Monday, September 04, 2006

Gotta Push to Relate, if not Communicate

The visit from our little Japanese girls left me amazed at how I assumed from their actions all the wrong conclusions--that they hated being here, that they hated us, whatever. It is easy to assume from what I see, from all that my senses tell me, many things. The harder thing is to 1) give the other person the benefit of the doubt 2) dig more to find out whether it really is that way (if it can be done in spite of language/culture barriers) 3) adjust where my personal attitude is in response to, or more in spite of, what I can know about another person.
For a while I did give them the benefit of the doubt, in thinking they needed an adjustment time for jet lag and for culture changes. My assumption before meeting them was that all the students would be coming here eager to improve their English by using it, and I do feel that the teacher should have only brought those who he thought would make an effort to interact well. I wasn't prepared for shyness and lack of self-assurance, furthered by the strong bond among the three that would cripple their interaction with us. With the unavoidable barriers of culture it's hard to know how much to push and encourage them to use their English, to stay among us, to learn the American culture.
In the case of our guests, admittedly the language and culture differences were a huge wall that I hadn't found a way to surmount. Their teacher hadn't, either, and he lives in Japan, speaks Japanese, and knows them fairly well. In light of this, I'm sure they were a harder bunch than most to relate to in a normal way. I'm not even sure why the last day, they were suddenly so much more open. Perhaps the scarcity of time left made them feel an urgency to be transparent.
I did try to show them that we needed to interact, that they needed to speak even if it was difficult; I tried not to allow pointing and noises instead of speech. This just caused them to stay in their room more. And there was no way to be sure that they understood what I said. I remember one morning when I had planned to bring the Jesus film for children to the church so their teacher could show it, and had placed it next to the phone. It disappeared. Tim didn't remember moving it. I went downstairs and asked Lena if they had it. She nodded. I asked if she would bring it up when she came. She nodded again. When they came up they had no video. I asked again, "Could you bring up the video?" They looked at one another and nodded. And stood there. "Do you know where the video is?" They nodded. "Could you go get it?" They nodded. And stood there. Finally Tim found the video under a coffee table where no one could readily see it. Now I don't know how it got there, whether they didn't want to see it again (they'd seen it in Japanese before), or whether Tim actually had moved it. But that communication problem was the type of thing that happened a number of times during their visit.

So instead of trying to communicate with them, I ended up staying silent most of the time while they spoke minimally in Japanese to each other. My way of showing love to them was to serve meals, do their laundry, clean their bathroom, and take them places--with a minimum of talk. I took them to the same stores repeatedly: Target three times, the Outlet Mall twice, Alderwood Mall, Costco, the grocery store, Fred Meyer...only once did I refuse. That morning I asked, "Are there any more stores you want to shop at?" They answered no. We took them along with us to Mukilteo on an errand, and while we were coming from Everett onto the freeway the girls noticed what they perceived as a great opportunity. "Can we go to Costco?" It was 4:30 on a Saturday and my thought that they interrupted was how great it was to be going home. "No," I said, poorly stifling a laugh. Costco at 4:30 on a Saturday wasn't my idea of fun. I did explain that I'd asked that morning, and that it was the wrong time on the wrong day. Who knows whether they understood.
They seemed to understand Tim, though most of his communication was antics and intolerable acts. Most of what I ever heard from them was "No, Tim!" or "Tim, stop!" in the back yard. There were many times they thought he was hilarious, and just as many times he got on their nerves (which is the exact same response he gets from the rest of us). I think that however it happened, he was the one they were sorriest to leave--probably because he pushed to spend time with them (whether they welcomed him or not); he didn't let language be a barrier; and when nothing else came easily, he used comedy for relief. I think he could have taught us all something there.

2 comments:

J.OTIS MERSTER said...

This reminds me of some family I have that just don't want to learn-about anything. They want to do the same things they do at home. It's hard to want something for someone else when that's not what they want. It's hard because I think I wouldv'e enjoyed the new experiences when I was their age-but then again, I was different in that I enjoyed learning and doing new things.

J.OTIS MERSTER said...

I have blue eyes, just like my sister whom I went to visit while she was staying at my parents' house near the beach. My sister and I have been kayaking before, but that night was dark and cold, so we just had a nice, lazy visit. I believe you've seen my flickr photos and can decide for yourself if I have purple hair.