Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Another Take on "Being Taken for a Tourist"

For those of you who have wondered about the naturalization process in Japan, look no further than the site Becoming Legally Japanese. In particular, cast an eye upon the Questions section of the blog for answers to questions you may have (and answers that may surprise you).  I highly recommend it.

In a recent post they directly address the question of Why Japanese assume that people who appear non-Asian can't speak Japanese and give a very plausible answer ("it's bad for business.")  One that makes sense to me and is probably true in many places - not just Japan.  And there is advice for how to avoid situations where the Japanese are most likely to speak English to a foreign Japanese-speaker.

It's a very thoughtful post and I recommend it as highly as I recommend the blog.  But I do have some thoughts and questions of my own which I offer here.  It's a great topic and one I wish we migrants/expatriates would talk about more.

English:  The post was written from the perspective of English-speakers and English is clearly touted by all (including the Japanese government) as being "the" foreign-language to learn.  Speakers of other languages (like my spouse) are forced to use it more than they would like.  Think of English as a "lowest common denominator" language - the one most likely for both Japanese and foreigners to speak.   And this is good for some business - no doubt about it.  I do note, however, that in Osaka inside and outside of tourist areas there are signs that say "No English Menu"  or "English menu available" which seems to indicate where tourists are and are not welcome.  But wait!  There are also plenty of signs that say "Chinese spoken."

Are the proprietors of the "No English" establishments committing economic suicide in support of some higher principle?  That is a serious question because there does seem to be this enormous push by the Japanese government and people to learn English.  I could well understand a resistance to that. I suspect that business decisions do drive a lot of this and English, contrary to the ideology of English as globalization, really isn't necessary for many businesses to thrive (or avoid going broke). In Osaka there are certainly many tourists but most of them are Chinese.  And just from walking around the city for a few years, the impression I have is that they are the ones with the money.  So perhaps it's about what kind of tourist a business wants to draw in. And here it looks like Chinese is an equal or better bet to draw customers.

Class:  And here I go into a subject that many Americans are mighty uneasy about.  I suggest that "tourist" is sometimes used as a code for middle or lower-class Americans. These are the people without the time (almost no vacation) or money (they have jobs or families  at home they can't leave) to do more than spend a few days or weeks in a foreign country.  That is not to say that American migrants or expatriates are rich - they may indeed very often come from the same socioeconomic class as the tourists.  But  the American migrants found a way to go abroad and stay.  And having earned that social capital (often though much hard work and hardship) and raised one's status, how horrible and embarrassing to meet... yourself.   What you might have been if you hadn't applied for that visa.  There is a sick feeling that associating with them might drag you back, much as if you were the first person in your family to graduate from college and get a white-collar job.  Suddenly your old friends from your old town showed up one day to meet the family and drag you off to a bar to talk about people and places you had hoped you would never see again (or only see when visiting family back in the home country).

I don't know if the above is true of anyone but myself.  (But I suspect that it is.)  And I should know because I have felt all of those things at different times in France and I have sat with my fellow integrated migrants and talked about how to avoid those "short-timers."  If the author of the blog post had come to France I would have treated him badly and not wanted to associate with him/her since I would have assumed that he was just another of those "tourists" (and yes I would have been using that word as code for class).  I would have also treated badly those migrants that I deemed "not integrated enough" or those not lucky enough to live in Paris or those Americans who still wore tennis shoes and a whole host of other things.  It is safe to say that I was a perfect class-conscious snob.

How I came to this realization is a story for another day.  Suffice to say that the idea of separating friends by their level of integration and language ability reminds me a lot of separating friends into "those who have MAs" and "those who don't."  And while I do understand that these strategies would be helpful when it comes to learning a language and not being treated like a tourist, I have to ask if something is also missed when we do this.  If the author of the post, for example, came to Paris and I dismissed him/her as an ignorant, non-French speaker tourist, then I would lose the benefit of meeting someone who has a whole host of experiences that I am ignorant about.  He/she in turn might find out a few things about what it's like to live in France which would broaden his/her experience of what it means to live in Japan.  In short, we both might learn something from the experience, but if we aren't open to even acknowledging each other than we both miss out.  That is how I have come to see it.

Integration:  Finally, I would agree that the total immersion approach is probably the most effective way for learning a language quickly.  However, where that happens is important and goes beyond restaurants, karaoke bars, family, and friends.  I am talking about the world of work. Most of us have to do that. That is one area where the stakes are highest, but one where I would say you get the most gains. Your sposue and friends may forgive your accent and grammatical errors, the poorly written email or lack of accent marks, but your boss and colleagues are less amused.

 From what I have seen most Anglophone foreigners work in the "cultural services industry" where their foreignness and language skills are what got them the visa and the jobs in the first place.  I believe that it is very hard to speak English for 8-10 hours a day and master the local language at the same time.  I'm sure that some do manage it but I would argue that they are the minority.  Those I have met who really have mastered Japanese had the time to study before they started working and so they were able to go to Japanese universities or apply for jobs in Japanese companies.  So I speculate that there is a catch-22 situation here where, for example, teaching English (or in English) means that it takes longer to learn the language.  But without local language skills (which include literacy) it is extremely difficult to get a better job in a Japanese company (or a French one for that matter.)   I note that in addition to the sterotype of the visible-minority foreigner lacking Japanese language skills, there is also one that sees them as all teaching English for a living.  And that one, I'm afraid, probably is true. But if there were better economic and occupational integration than I strongly suspect that better cultural integration will follow. (And that goes for migrants/expats in other countries as well.)  The problem is solving the catch-22 problem and I have no good answers for that one.

My .02 and please go ahead and contradict/argue/agree.  I'm offering this up for discussion, not as a lecture where I think I'm right and that's all there is to it.  In fact. rereading this I can see where I could easily argue with myself. So fire away, my friends!


Inaka Nezumi said...

"No English": My guess is that it just means the proprietors really don't speak much English. Not everybody does. (Either that, or the owners are fervid Scottish nationalists? Admittedly unlikely -- just throwing it out there for completeness.)

Class: At least in Japan, I don't think I'd use "class" to distinguish between residents and tourists. More simply, I'd use insider/outsider dichotomy, which is a different thing. (Fiercely parochial insiders can certainly be of lower socioeconomic class, even in their own eyes, than the outsiders they distinguish themselves from.) Why is it so important not to be an outsider? I think that is just basic human need. Yes, there are some people who actually revel in outsider status, but I think most people want to feel at home and some degree of acceptance where they live. I'd argue that the relationship with respect to the local population is a more important determinant of individual happiness than that with respect to tourists. Not that being a tourist is bad (far from it!), it is just not what most people want to be every day for the rest of their lives in their own homes and towns.

Immersion: I agree that trying to learn one language while having to use a different one all day long is doing things the hard way. As for the stereotypes of the "cultural services industry," I think that is location-dependent. There are places where the majority of foreigners are not in that industry, but instead are doing the same kinds of jobs that the locals are doing, and where that kind of pigeon-holing does not seem prevalent. But even in tourist traps, I think that there is some kind of protective armor conferred by behavior and body language, though it may take a long time to acquire.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I see what you mean, nezumi. That is a distinction that I've heard many times here. I agree 100% that acceptance is is a pretty primal need. Absolutely the relationship to the local population is much more important - the tourists are toothless. :-) The host country population on the other hand can do you real damage. To a certain extent we are all dependent on their goodwill. One of the things I really liked about the post was it showed how outnumbered foreigners are. So I find the fear of not being accepted to be a perfectly rational response. But why take out the fear and insecurity on the tourists? Why so much distancing? This was the question I asked myself after I wrote another post on this topic. What I wrote was my answer to that but it needs more thought, I think.

I have had several people explain the insider/outsider and I agree that it is relevant to a certain extent. I will still argue that class is useful here. Think of a migrant at the intersection of three class systems - one in the home country and two in the host country. Japan like any other country has a class system and an integrated migrant is placed in or seeks a position in that system. Where he/she ends up is probably a functions of many things, not just one. Usually migrants aren't at the top of the local pecking order though their children are born into it and may do better. However there is one more social hierarchy as I see it and that is the one that migrants construct for themselves. There is a world of difference between a teacher at an eikaiwa and a finance guru with the latter being better able to negotiate his or her integration at a higher level of the Japanese social hierarchy. I think this does matter. I also think that within this class perspective are partial explanations as to why acceptance is so important and why "tourists" are a nightmare to be avoided at all costs. Acceptance, I think, is more important to some and far less important to others. Getting to insider status is one thing, but I think people care a lot about where they end up on the inside.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Hmm, ok, the investment banker makes a lot more money than the eikaiwa teacher, and thus can probably negotiate a higher place in the local class hierarchy, but they are both residents. Which one is more "integrated" is not easy to guess. The eikaiwa teacher may be part of a big, warm happy family, while the investment banker is isolated. Or vice versa. Can't tell just from income.

It also is not clear to me that tourists are, on average, of a lower socio-economic class than eikaiwa teachers. Tourists at least have demonstrably enough disposable income to fly to another country for the fun of it. Most eikaiwa teachers, I think, are barely scraping by (my impression, be happy to be wrong about that).

I can also cite examples from other places, where tourists come through who are generally much wealthier than the locals, some quite snobby about it. The locals return the disdain in full measure. You really don't want to be mistaken for a tourist in such a place, even if that would imply you are of a higher class than the locals.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Absolutely, one has more leverage than the other. And more options. Totally agree with you that it's impossible to tell how integrated one is by income. Also totally agree with you that the tourist may be of a higher social class than an eikaiwa teacher - hard to know. And you are absolutely right about the teachers scraping by. A big change from the 1980s when they made good money.

But here's a hypothesis (just for fun): Anglophone migrants with less social capital care more about being perceived to be integrated than those with more. Hence, the desire to be distant from tourists or other residents with more social capital. They may have wealth and easier mobility (geographical and social) and integration on easier terms but *we* live in the "real" Japan and have insider status. Think of it as making a virtue out of a necessity. A way to have some status when other ways are unobtainable.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Oh yeah, I think that dynamic is very much in play. Also explains how 'expat' (of the corporate relocation package variety) becomes a term of disdain.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I think that would be an interesting hypothesis to explore, Nezumi. I think it could explain a lot of attitudes and behaviour that I've seen and have admitted to in this post. Status and class anxiety.

Take the international school, for example. This is one that is rarely within the reach of the middle or lower-class migrant. If they are indeed "ghettos" they are pretty nice ones. Filled with the children of well-educated high earners (the offspring of upper-class local people and short or long-term professional/executive migrant/expats). They are not national or language "ghettos" so much as they are class ones.

Here are the training grounds for the global elite, and here we are stuck with local schools (usually pubic ones). Since we are stuck at least we can make the argument that it shows that we have integrated and that our children are completely integrated. Does this breed resentment among the other migrants/expats? I think it's only human to feel it. And note that candidates for the French abroad include more access to French education in their platforms.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Sounds like a paper in the making.

There are some legitimate issues with international schools besides class envy. Quality of instruction, most notably -- they are not all created equal. Also what kinds of doors they open and close -- you'd have to be certain your kids will be happy with that track down the line, because it would be hard for them to switch back later.

But probably the sour grapes aspect is likely to be the source of the most vitriol.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Good morning, Nezumi. I will look into this further. It might work.

And I just finished a very long post today where I try to uncover the roots of my own status anxiety. Thought it might help if I did an examination of my own experience which I don't think is singular. "Sour grapes" would be a very good description of how I have felt and still feel sometimes.