Awkward Introductions In Japan

This has happened over and over to me and whatever group of women, foreigners, and/ or both that I am a part of it.  It is a common experience at mixers or gatherings in Japan.
It’s the awkward introduction.

Here is the most recent example:


I am in a group with a Brazilian woman and a German one. There are three of us chatting in English, the only common language between us. We are in a room where foreigners and Japanese have gathered to learn how to dance the Obon Festival dances.

As we are talking a Japanese man who looks to be in his late forties increasingly looks over. Finally, he marches over with his paper cup of water in hand and interrupts our conversation with a loud, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”

We pause and all turn to face him. He puffs up, as if enhanced by our attention on him. The Brazilian answers first, she always loves introducing herself and getting to know people. Before she can finish, he waves at the German and saids, “AND YOU?”

He has a script it seems, and we need to follow it so he can control the conversation precisely.  His English is not the best and this is how he stays on top of things. The German is fluent in Japanese and answers in his native language, but this annoys him because he wants to practice his English on us.

Next is my turn. I answer “the USA”.

“America?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!” He becomes excited. “What state?”

“Texas.”

“Oh! I like Houston. NASA. Do you ride a horse?”

Before I can say something, he’s back on the Brazilian.  With an enthusiastic thumbs-up, he says, “Great coffee!”

She smiles politely and nods in agreement. Just as she is about to say something, he turns to the German and asks, “Great cars. Do you like sushi?”

What proceeds are variations of the same question until he’s asked about about our favorite colors, shapes, sports, and the infamous “Do you like Japan?” and “Do you like Japanese men?”

So awkward.

Finally, even the Brazilian looks worn and tired of this inane conversation.  The German pretends she just received an important text and excuses herself.  I go off to “get something” from my bag. The group disintegrates until the man leaves and reforms once he’s left.

He glances at us from afar with a puzzled look of “Why was I kicked out?”

This is a common situation in these types of events. It’s most likely to occur the more attractive the members of the group. It always ends the same with the intruder being pushed out subtly. They never seem to understand why.

 

I’ve asked a few Japanese men over the years about why they introduce themselves with “Where are you from?” like that and was told, “It’s because we’re trained in middle school to do that.”

I don’t know if that’s true. Nevertheless, I wonder how does one enter a group?

 

Thinking about it, my approach tends to be to stand on the periphery of the group I wished to enter and pretend to look at my phone. When I hear a topic I have an interest in, I make a comment like “Oh, you’re into photography?  What type? “.  If the group likes it, the circle opens to make space. Ninety percent of the time I’m let in.  Not once have I ever tried to force my way in with “Where are you from?”.

 

Sometimes I don’t even have to say anything. They notice me standing nearby and we make quick eye contact and the group opens a space. I listen for a bit and when I have something to add, I chime in.  There is a flow to group merger.  I certainly don’t take over the conversation and start directing the topic with boring questions.

Always these guys who fail to enter walk away in confusion after they are expelled. They don’t get what went wrong and why the group turned so cold to them.

There are cases where some have succeeded. My husband, for example, was quite skilled at how he slid into my circle of female friends. I spotted him from the outside of a coffee shop and ran over to say “hi”.  (I guess he wasn’t quite merging with our group, but the technique would have worked regardless).

My friends followed after at me. Seeing that we were all together, he asked, “May I buy you all coffee? My treat.”

His smile was killer. My friends tried to decline, but he reassured them that it would be his pleasure to do so.  From the exchanged looks, my friends instantly approved of him and silently asked me, “And who is this Charmer?”

Once we were all seated with our drinks, he didn’t take over the conversation and ask us “Do you like…” or “Where are you from?”.  Nevertheless, he did become the center of attention as my friends peppered him with “What do you do?” and “How do you know each other?”

I didn’t appreciate how skilled he was in joining the group, but now I can see his tactics so much better. Very few seem to understand how to do this. Too many often rudely insert themselves, take over the conversation, bore everyone to death, and then act like everyone else is being unfair for wanting to escape them.

 

Small talk may not be the most exciting, but it is an important skill for getting your foot in the door. Without it, you’ll find yourself thrown out and a door slammed in your face.

What are your thoughts on this?  Has this happened to you in other countries?

How do you join groups at mixers and such?

And, most important of all, WHERE ARE  YOU FROM?

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Awkward Introductions In Japan

  1. I’d say the most outrageous question I was asked was when I lived in Hawaii and locals would ask me “What’s your mix”? Because with a tan and my build I could pass for part Hawaiian or part Japanese (in their eyes) and it was obvious I was part caucasian. But in Hawaiian culture most people are mixed and the word for it is “Hapa”. And people are proud of their mix of cultures there–they will include all of them in their self description “Hapa Hawaiian/Chinese” or “Hapa Philipino/Hawaiian/Japanese”. But at first I took it to mean that they were judging me, when in fact, they were just curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh man, I’ve lost interest the minute someone asks “Where are you from?” In the past I’ve tried to be funny by turning the question around on Japanese people asking them the same “Where are you from?” but the humor is generally lost on them and after a while I tired of that joke. Now I simply drift away quickly after I’m accosted with “Where are you from?”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Do you like Japanese men?”, haha, what an awkward question! There have been several times when I’ve been out at a pub with some girl friends having a drink. We’re all married/have boyfriends and just want to have catch up with each other. Then it might happen that one or more guys who are trying to hook up basically try to join our group. We answer politely and aren’t rude but at some point we want them to leave because most of the time it’s clear they aren’t just trying to make friends but want more and we aren’t interested! It’s tricky because some men take forever to get the hint and we don’t want to be rude.. At the same time I appreciate how hard it must be for guys to approach a bunch of girls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I definitely agree with you what you said.
      I also try not to be rude in the beginning unless the guy is ill-mannered.

      I always feel sorry for the guy in the beginning when he tries to enter a group of women, especially when many don’t speak his native language. However, at the same time I wish he’d understand better how one goes about entering the “lion’s den”. Hint: don’t drape yourself in a gown of raw meat first.

      I feel like many of the men who do this don’t take the time to work on their approach or learn from previous encounters.

      If they’re going to enter a group of women, they better understand the social cues well. I’m more forgiving of the ones who are at least fun and entertaining.

      But I can only take so many questions of “Do you like Japanese food?”. And they have to ask each of us the same question individually by changing it to “And how about you? And how about you?”

      *facepalm*

      Like

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