Many years ago when I was still working as an English teacher here in Japan I had the opportunity to teach an amazing Japanese woman…
I was sitting down in my favorite cafe where I taught most of my private English students. Across from me sat my new student — a 43 year-old Japanese woman who had lived in America for over 13 years.
I was excited to get this student, not because she was a “Japanese woman among Japanese women,” but because at first listen her English appeared to be almost spot-on perfect. As we talked, I could tell that her English proficiency was just the surface of her abilities. Her gestures, facial expressions, posture, and even how she walked told me that she really had absorbed so much more than just the English language.
The more we talked the more I let down my well-practiced Japanese face and began to let my normal, natural American side show through. I was having a great time. She was having a great time. Everything seemed to be going well…
Then I saw the “flash.”
Was it my imagination? Did I really see the Japanese “flash”? That ever-so-subtle flash of emotion that Japanese people do when they are trying to suppress a negative reaction, a touch of annoyance, or some other emotion that they prefer not to let the listener know about?
Nah. Couldn’t be. She was acting just so… American. But a minute later, there it was again. And a minute later, again.
I had to confirm my suspicions. So I slipped on my “Japanese face” — refraining from topics that are too personal, speaking politely, and even adjusting my gestures and facial expressions to a more Japanese way.
The “flashing” stopped.
I was amazed just how American this Japanese woman had acted, yet buried deep below the surface, she still was Japanese — through and through.
Which just goes to show you:
“You can take the girl out of the country,
but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”