Last week, my Japanese class screened a film called Departures. The plot of the film follows a young man who begins working as a nōkanshi (traditional Japanese mortician) after his music career fails. Departures beautifully illustrates the process of traditional Japanese funerals. After my class finished the film, my professor requested that we fill out a reflection worksheet asking us compare and contrast questions about Japanese traditions and our own country’s traditions. One of the questions was “describe how your country’s funeral traditions are different or similar to Japanese funeral traditions.” As I began writing my answer, something occurred to me. When I write about my home country, I use “they” instead of “we.”
Something similar happened about a month ago when I went out for a sushi dinner with some friends from my apartment complex in Tokyo. All of my friends at dinner were from European countries. As we were eating, the topic of American tourists came up. My friends, validly ( I can say this because I’m an American), began complaining about how American tourists can be irritating in certain contexts. A friend from France turned to me and asked “Car, what is your opinion on this?” I began to answer, forming the words “well, they all…” before I realized what I was doing. The table erupted in laughter as one friend called me out for my dissociation. “Why are you saying “they”…“aren’t you an American?!”
I’ve noticed that when I ask my international friends where they are from, many of them reply with pride when they say their country. Many of my American friends lower their head in a shameful position when they answer, and I do the same. Now that I’ve been living abroad for over two months, something has become quite apparent to me: people want to know what country you are from. I’ve been so accustomed to being asked my race in America that I haven’t ever really grappled with identifying solely as an American. However, in this new context where I’m the foreigner, it’s become clear that I have a degree of embarrassment tied to my nationality – so much so, that it comes out in my subconscious use of language. As the days go by, I’m getting slightly more comfortable with identifying as an American, but the origins of this dissociation are something I hope to explore further during my time here.