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the gaijin dilemma

It's the stuff of nightmares for the gaijin in Japan. The thought of it is enough to send them running to the toilet. The reality of it is enough to cause profuse sweating and the breakout of an itchy rash in the nether regions.

The dilemma is whether to acknowledge fellow gaijin walking along the street. Don't let any gaijin tell you it's not a dilemma. In fact, the ones who pretend not to notice their fellow gaijin are the ones with the loudest voice in their head and the biggest knot in their stomach. It's written all over their face.

Their internal dialogue usually goes something like this:
"Oh, what a nice day, I think I'll go and.....oh shit is that a gaijin up ahead? Or just a Japanese person with blonde hair? Shit, it IS a gaijin. What shall I do? Acknowledge? Smile? Completely ignore him? If I smile and he doesn't, I'll feel like an idiot, and maybe it looks like I've just arrived in Japan yesterday and I'll look all naive and lost, but actually I've been here nine years and I know everything.

But hey, I'm friendly, why shouldn't I say hello? Maybe he's nice. He probably won't even look at me; pretend I'm not even here, pretend he hasn't seen me.

Shit, he's getting closer. Hey, he's looking the other way in a most unnatural fashion - so he's definitely seen me! He's looking all over the place, everywhere except AT ME. So he's going through the same hell as me right now. Moving into the critical zone now...I'll go for it....Hello."

Other gaijin: "Hello."

A gaijin with a red T-shirt and a red face.
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On Sunday, 04 June, 2006, Blogger nmj said:

This gaijin dance is funny the way you describe it . . .  

On Sunday, 04 June, 2006, Blogger Joseph Tame said:

oooh how true. Your description is frighteningly accurate...

Just thinking about it now, (even from a safe distance, i.e. about 5,000 miles away in Sheffield), it's making me feel naucious. My shoulders have tensed up. I think i'll have to go have a lie down...  

On Monday, 05 June, 2006, Blogger Natalie said:

Ain't that the truth. But you forgot the part about...What if I say hello and they're not from and English speaking country? Am I proclaiming that English is the only reasonable language to speak. And why do I have to say hello anyway? I moved a billion miles away to get away from the people in my country. And just cuz we are foreigners in a foreign land doesn't mean we have anything else in common? And how dare you wander into my space! I'm the local Gaigin and this is my territory. But then again it sure would be nice to talk to someone who didn't start every sentence with "maybe". Ooooh, the dilemna.  

On Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said:

Top one!
I've been here so long that I really don't care anymore.
But,you hit the nail on the head with this one.
I think it is the people who are not long stayers,but also not Johnnie come lately who have the biggest prob when they encounter that most alien of species,the gaijin, on the street!  

On Thursday, 08 June, 2006, Blogger basilio76 said:

Top blog. Good observation there.

I'd have to say I'm a blanker or was that w@nker???

Just can't bring myself to say hello to someone who is a complete stranger and I've been here 4 years.

I've had my fingers burnt too many times when I have plucked up the courage to say hello and gotten power blanked.  

On Thursday, 08 June, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said:

I ignore other foreigners as why should I acknowledge them? I didn't say helo to every 'foreign'face when I lived in London so why here?

The Japanese seem to assume that we have something in common but apart from us being gaijin, what else?  

On Thursday, 08 June, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said:

I think it’s a hard one to call. I'm a Brit bloke who used to live in japan. I sometimes said hello to fellow foreigners, just depended on my feeling / the situation.

I mean I say hi to people here in Britain, if for example I’m walking in the countryside and someone passes by.

But when I was in japan and a fellow foreigner passed me on a BUSY street, I rarely said anything. But it just seemed more akward to ignore the other foreigner on a quiet street when I passed one in japan, rather than just being friendly and saying hi, like being in the countryside back home. I don’t want to be friends or exchange numbers!

Gaijin women were always more smiley but the blokes were trying to maintiain some kind of macho façade, maybe?  

On Thursday, 08 June, 2006, Blogger m said:

I used to always wear my sunglasses, so hell if they knew I was a fellow foreigner.
Where we are now, on the other hand, I will run after any person speaking either English, or in rare instances Japanese, invite them to my home, feed them, and try to give them my first born as a husband for their daughter. Oh, wait, I don't have a firstborn yet. But you get the picture.  

On Saturday, 10 June, 2006, Blogger Chris Benjamin said:

on a related but unrelated note, i once hosted a volunteer from st. lucia. he used to quip to me about the 'black nod' that he'd get from other black males here in halifax (nova scotia...canada?). i guess it's just a natural response to recognizing something in common in a place where you are usually the one with less than average in common.  

On Monday, 19 June, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said:

I never said hello to strangers on the street in America, so why should I say hello to them on the street in Japan?  

On Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, Blogger The Funky Drummer said:

I am the ONLY gaijin in this village! Good day.

If I'm in the inaka - I give a nod. If I'm in the city - I don't.

I recently experienced a very arkward moment at a subway resturant in Osaka. I was very hung over, and just wanted to eat my sub in peace, but a gaijin (who was probably just visting Japan rather than living here) felt the need to sit right next to me in the resturant, where the tables were very close to each other.

I really wasn't in the mood for small talk, and thus the situtation was very uncomfortable -as a tense silence ensued, with both of us knowing that something should be saif, but I couldn't wait to eat my scran and get the hell out!  

On Wednesday, 05 July, 2006, Blogger Niels Brouwers said:

It seems to me that some gaijin strive to be more japanese than the japanese themselves, and start to dislike other gaijin after a while. I think a short nod is appropriate in situations where it's obvious the other is just as lost as you are ^___^  

On Friday, 07 July, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said:

I feel like such an idiot when I laugh at the way some Japanese people react to gaijin (Wow! It's a gaijin! Amazing!) and then I do the same thing. I agonize, and try to smile, and wonder why I don't just hide my hair and face every time I leave the house so I don't look gaijin.
And, just so you know, I'm a random American who stumbled upon this site in a search for chopstick statistics. I really want to be able to say, "Sixty two percent of the people in my own country can use chopsticks. It's not an extremely rare ability!!!" But, I want to get the facts somewhere.
Anyway . . . great blog.  

On Friday, 22 February, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said:

Aahhah I felt the same in Korea... foreigner would ruin my day:-)

It's because you feel special in japan or korea:-) And it's like the other foreigner is steeling your specialness.  

On Monday, 22 September, 2008, Blogger Brian S said:

Interesting points. In America we don't typically say hello to strangers because its a melting pot of a society as anyone of them could be a foreigner or live here.

In Japan being such a homogenious country and someone with blonde hair and blue eyes would stick out.

Case in point: While in Japan on my second month and not one person other than my sister to talk to in English aside from practicing locals we saw a couple in a park during a Hanabi Festival.

We ran up to them and being fools automatically assumed they might be from the States and spoke English. They did not and were from Germany and seemed annoyed.

After that we never bothered to make an effort to say hello to a Gaijin.


On Monday, 21 December, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said:

I always look at the "gaijin" and if they make eye contact I say hello. If they don't speak English too bad because I do! It's the same with anyone who looks at me I always say hello. Once when I was stoned and went into a nightclub I couldn't believe how fast people's eyes move to and away from each other. Constantly flashing around like high speed search lights.I surmised from that experience that any eye contact longer than at least a half second deserves an audible response from me. Any longer than a second and I reach for either a knife or a condom. I'm not kidding.  

On Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, Blogger Unknown said:

Well on point observation!

It's the same in China and Taiwan...though not in HK. I live in Taipei at the moment and there's those times when one goes to cross the road and there some other gaijin (laowai is the chinese term) crossing over the same time as you...to acknowledge, smile, nod or even go as far as to "Hello!"...always depends. I'll go with how i'm doing on the day or the composure of said 'gaijin'...i mean if the bastards looking lost i may go "Oi mate, you alright?!" But generally i find a 'nod' will suffice, nothing too over the top mind!
Seems if just one of those things. My cousin made the decision (time ago to just flat out ignore 'road gaijin'...whatever work for you!!?!  

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