First, I want to dedicate this post to anyone who has ever done something culturally wrong and lived to experience just how embarrassing it is. This one’s for you… ☺
The place: Tokyo, Japan. We had begun the day as normal as any other, word time in the morning followed by breaking off into our trek groups to do ministry until lunch. I can’t tell you what trek color I was with that day because after a traumatic incident things usually fade in comparison to what happened.
It was after lunch and we were just finishing up 5ME (5 Minute English). In Japan the trips take part in a ministry called 5 Minute English. Basically you stand on the sidewalk at a train station and sell the fact that you speak English. People love to practice their English in Japan so they come over and just talk. You get a great opportunity to share not only about why you’re there, but the gospel as well.
Anyway, back to” the incident.” It was after 5ME and we were boarding the train to head back to our hostel. The trains in Japan, though very crowded most of the time, are extremely quiet. Most people play games on their cell phones, text, or sleep while riding. After the first five days of riding you too get use to doing one of the three as well. So, after this long day of talking to people and standing on a sidewalk I was so excited when I snagged one of the seats on the train & was able to sit and rest for the ride back. I was between a lady texting and an older man sleeping when IT happened…
I flicked him.
That’s right, I flicked him. I don’t know if you can imagine how intense this moment actually was when I accidently flicked the old sleeping guy sitting next to me! The Japanese are not very touchy/feely people. They don’t hug, they don’t shake hands normally, nothing! So, not only did he jump ten feet into the air, he scooted away from me…no eye contact- just scooted as far away as possible. I was devastated. I tried to apologize, but of course it was no use. Who flicks people on the subway?!
Ok, now a moment to defend myself. This is what happened. While sitting on the subway I had drifted into that ‘after ministry’ daze. You know what I’m talking about. You may get it when you’re sitting at dinner or in your room after the day is over. You just fade out and start thinking through the day or the week or the people you’ve met. So there I was, out of it, and I had my arms crossed – my right hand making the “Okay” symbol, just sitting there. Then one muscle spasm later I had flicked a sleeping man and was the scorn of the train.
Ah well, I guess we all have some sort of cross cultural story that puts us into interesting situations with the locals. Mine forever will be, “I flicked a guy on the train in Tokyo once.” Ridiculous, hilarious, and completely embarrassing, what about you? Do you have a great “shocking the culture” story?