June 22, 2006

What's in a name?

There are plenty of quirky things that happen in this country that make you realize that even if you are a long term resident and can speak the language reasonably well, you still stand out like a sore thumb and folks will continue to treat you differently than they do their fellow countrymen.
Sometimes this works in your favor and at other times it doesn't, but at the very least you will never be mistaken for a Japanese. I was at the clinic yesterday getting some physical therapy for my back. Because I'm occidental, all the nurses and staff there recognize me immediately and I don't have to do much in the way of explaining why I'm there. Being the only gaijin patient, they remember me and my course of treatment. After my session I was waiting for my name to be called so I could pay my bill and get on with my day. This is another bonus about having a western name in an asian country, no one ever mistakes you for another person, well almost no one, that is. The office staff call out my name, which is an unusual one even in America, and as I'm walking up to the desk a little old lady jumps up and rushes in front of me ready to render payment. I'm looking at the receptionist, thinking that maybe I've made a mistake. The receptionist is looking first at me, then at the lady, then at the bill in her hands. She seems more confused than I am.
I usually think that It's my mistake in such a situation 'cause I figure I heard wrong or wasn't listening carefully enough. There's a whole crowd of people in the waiting room and I'm thinking to myself, " shit! I screwed up again" I start to head back to my seat and the receptionist calls me back. The little old lady looks at me for a moment and then realizes I was the one called to the counter and sits back down. Doing the Japanese thing, I apologise to both the receptionist and little old lady. The receptionist is saying something about not speaking clearly enough and that the fault was probably hers, but I don't see how anyone could get Suzuki or Sasaki or even Fujimura mixed up with my name.

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