So let me start this off by saying that I am the last person that anyone would describe as being patriotic. Sorry, but it's true. I'm that annoying person that when asked who I voted for, I'll say "Jesus" and what's more annoying is that I actually mean it. Now, don't get me wrong . . . there are a lot of wonderful perks to living in America, but I also think that there are a lot of wonderful perks to living in countries all over the world. Which leads me to today's subject.
Japan is a country that works hard. And this is because the Japanese work ethic is through the roof. They push their children to excel academically. They push for recycling and doing things the "green" way and pay high taxes for things like trash in an effort to curb waste (which is pretty darn effective - despite the lack of trash receptacles on the street.) The crime rate is very low, their sanitary standards are thorough, and I could just go on and on and on. Now with all of this said, would I be confident as to say that the Japanese people just have it all figured out? No. Would I say that they are model citizens for everyone? No. Would I say that I would want my children to grow up living the Japanese way of life? No. <---But that's just me.
My coworker on the other hand has had nothing but wonderful things to say about Japanese people, which I think is really cool and for the most part, I agree with her statements . . . BUT she can never say a kind word about them without putting down Americans. Like I said before, I'm not the most patriotic person and I know that Americans can be rude, loud, fat, lazy, stubborn, racist, wasteful, the list goes on and on and on but some of the stuff that she says is a little extra. Also some of the ish she brags about for them (I think) is less than praiseworthy and some of the things she downs about Americans (I think) are actually commendable.
For example, during an exercise today with one of my adult students, I asked them to name all of the stereotypes they can think of for Americans. (If you want to see the complete list, go to that other chick's website!) One of the things that my student mentioned was that American children go to bed early. Now I asked her, "What's early?" and she says, "9pm." She then looks at me with the question mark face so as to confirm or deny this stereotype. I told her, "Yes, we do put our children to bed around maybe 8:30 or 9pm - but to us that's not early at all. We think that's normal." I then asked her what was a normal time for children to go to bed here in Japan. She says, "Maybe 12am." Now personally, I don't think that's ideal (and it occurred to me that that's probably why a lot of my students are half sleep in my classes every day). Especially considering that these children have to wake up at like 6am or 6:30 to get ready for school that starts at around 7:00am or so. But I respect the fact that this is their culture, not mine. Not better . . . not worst . . . just different. So when I brought it up in casual conversation, my coworker went into her "God Bless Japan for being better than America" talk, that she normally does.
"They work sooo hard . . . Unlike our lazy American children who go home, eat and then go to bed because they don't have anything to do." Wait, what? Since when did a child getting less than 7 hours of sleep turn into something that's commendable. And why are American children lazy because they go to bed before The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson comes on?
Next, the topic of household chores came up. Now I've read (and heard from my students) that in Asian countries children are expected to focus on their academic responsibilities more so than any household responsibilities. Again, not good, not bad . . . just different. Generally, in American culture, it's expected that the children help out with household chores.
"Japanese children are so busy with their schoolwork, unlike lazy American children who have nothing to do except maybe eat or sit around the house and do chores."
This was when I asked her, "What kind of privileged childhood did you have that you just sat around the house all day?" First of all, I had to change the whole focus of her statement from the "American people" to just her. Second, maybe she didn't have a privileged childhood and maybe it was just her "American guilt" speaking, but I don't have "American guilt." I don't feel guilty for my "American" childhood (or adulthood for that matter.) I also don't feel sorry for the Japanese people who are obviously just living life the way that they feel is best for them. And yes, I'm an American but I'm not rude, loud, ignorant, racist and DEFINITELY not lazy. And, I wasn't going to sit and generalize or apologize for the American people as if we're all overly privileged, ignorant and lazy. I've always gotten good grades in school, did my homework and worked my butt off whenever I had a job.
YES, I got more than 6 hours of sleep every night and yes, I also enjoyed some of the perks of being an American and living in a superficial, leisure-driven culture, BUT I've also had to suffer right along with the 44 million who have to work their butts off in order to pay an exorbitant amount of money - out of pocket, mind you - for healthcare . Yes, I enjoyed junk-food when I was younger, but (contrary to common Japanese beliefs) I wasn't allowed to eat that ish everyday! So when she says all of those negative things in front of my Japanese coworkers, I try to make sure to clean that ish up real quick. This woman is speaking about HERSELF!!! At one point, I also added (and I deeply regret this) that I would never want to raise my kids in Japan. Now I didn't mean to go overboard with that statement - maybe I was caught up in the heat of my newfound patriotism and maybe I would like to raise my future kid(s) in Japan, who knows? - but I didn't want to mince words. The Japanese are great . . . but they don't have it all figured out. Why? Because nobody has it all figured out.
So there I was, attempting to defend the American people . . . or at least attempting to defend myself. It was a weird situation. But it has given me a broader perspective on how I view the world. I know that I had my little stereotypes about the Japanese people before I got here, but being here has destroyed those beliefs for me. On the other hand, I hope that my work ethic, intelligence and character serves to disprove the negative stereotypes against Americans for someone (even if that someone happens to be a fellow American.)