Chatting with an acquaintance recently, I sort of weasled some interesting information out of him. The weasling wasn’t exactly intentional, – I was genuinely just curious – and it was more that he opened up after I shared information about my family and friends, as well as the general population in the US. But it was still some info that he was obviously super-hesitant to share.
It all came from our chit-chat about nothing special, and our never-ending back-and-forth about his smoking. We both agree that smoking is something terrible, both for individuals and the world at large. And we both agree that he is 100% addicted, and doesn’t really feel like he’ll fall to bits in his early- to mid-forties. So we occasionally have little goofy bits of conversation, which leave us both tickled and chuckling, usually as he goes off to smoke a cigarette.
A recent little anecdote was when he asked how I was doing, since he knew I’d been sick. I commented that I was doing alright, but was tired and had a bit of a cough still.
“Oh, me, too,” he said, accompanied with a coughing gesture.
“Oh, you’ve been sick, too?!” I express, concerned.
“No… Because I smoke.”
We both laughed. And coughed, actually.
And so goes our acquaintanceship, for the most part.
Recently, however, as we were chatting about the browning of his teeth, and that it does not match the obvious effort he puts into his daily physical appearance, I happened to ask him when he even started smoking. He smiled, and got real quiet for a minute, and I wondered if he was figuring out what to say.
“Twenty,” he finally said.
I raised my eyebrows.
“When I was twenty,” he repeated.
“Really?” I declared with pure doubt. (Think SNL’s “Really” skit from Weekend Update.)
He then reminded me unnecessarily that 20 is the age in Japan for smoking, I asserted my knowledge of the fact, and we moved on. I talked about how I remember my brother discussing his secret first cigarette, shared with siblings in the backyard as kiddos. I described the general standard for kids in the US with their first cigarettes and first drinks of alcohol, and how everything pretty much seems to happen around high school.
Eventually, this acquaintance, with a lowered voice, suddenly had a new story. No longer was he the follow-every-rule individual he initially (albeit hesitantly) declared himself to be. He was, in fact, just like all the kids back home. First drinks (beer) were at 16, and the first cigarette was not long afterward.
Now, there are two main things I pulled from this conversation. 1) I wonder if this is standard for Japan, the way it is for the US. 2) Was this bit of honesty a step towards our becoming friends, instead of just remaining mere acquaintances?
I, of course, know the answer to neither of those inquiries. However, I have a mind to figure them out! Plus, I’m really glad he opened up to me with the truth of it all. Not that it’s necessarily any big deal, but with how closed off people have felt to me here, it was really refreshing to have some openness, and on something that seemed rather sensitive. (Okay, there’s a third things that came out o f the conversation: What is the Japanese viewpoint on breaking that law of ‘No one under 20’? How quiet he grew and how unsure he was at first about answering my casual question really make me wonder…) 😀