Something just crystallized in my head about my JET situation, and why it bugs me: it’s high school all over again.
There’s a limited number of people to socialize with, as it’s extremely difficult to find people outside of JET that you can really relate with — the language/culture barrier is that intense. We are all in it together, so we have to get along, for survival’s sake. JET’s basically its own little microcosm, a private ecosystem with just enough people for regular social dynamics to take place. Sociologists would have a good time doing studies on the program, I think.
This all came to mind because of the recent prefectural Thanksgiving dinner we held up in Mito. Overall it was a wonderful time, with an awe-inspiring amount of food, ranging from traditional food like turkey and cranberry sauce to Frosted Flakes and latkes (courtesy of yours truly). The place was pretty mobbed. To get a pretty good idea of what it was like, check out Rick’s video here. He ends up spending the last half leaving a message for his own family, so you might want to cut out midway through, unless you want to see a couple people (Sherley, Laura, and I think Leo?) show up late. I’ll be posting pictures soon.
Anywho, the event that triggered this train of thought was actually the Frosted Flakes. To give a bit of context — I have had trouble getting along with Shawn, one of the JETs here. He’s not a bad guy, well-meaning and generally agreeable, but I find him a bit… transparent, and it raises my hackles. While planning the Thanksgiving party, some of the Brits, unfamiliar with Thanksgiving traditions, were asking on our webforum about what food to bring, and one jokingly suggested Frosties. Several members gnashed their teeth about it, saying that if they brought Frosties, there would be hell to pay.
So Shawn brought Frosties. As a joke. I talked to him as he was buying it, was a sounding board as he schemed out its presentation, and bore witness to his whole scheme. He decided to wait until partway through the dinner, at which point he would loudly urge silence, in deference to the Lord’s Prayer — whereupon he would give thanks for Frosties, and produce the box, to much fanfare.
The plan (although I didn’t find it half as funny as he did) went off without a hitch. The entire room erupted in laughter. Two JETs promptly donned paper towels on their arms, and took on the roles of waiters, pouring alternately cereal and milk for any who wanted it. Usually straight into someone’s mouth. Chuckles were voiced, vomit was nearly induced, good times were had by most.
I just couldn’t help but think it was cloying. Everyone wants to be popular, yes, and everyone works at it in their own ways — I mean hell, just watch Rick’s video and witness how he pulls attention to himself — but that sort of calculated in-joking just gets to me. I keep wondering if I didn’t feel this way because I’m jealous, but I think the honest truth is that I’m not. More than anything, I think it gets to me because it’s a reflection on me. I used to pull the same sort of routine Rick does, but I’ve pulled back a lot on that, trying to come across more genuinely and more down-to-earth. As a result, yes, I’m lonely, and I’m having a tough time, but I feel like it’s the path I should be taking. Stunts like Shawn’s seem dishonest to me. With that, it’s not your personality that’s making friends. It’s merely shared experiences. It’s a false charismatic persona. It’s an empty association.
Ah, hell. I’m knee-deep in culture shock, aren’t I. Sitting in my room and writing like a friggin’ 13-year old on Livejournal. I really need to unclench a bit.