Sunday, December 11, 2016

Awkwardness Ahead: Did I Just Gaijin Smash?!

"Gaijin Smash" "Gaijin Card" "Gaijin Privilege"--when pushy foreigners get special services or break rules without repercussions simply by virtue of being giant pushy foreigner-san. Not nice, but common enough to make regular appearances in the expat blogs and forums.

However, I wonder if most often the Gaijin Smash is done completely unintentionally and therefore goes unrecorded. For example, a foreigner tries to get some service that is perfectly routine in their own country, and simply don't know that it's not done here, so you end up with the American saying "No pickles or tomatoes please!" in the foodcourt hamburger place while the poor little baito highschool kid behind the counter flusters with the manager about whether a pickle and tomato-less order can possibly be served, the manager sighs but comes out and makes the hamburger himself--a disruption of the hamburger-building line which will make the next 5 orders a minute late each--smiling as if nothing is amiss. The blissfully unaware American customer accepts his custom order as a matter of course.

It just (maybe??) happened to me, for the nth time.

I went into a bakery to get a stollen for a friend. Stollen are German fruit breads eaten during the Christmas season (not to be confused with fruitcake; stollen are quite delicious), and for some reason a staple in Japanese bakeries this time of year, but for a high price--perhaps because of the amount of butter and marzipan used. They're a little fancy and make good Christmas/end of the year gifts. Anyway, I went into the shop, and there were baskets of stollen in all sizes, some the size of Baby Jesus boxed up and sporting price tags over $50. That's not quite appropriate so I go for the smallest unboxed stollen for $10, and right next to it is a sign that says, WE'LL WRAP YOUR STOLLEN IN THIS CUTE GIFT BAG FOR ONLY 50 CENTS MORE!! Great! Wrapping cuteness all taken care of. I get my stollen and get in line. When it's my turn, I say in Japanese, "I'll have it gift-wrapped, please." And then it happens. The little baito girl makes the batsu X sign with her arms and shouts in English, "NO WRAPPING!"
What?? Did I misunderstand the sign? But it was right on the basket of mini stollen. I read it like 4 times to make sure, because I always want to avoid these kinds of situations. Then I see it, on the counter, right next to me, another basket of the mini stollen with the same sign. So I do it, the Gaijin Smash. I persist. I'm no good at wrapping baked goods to look cute by Japanese standards. I need this wrapped! I point to the sign in desperation, "Can't I get it wrapped like this?" The poor girl disappears to the back of the shop to confer with manager. Manager appears, smiling angelically while she digs around in some drawers and finally produces the little bag identical to the one on the sign. I stare at the bag. I know how things are typically done here. It is definitely a mini stollen-sized bag. It could have no other purpose...right? I felt hot color rising from my neck into my cheeks and ears. I must have read the sign wrong. I must have missed some fine print, like "when combined with a Snowman Bun" or "after December 15th." If so, why wouldn't they explain it to me? Why just awkward smiles while fumblingly fulfilling my request?

Perhaps the girl simply didn't know about the shop's stollen campaign. Perhaps she showed up from classes 2 minutes before her shift began and manager had no time to explain about the bags. Perhaps no one was buying mini stollen and asking for them wrapped, and it was their first time. The thing is, service is usually so good in Japan, so smooth and polished, that instances like these always make me doubt my Japanese skills and wonder if I'm in the midst of committing another unintentional Gaijin Smash.

In this case, like most others, I'll never know if the problem was mine or theirs. But at least I got my stollen, wrapped.

And that's how the awkwardness goes most days, of trying to feel like a functioning adult in this society, and being reminded otherwise more often than I'd like.

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