I recently went back to the US. I’ve been back two times before that, and I never really had any problems readjusting. But this trip, something stuck out that I’ve never really noticed before.
“I can’t believe she’s wearing that.”
“Can you believe he said that to me?”
“Ugh, this coffee is disgusting.”
“They call this an IPA?”
It was like the volume (and ridiculousness) of every complaint suddenly skyrocketed. I could hear complaints from across the room.
Pop songs were even worse. Do artists really have nothing better to sing about than awful significant others? Do we really have nothing better to do than listen to (and sympathize with) these songs?
Is this the best our culture can do?
When you lose your voice and have to relearn how to speak, when every word is a testament to your own perseverance, you think a lot more carefully about what comes out of your mouth. When I came to Japan, I knew no Japanese. It made me think a lot more carefully about things that were worth the effort to say.
Most complaints didn’t make the cut.
Though it’s sometimes frustrating to speak such a roundabout language, there’s something refreshing about speaking a language where politeness is almost grammatically required.
“Is that so?”
“Wow, that’s amazing!”
“Well, that’s very nice, I think.”
“I’m glad that happened!”
(Additionally, it’s also normal to nearly interrupt the speaker with certain sounds that indicate you are still listening closely.)
After awhile, I also realized that in addition to most complaints not being worth my time or effort to speak, I really had nothing to complain about anyway. Sure, my apartment is old and drafty. I have to put on a coat when I use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Sure, craft beer is expensive and hard to find. Sure, I live in a socially rigid culture where change takes a frustratingly long time. Sure, people stereotype me, laugh at me when I make mistakes in Japanese, and sometimes treat me like a freak or an anomaly.
But I will never die of appendicitis. I can eat ice cream in summer. I have a roof over my head. I have hot water and a warm bed. I have enough money to buy new shoes when I need them. I have a phone in my pocket that I can use to see my family anytime I want. I don’t know hunger. I don’t know war. I don’t know corrupt police.
I can sleep without fear.
Sun setting over the mountains as my train travels west to Osaka. The simple pairing of black coffee and a cookie. Students laughing when I do something silly in class. My family saying, “See you at Christmas.”
In short, I have nothing to complain about. I’m reminded of Lester Bernham’s quote from American Beauty:
It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.