Japan: Taking Your Shoes On And Off Without Any Hands by:Tom Aaron
Part of living abroad is adapting to different customs. When we live abroad and adapt, we sometimes forget that we adapted. We forget how things once were in our daily lives. Then, when someone visits us and comments, we have a storm of memories and notice what we have adapted to. I had such a moment when Fred started to detail his mother's visit and her shoe analysis.
"So, my mother arrives at our house and has to take off her shoes. Fred's mother was annoyed about this and felt she was being inconvenienced. I am not sure which is worse, Mom going on about this or the Japanese who ask about dirt when Americans wear shoes in the house. Now from that point on Mom is watching shoes like an eagle. I put a chair in the hallway so Mom could sit down when she was taking on and off her shoes."
I nodded sympathetically and Fred went on:
"Well the next thing Mom starts go on about is shoelaces. Fred's mother sees that many people have slip on shoes, shoes without laces. She wants to know why I didn't tell her in advance. Well, I did. So, I told her that. Of course she doesn't remember."
I nodded sympathetically again. I don't have a clue if Fred told her or not, but I wouldn't dream of asking him if he was sure he really told her. Fred continued on his saga of Mom's visits and shoes.
"So, the next day we go out to dinner. We went to Suzuki's. Naturally, we sat at one of the tables in the center, so we didn't have to take our shoes off. Mom was not really keen on the food, but that's another story. Anyway, this family comes in, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and a bunch of little kids. Two of them look like they are in kindergarten, maybe four or five years old."
Finally getting a word in, I asked Fred if Mom was upset by the noise or the kids roaming around.
Fred replied, "Mom didn't say a thing about how cute the kids were or how much they roamed around and how kids should not be moving around in restaurants. I was pretty surprised. Mom was fascinated by the way the kids kept getting up, effortlessly slipping their shoes on, wandering off, and coming back. I think they wanted something in the case with all the kiddie stuff and they were negotiating. But they went back and forth about a million times. We were a little far away, so I couldn't clearly see their shoes. I imagine the backs were broken down. So, I tried to explain to Mom."
I raised my eyebrows and Fred responded, "Yes, she could not get her head around their breaking down the backs of the shoes by pushing the very back of the shoe forward and standing on it. So, Mom wants to go over there and watch the kids with their shoes. I don't know how to stop her and I want to be able to go to the restaurant again, so I tell her the grandfather looks really normal, but he is actually a gangster. Mom believes this and she doesn't go over."
I started to ask something, but Fred cut me off: "So next in come a bunch of young women in their early twenties. They have got those boots that are all the rage now and they have got to take off these long boots to sit down on the tatami. It is pretty effortless for them although Mom was getting a little concerned over modesty issues... Anyway, Mom flew home and is probably now telling everybody in America all about shoes in Japan.
I could see a picture of that and it was not a pretty site. Mom was just an older version of Fred.
About the author
At Aaron Language Services (http://www.aaronlanguage.com/), we provide Japanese to English translation, English proofreading, and online English coaching to a primarily Japanese client base.