I’ve been thinking about comfort, specifically comfort in culture. How do we develop it? How long does it take? (And why can’t I have it already?)
As I walk the various streets of my new home (Japan) I notice what sights draw my attention: a quaint European-style cafe, Oktoberfest, plaid button-downs… essentially non-Japanese things. These things give me real comfort whenever I find them, as though they carry a part of me within them. And they really are, due to my experiences living with these parts of culture, a part of me. But how did they become so?
I have lived in my current apartment for over two months, now. I see these European-looking restaurants and cafes, and I long to spend my time inside them… and not out here, not in the Japanese restaurants and cafes. I found myself wondering one day if I ever would have the same experience with Japanese culture. Will I be walking down the street in another country, and feel drawn to something I pass from Japanese culture? Will I speak longingly of the nomihodais (all-you-can-drink) I currently never seek out? Will I one day feel comfort in Japanese Manga and Anime, and in the sound of people shuffling their feet as they walk?
My greatest fear is that the answer might be, “No.” Underneath it all, I feel as though I must find connection with this country and culture – there’s no way I could live here for so long (at least a year), and not grow to love parts of it all. I currently never feel a sense of comfort in the Japanese culture around me, though – restaurants, clubs, pubs are all disturbing (the ones I can afford, anyway), because I can’t stand smoking; food is iffy, because I prefer eating a mostly-raw, vegetarian, gluten-free diet; comics and the likes are of little interest, even though I’ve tried several times throughout the years to enjoy them. However, I’m beginning think that this is only normal… for me, anyway.
I don’t always have these struggles, but they definitely have happened when I have spent longer periods of time living somewhere new. When I first moved to Austria, I had all sorts of struggles and disagreements with life around me. All I wanted to do was go home, it felt like. And yet, I would move back to Austria in a heartbeat if you offered me a good job there today. France was similar. I was sad and miserable and angry at the French for a while, and then eventually totally fell in love with them and their culture and country.
How did this happen?
For Austria, I got myself involved in a group in the community, and developed a true sense of involvement and activity. In a sense, I felt like I was genuinely part of the world there, part of the culture, thereby developing a part of me that always will be Austrian. In France, once I accepted that I was not French, and therefore did not have to do exactly as the French do, I began to love the French. I adventured out in ways I previously had avoided due to cultural differences, and I got to know the culture in a whole new, and might I say filling, way. And I even ended up making French friends (a truly difficult task for the specific circumstances).
But when did I First experience an excitement for the culture, for the country? I’m not certain, but I think I recall this accurately. When I lived in each country, I had a different sister marry. On both occasions, I flew back home to the US for a brief weekend for that sister’s wedding. And both times, as I returned back from the US, I felt like I was going home. Not home in the full sense of family and love and everything (That was what I had just visited in the US.), but home in the sense of, ‘I live here and am comfortable here, and I like being here.’
So, now Japan. Although I have never disliked or disagreed with a culture in the same ways I dislike and disagree with this one, I think the idea is still the same: dislike for a while, and then love. Just like the old line, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone,” perhaps I just need to leave for a bit in order to see the wonders of this place, in order to want to return. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, we are told, so maybe I just need some absence before I can begin fully to enjoy living here. (Or maybe I’m just crazy, and that’s that. But just in case I’m not, and I actually have reason here, let’s continue with this idea…)
One of my stepbrothers – as a matter of fact, Channing Tatum constantly reminds me of this stepbrother, and I grow incredibly excited at the fact that my stepbrother is, in a sense, a real-life version of Channing Tatum from the movies – is getting married next month. Although I never expected to find a flight I could afford on my uber-reduced salary, I never gave up checking. And finally, a few days ago, I found a flight for less than half the normal price (still more than I’d pay if I were following a smart budget, but, given my current circumstances and theory with the culture, totally worth it). I’m still waiting to hear back today for the final ‘okay’ from work, but it’s looking like this trip is going to happen. In which case, not only can I hardly wait for the fabulous party full of happy people and happy family who love me and whom I love, but I also can hardly wait for that switch to flip, for that change to happen, at which point I finally will like living where I live.
Until then, though, I’m still not convinced that I’m not crazy here – I have to get out in order to want to be here… sounds crazy to me, but it just might work!
Come to think of it, I think the same happened when I went to college. Great for the first little bit, then kind of hated loads of it, and then, after the first trip home (which I awaited with impatience and a sense of necessity to be ‘home’), was excited to be back at it. Hmm… maybe I’m actually on to something here, instead of just being crazy.