Article first published in March 2005's edition of JETFuel


Trying too hard to fit in...?!

“You have a flat bike tyre because…


And Other Insults

By “Sherry Rhodes”


All right, neither of us are particularly “light on our feet”, but there are nicer ways of putting it, right?


My partner and I have been going to our private Japanese lessons since October, and we still haven’t gotten used to the “fat-gaijin1” comments.


They’re always in Japanese, but sensei makes absolutely certain that we understand what she means.  Every lesson we have to put up with being told how “OOOOOKIIIIIIII2” we are, and you should see the look on her face when we tell her we can actually buy clothes in Japan.  Well, they must be XXXXXXL.


Well, why DO we put up with it?  The answer is: I really have absolutely no idea.  To be honest, the woman does seem a bit batty as it is.  She could certainly do without the larger-than-life gaijin telling her to “bugger off”. 


In a culture which is more idealistic (at least where one’s body is concerned) than our own, we knew before we came that it would be difficult.  At work everyone is very careful not to mention weight, fitness, attractiveness or anything vaguely related in front of me, perhaps a little unfairly.  At the “sports meet” in October everyone was genuinely shocked that I can actually run (ok, so that’s a closely guarded secret even in England…), but there are limits, surely!


So how much should we have to put up with?  When should we put our big hairy gaijin feet down and say “enough is enough!”?  The Japanese know that to constantly remind us how large, how fat, how different we are is insulting3 (not to mention unnecessary).  If they said it to another Japanese person, for example, would they get away with it? 


Our tactic at the moment is to grin and bear it, and slip in a few controversial comments where we can.  If anyone has a better solution, please…PLEASE…let us know.

Oh, and sensei4, I may be gaijin and I may be English, but I DO NOT look like Princess Di. 


1. Gaijin - abbr. of "gaikokujin" - someone who is not Japanese (lit. a person from gaikoku - the fabled country that isn't Japan.  That is, in Japan all the other countries in the world are lumped together as one "country" called Gaikoku).  

2. Ookii - large, big

3. Readers may assume that being called different can be taken as a compliment, but in a country where the word for "different" is the same as the word for "wrong" (chigau), this is rarely the case.  Japan is built on the culture of "sameness".  Even the rebellious ones tend to be the same.  Generally speaking, of course : |

4. Sensei - teacher (honorific, also used when addressing doctors)


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