Living in Japan, you’re basically trapped in a tiny spaceship, peering down through clouds and picking up intermittent snippets of news floating skyward from earth. I first heard “Poker Face” in a smoky Shinjuku karaoke bar, when some girl belted out Mum mum mum mah. Some complicated lyrics, those. And I learned the results of the U.S. election in a similar joint in Oita prefecture. Okay, so I do a lot of karaoke. Beer helps. Anyway, what I mean is that it’s not easy keeping touch with Western culture, and even harder understanding why singers are now called Gaga and Presidents Trump. It’s like the world’s gone crazy, and English with it. For example:
1. White Privilege
I take this to mean that white people enjoy advantages in countries where the majority is white. How is this even a thing? Not saying it’s right or whatever; only that it’s obvious.
Here’s something else obvious: Yellow Privilege. In the nation of Japan, people who look “Japanese” have an edge over the “lesser races.” Japanese folks are welcomed in stores, spoken to as adults, can join teams and clubs without a second thought, and assume positions of power. It might be a while before the country, you know, gets a black President. Or a white police officer. Or much more than a half-Mongolian librarian. But we don’t need a special term to describe this reality. People who appear “non-yellow” expect to be treated differently. Just how, varies, although you can anticipate being treated like a child, an idiot, an amusing guest, a criminal, or perhaps just ignored. Of course, if you’re white, you might get the privilege of teaching second-graders. Or if you look “Indian,” maybe you can work in a curry restaurant. That’s Brown Privilege.
Ken Seeroi spent about two weeks trying to work this one out. Young Only Love Old? Yellow Orange Lavender Olive? Yurts Overseas Long Overdo? WTF? Look, I get that it’s helpful to use acronyms to shorten things you say all the time, like FBI, NSA, and USA, but how often could you possibly say YOLO? HOCYPSYOLO? Is it too much to ask for English-speakers not to use strange English? Is this your revenge for kanji? If so, well played.
Okay, tell me if I’ve got this right. Foodie is like when you watch too many episodes of Martha and Snoop and suddenly something snaps in your brain and you start believing you actually know dick about food. Or you dine out so much that the MSG finally clogs up your synapses and you spontaneously type out Yelp reviews with words like “infusion,” “squid ink,” and “ragout.”
Of course, there’s a word for people who really do understand how produce is grown, prepared, and served. That would be “chef,” as in someone who went to cooking school and can actually make a meal that doesn’t involve a microwave. But I guess just deciding that you’re a foodie is easier than doing anything resembling actual cooking.
And now apparently there’re even sushi foodies, who write about “amazing” American sushi bars and make readers in Japan want to throw our PCs off a high ledge. Seriously, the stuff you’ve got there tastes like you convinced a buddy in Tokyo to run down to the Japanese 7-Eleven with 500 yen, grab a pack of sushi, put it on a slow boat to the States, then hired an Asian dude to serve it to you for sixty bucks with a side of sake which almost nobody in Japan drinks anyway.
But okay, if you really want to write about sushi, maybe you ought to at least be able to identify the ingredients. So take your tackle box down to the pier, catch a fish, determine what kind he is, then slice up his little silvery body into tiny pieces and eat him alive. You might want to raise a few varieties of rice while you’re at it. Repeat that for several years and then feel free to write all the sushi bar reviews you want.
And by the way, if you look at what Japanese people have on their plates, it’s often not sushi, but sashimi. In a country where people are obsessed with fitting into their skinny jeans, nobody’s trying to slam a bunch of carbs before bedtime.
4. Active Shooter
I’m trying to picture the situation in which somebody firing a gun is not active. Like, “We’ve got a passive shooter, arm-chaired and dangerous.” And the SWAT team crashes their tank through some dude’s trailer to find him in a Lazy Boy with an AR-15 going, “Aw man, I was gonna shoot more, but I had to take a nap instead. So sleepy.” Do you really need to say active shooter? Have you no sense of redundancy? The fact that you’ve even got an expression for all the times somebody goes ape-shit and shoots up a bunch of the citizenry does not speak well for your country. Just saying.
So I went online to buy a flashlight, in preparation for the next life-threatening earthquake. Can’t be too prepared in a nation full of volcanoes. And apparently now there are these things called “tactical” flashlights, which look just like, um, regular flashlights. Which begs the question—-what could possibly be tactical about a flashlight? And now it seems there’s all kinds of other “tactical” stuff: backpacks, tents, pens, hats. A tactical hat? Seriously? What does it do? Are you sure you’ve even got the right word? A tactic is like, “Hey, what tactic should we use to approach those hot girls at the bar?” And you’re like, “I don’t know, but I’ve got my hat, pen, and flashlight, so somebody’s getting laid tonight.” Yeah, good luck with that.
This question jumped out at me on Quora. “What is a Fuckboy?” Such deep questions are very helpful, because they remind me why I should stop reading Quora. But all right, my curiosity got the better of me, and I clicked the link. And now I’ve wasted two more minutes of my life. But from what I gathered in that time, Fuckboys are preppily-dressed, clean-cut young men. Are you sure you didn’t mis-type “frat boy”?
The term sounds pretty derogatory, which is also perplexing. Does this mean American women don’t want young, attractive, well-dressed men? The whole thing’s confusing. Also, you know, not to nitpick your English, but doesn’t “boy” mean a person who’s like eight years old? Putting that together with “fuck” make you sound like a pedophile. Again, just saying.
At first, I thought this was a keyboard shortcut, then I found out it’s like a club. Who names their club after a keyboard shortcut? A bunch of angry people, apparently. What they’re angry about, I really don’t know, since I’m terrified of clicking any website associated with them. Ken Seeroi’s not trying to get flagged in some government database. Paranoia, now there’s a word I actually understand. Anyway, from what I can gather, the alt-right contingent really likes people who are “white.” Which makes me wonder: Are Italians okay? French people? Israelis? Russians? Help me out here, because— although the Japanese seem to have no problem with it—-skin color seems a wildly unreliable way of predicting who your friends are.
Oh, and they don’t like some guy named Glenn Beck. I think because he’s too weepy.
This is all very confusing, but here goes. So there was this guy named Bruce Jenner, and he was the greatest athlete in the world, because he won a gold medal in a sport that was actually ten sports rolled into one. The fact that such a thing even exists should probably negate the entire Olympics, but well, there it is. And then a few years later—-get ready for it—-he decides to become a woman. I was like, Holy shit, is there nothing this guy can’t do? I mean gal, whatever. Still, way to live your dreams, man.
So anyway, then there’s this other guy named Kanye West and apparently he’s a terrible driver, because he crashed his Lexus and it messed up his face. But he wrote a song about how bad of a driver he was, and it became popular. Then he married this woman named Kim Kardashian who’s got a giant ass and a whole bunch of sisters and she got tied up by burglars in a Paris hotel and they stole like a million dollars of her jewelry. Then somehow that God only knows, the giant ass woman gets connected to the greatest now-female athlete in the world, who’s going by the most hick name ever of Caitlyn. And there’s also this other lady with a huge ass named Blac Chyna, who apparently has yet to discover spell-check. No doubt there’s a diagram that shows how all these nut-jobs are interrelated, but if so, please don’t send it to me.
9. Stolen Valor
First of all, I’m trying to understand why anyone would want to impersonate a soldier. Like, could you not set your sights a bit higher? Walk around in scrubs with a stethoscope, or wear a toque and carry a chicken and a pot. Astronaut spacesuit? Top hat and Scrooge McDuck costume? Stuff a sausage down your Levi’s and pretend you’re a porn star? But nope, you’re gonna go with doughboy. Well, fair enough.
Now, it’s hard to understand why this is a problem. I mean, the whole nation of Japan’s full of white people pretending to be English teachers, and nobody seems too plussed about it.
Even in the U.S., you’ve already got a state full of people who play dress-up 24/7. That’s called Texas, and it’s chock-full of dudes impersonating ranch hands, with boots, cowboy hats, and oversized belt buckles. But nobody’s whipping out their iPhones and losing their minds over the whole thing. And then there’s this group of weirdos called the “Furries,” who dress up as dogs, sheep, and cows. I really don’t understand America. But I’ve never heard of anybody confronting a Furry, like “Stolen hide! Cows gave their lives for you, you know! I had a buddy who was ground up and made into delicious patties, and now you’re impersonating him—-you know that’s a federal offense? Take off those horns!”
When it becomes an actual thing to go out and search for people dressed in fatigues and confront them—-I mean, get a hobby already. Japanese folks don’t even have that kind of time. We don’t freak out when you come over here wearing your yukata, geta, and hachimaki, like Stolen samurai valor! Seriously, you gotta learn to let some stuff go.
Moshi Moshi, Earth do you Read Me?
So I was Skyping with my brother last weekend. It was nighttime in America and naturally he was drinking a beer. He is my brother, after all.
“Beer,” he said.
“Nice. You know it’s dawn here, right?
“Hey, breakfast of champions,” he replied. “So, how’s the Soyuz capsule holding up?
“Fuel’s lookin’ a bit low, but somehow maintaining orbit. How’s earth?
“Never better,” he said. “Got a new Prez who’s gonna encircle the nation in barbed wire.
“That should help keep the Americans in. The rest of the world thanks you,” I said.
Then we looked at each other for a bit, and shook our heads together through the silence. Finally I asked, “Is the U.S. getting crazier, or is it just me?
“Nah, it’s you, man. You only notice it more, now that you’re not here.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I guess.”
After we hung up, I went down to the 7-Eleven. It seemed too early for a pack of 500-yen sushi, so I just grabbed a can of coffee, a can of corn soup, a hot dog bun filled with spaghetti, half a pickled radish, and a can of mackerel. Now that’s a breakfast. I’m just thankful I live in a country where everything’s normal.