Eating Cornflakes

August 20, 2007. Filed under japan 44 jet 31

The first full day I was in Kamioka my supervisor asked a teacher at my middle school to take me shopping. Show me the way to the grocery store, help me find some food, be a helping hand in a cold world: you know the drill. The slight complication is that she spoke absolutely no English. I am pretty sure she was selected because she was the youngest person in the room at the time my supervisor was there.

As arranged, she came at 4:00 and picked me up and drove me to Valor (the grocery store in Kamioka). The grocery store is pretty small by American superstore standards, but in Kamioka you take what you get.

As we are walking into the store the teacher asks:

Teacher: "What do you want to buy?"
Me: "Um, chicken and vegetables.. uuum"

So first we find some chicken ("What about some fish?"), and then I end up staring at the vegetables. The selection of vegetables is suprisingly small, and I don't even recognize a fewl of them (which, given my lack of culinary refinement, is probably not a cause for alarm). I end up with a bag of three carrots (198 yen), a red pepper (98 yen), two grapefruits (128 yen x 2), two bags of bean sprouts (36 yen x 2! this is the only reason I bought them, and because the bag has healthy written literally everywhere, they can't lie that many times.. can they?).

The teacher was off pretending to browse a few feet away, but appeared to be getting antsy, so I said that was all I needed. We then briefly skimmed through the rest of the aisles.

Teacher points at box of laundry detergent. "Do you need any?" "No, I already have some in my apartment." (Further examination reveals that I am wrong, as the box of laundry detergent on top of my clothes washer is, contrary to expectations, empty.)

The rest of the aisles pass without event until we arrive at the milk, which fatefully has a few boxes of cereal next to it. None of the cereal looks very good, but the teacher notices my interest and says that there is more available on another aisle. I grab a carton of "low fat Valor brand milk" and soon we find the cereal aisle.. section.. corner. The prices are pretty absurd, but out of the corner of my eye I notice a bag of plain cornflakes for 128 yen.

Fast forward to the next day as I am leaving work.

Teacher: "What did you eat last night?" Me (grinning): "I was tired so I just had cornflakes."

Funny, in retrospect, how such an innocent comment can gain momentum.

The next morning at work.

Other Teacher: "You didn't just have cornflakes for dinner again yesterday, did you?"

Later that same day.

Yet Another Teacher: "Did you make anything for lunch today? Not just cornflakes I hope."

The next day.

English Teacher: "Do you know how to cook? Cornflakes arn't enough."

Supervisor calling.

Supervisor: "So we need to go get your foreigner registration card tomorrow.
Me: "Okay."
Supervisor: "I'll come by sometime in the morning, when is okay?"
Me: "I need to help some students with their speeches at 1:00, but the morning is fine."
Supervisor: "You're eating more than cornflakes, right?"
Me: "..."

You really can't predict what people are going to fixate on. When I am speaking in English, the most interesting thing I say in a given day might have some actual content, but when I am speaking in Japanese, most days I am lucky to say something as interesting as "I had cornflakes for dinner."

This is the frustration of immersive language learning: you want to discuss the differences in gender-interaction between middle schoolers in the United States and in Japan (the kids here seem more comfortable with each other), but instead you talk about cornflakes.