Saturday, July 11, 2009

Limits of intellection

I don't know who Moeka Hiraoko is. Perhaps she's a student of Parissa Haghirian, an Austrian professor of management at Tokyo's Sophia University on whose website Moeka's essay is posted. Google didn't return much on Moeka except a Facebook entry, and as her essay is copyright 2009, and is about her experience studying in the United States, I guess she may even still be a student.

Who she is, though, is not so important. It's what she has written about her experience in America that you may find interesting. A typical middle class Japanese girl who went to San Diego to study English, she took an immediate disliking to her Swiss classmate Maria, who seemed to embody the stereotypical image of the selfish westerner.

For example, her English was much better than mine and when I didn’t understand what she said, she showed her irritation very clearly. We both loved shopping so we went to malls almost everyday after school, but she didn’t care how long she made me wait, and didn’t wait for me when I took time. Also, our host family had a nine year old daughter who was cute and lively, but Maria thought that she was sometimes annoying. When she asked us if we would like to do something with her, Maria often said no, even though the family was taking care of us. All these actions are considered very rude in Japan, and I had never met someone like her before. So I started to become offended by her behavior after spending a week with her.

However, what surprised me a lot was that another girl, whose name was Ina and also came from Switzerland, said that Maria was very cool. I could not believe it at first because I thought that she was harsh and unpleasant. I asked Ina why she thought that Maria was cool. She told me that a girl like Maria, who always expresses her opinion without hesitation and does whatever she wants with confidence, is considered a cool person in Switzerland. I am not sure if this is actually the standard of cool girls in Switzerland because I have never asked anyone else from thereabout it. However, for me at the time, with barely any experience outside Tokyo, it was very surprising that someone would think about Maria like that. I had heard that Western people were not at all like Japanese people, but it was the first time that I had actually experienced it.
Moeka then does what for most people would be difficult, for many impossible. She sets aside her native inclinations to adopt Maria's behavior in order to find out from the inside what it's like to live as the other. You can read more about her experience here. Don't worry, it's not a long essay.

What struck me most while reading it was how well I could relate to Moeka's feelings. I suppose 17 years living among Japanese has made me more like them than I perhaps imagined. Which is really not a bad thing at all.

Except when you have to deal with opinionated westerners.



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