My husband lived in the US for about a year and a half as a foreign student, but then went back to Japan because we had decided to work and live in Japan. However, when I got a job offer in the US that was more relevant to my Master’s degree than the job in Japan, we decided to live in the US.
Honestly, I was a little surprised at first that he was so willing to move to the US. A lot of the Japanese students I meet who study abroad in the US like the country (that’s usually why they choose America, rather than England or Canada or Australia, to study abroad), but when I ask about living here, about 80% (note: no actual statistical data was used in calculating this percent) say they would rather live in Japan. America is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live here. I can understand that, especially since their home country is so familiar to them and the US is different from Japan in many ways.
However, my husband is very flexible in his mindset, and that allows him to adjust easily to almost any place and any situation. So, I asked him what he liked the most about America, and what enticed him to live here. Here are his top 5 favorite things about living in America… (TL;DR version is in bold ^^)
1. Overtime? Not today!
In Japanese companies, overtime is expected for many salarymen (and women) and is not compensated financially. Basically, you are expected to work late hours and you won’t get any extra pay for the time.
In most American companies, overtime is not expected, and if you do work overtime, there must be financial compensation. Hours that are over your typical work week hours can be charged more than your regular working hours. Because the rules about overtime pay are so strict, in many cases the company would rather you not work overtime, so they don’t have to pay the extra money.
2. American small talk
In Tokyo, as in most big cities, people go about their everyday business without much interaction with strangers. Even in suburban areas, people don’t usually greet strangers on the street. However, in the US, strangers often chat while waiting in line or when otherwise assembled in a group of people they don’t know.
In the town where we both went to school, a lot of people would chat with my husband at random places, most likely because there just aren’t a lot of Asians there. With a Japanese face and the university nearby, it was pretty apparent that he was a foreign student, and thus a lot of people liked to ask him about his home country.
He noticed that when he says he is from Japan, people most commonly remark about how much they like sushi, and about how they know “a little” Japanese – usually konnichiwa or arigatou or something along those lines. He really enjoys the ease with which he can talk with people he doesn’t know, and the fact that they forgive his “broken English.”
3. Beef is cheap
In Japan, beef is expensive. It’s an island nation, so beef comes from Australia or the US. Importing beef is expensive! Kobe beef? That’s really special beef and that’s expensive too! The beef here in the US is good quality and inexpensive by comparison. We were looking at nabe (hot pot) recipes, and he found one that called for pork. He figured out that beef also works for this particular nabe, but that most of the people posting recipes used pork because the cost is much lower in Japan. He loves to cook, and is excited to be able to buy ingredients like beef for a lower cost.
4. Large gardens = big dogs
My husband’s favorite breed of dog is the Golden Retriever. His family had a Golden when he was younger, and even though they lived in a house, they didn’t have a proper backyard with a fence and a gate. Therefore, when she needed to go out, she had to be walked. She also couldn’t play outside unless they went to the park.
The house we are renting has a small backyard, but it is fenced in and it is much bigger than most Japanese gardens. My husband has visions of a Golden Retriever (or any dog, really) running around in the backyard. He still hasn’t realized that he’s going to be mowing that grass every single week for the rest of the (hot & humid) summer, but I won’t spoil his dog fantasy. I’d like to get a dog soon, too!
5. Learning about another culture
Obviously, Japanese and American culture are different. You can read about the differences online, in books, or see them on TV. However, nothing introduces you to a different culture more than living in that country. Anyone who has studied abroad can tell you that!
What my husband most enjoys about American culture is that the reality of American culture is different than his perception of it. He (and many other foreigners) learned a lot about American culture from TV and movies. Media is an exaggerated version of reality, but when you watch movies and TV you don’t perceive it as unrealistic. Media is created for entertainment, and even scripted reality shows would be less entertaining without some editing and scripting.
The same can be said about Japanese media, Korean media, and any other country’s media. The perception that what you see on screen is real can mislead you in terms of the culture behind that media. (For a recent example, Google the Chinese media presentation of Japan’s military defenses that included a shot of a giant Gundam figure amongst the actual defense vehicles).
Living in another country is really the only way to truly understand that culture. Being open-minded and flexible is the best way to adapt to life in another country, far from your familiar surroundings.
What are your favorite things about living in a foreign country? Your own country?