So as I spend more time away from England I lose sense of exactly when Christmas day lands. Sure, the pervasive sense of the holiday period is ever-present; you can't really escape it even in a country whose population boasts fewer than 1% christians (2.5% foreigners!). It is a holiday for selling shite to people, after all.
It was a full two hours before I twigged that it was actual Christmas day, as in the living (metaphorically), breathing (figuratively) day of the birth of christ (fictitiously).
As such, I continued my routine as usual, going to work at the normal time, complaining about how damned cold this country gets, riding to school very much mired in post-sleep malaise that's borderline suicidal when combined with Japanese drivers. The usual.
I happened upon an article on a feminist website (I enjoy reading their tripe, the vitriol that pours forth on either side of the gender divide is golden for sweeping away christmas holiday blues) chronicling spoiled behaviour. As the article was written by a monkey with limited grasp of the English language, an american one at that, there are a few sarcastic or ironic statements that have unfortunately been coupled along with what are, presumably, more genuine scribblings (the guy who got a car, xbox, ipad, ipod and whatever else - unlikely to be genuine).
So here are a few, to make your blood boil:
I absolutely sympathise with all these people - all I got were some crappy cards with hand-written sentiment inside, and a ton of chocolate.
Except I absolutely adore chocolate (the stuff here is naff, that they call it chocolate is insulting) and I loved every single message written to me - whether in an e-mail or on a card. I managed to help mum personalise a few presents for everyone, and I hope a few smiles are had. I don't understand anyone over the age of twelve falling for the gimmick; the notion that what you need in your life is more stuff. Yeah, that'll help. Sure, get something that is useful, art pens, paintbrushes, tires, wheelbarrows, gloves, internet, bananas - anything that improves the life of the person who gets it. Ipad number five to replace ipad number 4? No.
I've received some amazing things since I've been in Japan - hand-painted cards from grandad being the highlight in years past, and this year dad is coming over with my board and, presumably, more chocolate. What more can you possibly want?
This year I even got a jar of marmite with gold in it. How awesome is that!?! I'm not sure it's actual gold because, frankly, that jar would have cost about fifty quid - the amount of light the marmite reflects due to the flakes of gold is ridiculous. I meant to take a picture, but I ate the toast too quickly. If you are careful, you can actually trap the tiny gold filings between your incisors (or rather I can, because I am actually a wolf despite previously discarding teeth and sporting braces) and chew on them. Bizarre. Uncharacteristically I let someone else try some too. It must be the christmas spirit.
I went through a rather laconic spell with regards to eating toast and marmite, but I recently found that my local supermarket stocks dairylea (sp?) so there's been a marked upswing in sliced white loaf sales there.
In a strange turn of events, the head teacher of the middle school is letting me go an hour early today. A whole hour! I feel like Ol' twisty with two full bowls of gruel. He also bought everyone in the office a christmas present; upon checking that I was indeed human (via awkward translation with one of the Japanese English teachers), he handed me a bag that contains a kendama and a frog clip, to hang clothes on. The kendama game is a ball on a string, attached to a piece of wood with three cups and a spike. The aim is to toss the ball into the cups consecutively, finally landing the ball onto the spike. I daren't try it out for fear of looking like a fool, but when I get home I'm going to set my new balloon helicopter off around the house, and try to beat the kendama before it lands. The clothes hangar consists of a dozen or so clips arranged in a circle. Oh, and the clips ARE CARTOON FROG HEADS WITH BIG DOPEY SMILES. What? Maybe this is a polite way of telling me I smell.
Honestly, the presents are inconsequential because in trying to accept these gifts, I learned a harsh lesson in Japanese negotiation and etiquette. I don't mean negotiation as in the trade of physical goods, more in the kind of negotiation we all do on a daily basis when talking to someone. I tried holding out my hand in a gracious manner (how you do that gracefully is beyond me) which didn't successfully convey the idea that I was now ready to accept his gift. He wasn't done talking. So I waited a while and tried again. Shot down. I knew that Japanese people will talk, debate and argue over things that ultimately have only one possible outcome, but I didn't realise they won't curtail this sequence for anyone, or anything. You have five seconds to decide a course of action while a lion bears down on a group of people - a group of Japanese people would form a circle, introduce themselves, say a little about their lives and which university they wen OH MY GOD THE TIGER IS EATING MY LEG.
This was one such case, but I hadn't realised yet. He was asking whether I would stay late today to accept his gift along with everyone else, or whether I'd take it now. At first I did the polite thing of offering to stay late (I would have been pissed off if that one had backfired!) which was dismissed. Then came a short period of assessing when would be a good time - I wasn't included in any of this because whenever a foreigner is with a japanese person, the local automatically becomes the minder and sole carer. It is tiresome, being a child again - but it also has the benefit of allowing me to tune out, and I became a non-participant for the few minutes it took the two grown men to decide that right now is a perfectly good time to give the well-meaning present to the gormless whitey. So I accept it, with one hand. I vaguely recall that when you take a business card from someone in Japan, you do so with two hands as a sign of respect. I will treasure this piece of card you gave me!
So I reach out with my right hand to accept the bag with the things in - only to realise that the ground is actually moving underneath me and I am walking away. The transaction was completed without a single conscious thought on my part. I hurriedly asked my caretaker whether I'd said thank you (in Japanese). Being such a bizarre question (the event having happened mere seconds before) he was stumped, my stupidity bringing with it a fog of mis-communication. I shout out thank you just to make sure. The whole room stops doing what they're doing, because you don't shout in Japan. Oh yeah.
So I'm pretty stupid, but honestly, this little episode will live far longer than the presents - and this big, dumb, boring story is what christmas is all about.
Yeah... As you can tell I never plan these posts, they just sort of happen.