excuse, at least if I want to fit in, I have to be more polite, and more aware of my surroundings. And in some way, it has made my everyday interactions with people more meaningful. It feels that in terms of interactions between people, when it comes to courtesy the expectation level is much higher than in Toronto, and I like it better this way, especially since people extend the same courtesy to you. I can understand though why there is so much talk about the culture shock on all these blogs of English teachers coming to Japan. It takes conscious effort to remember to adhere to more tight social interaction rules, and if you haven't grown up following such rules, it's a lot harder to learn them as an adult. I was lucky that I grew up in a more conservative culture, so I just need to revert back to my behaviour patterns from Ukraine. Sometimes I actually feel more comfortable in this culture than I did in Canada, but then I am sure this is just the honeymoon stage of my life here in Japan, and soon enough I'd be more realistic and more critical of life here.

Speaking of being critical, the one thing I don't like here in terms of social rules is the lack of legislation similar to Ontario on smoking. Living in Ontario is quite a blessing for non-smokers, I have not appreciated it enough before coming here. Japan has a long way to go compared to Ontario. Every time I go out to places like bars, I have to wash all of my clothes after, because people smoke so much. I know some people will disagree, and I am usually not a fan of control of behaviour through legislation, but because smoking has such a direct impact on health, in this case I wholeheartedly support Ontario anti-smoke legislation and hope Japan and the rest of the world will have stricter by-laws on smoking soon.

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