Got back about an hour ago from Lindsay’s farewell hanami/karaoke, and despite the fact that I have to wake up around 6 so I can be ready for when Rory and Elliott pick me up at 7 (I’m told by other people that it’ll be closer to 7:45 because they’re never on time) to carpool down to Kochi Prefecture for the weekend, I’m taking my time getting my stuff together. I’m one of those people who likes to prepare for every possibility while packing, and then kicks herself for packing too much at the end. But when it’s one of those weekends where it’ll be a gorgeous day and a chilly night, what do you do?
Today was ridiculously eventful. The biggest event of the day, besides the really fun night of picnicking under some really gorgeous sakura at dusk and singing some rocking old-school music (Ace of Base, The Cramberries, The Cardigans), was a Confrontation. And yes, that’s Confrontation with a capital C. Who with? The sleeping woman from my eikaiwa.
It started when one of the community center employees came into the BOE to tell me that this woman, who I’d specifically asked/requested/begged to not be allowed to reregister for the eikaiwas, since they’re restarting this month after a 3-month hiatus due to our town merger last month, had come by to check on whether or not she’d be able to register (even though they already told her that the classes were full–intermediate, which she has no business being in because she doesn’t speak A SINGLE WORD of English, and beginner, because the other students think of her as distracting and kind of a troublemaker). After a few moments, I finally sighed, figured, “Screw it,” and told her that if the woman comes by, I’ll talk to her. I figured I’d have a few days to build myself up for this inevitable confrontation to come.
Instead, the staffer asked me what time later in the day I would be free.
Crap. Well, a few hours doesn’t hurt, I guess…luckily, this was before lunch, so I still had a couple of hours to build up my nerve.
I’d decided to buy my lunch, so when I was sitting in the BOE during our lunch hour, one of the new BOE staffers tells me that the woman the community center staffer and I had been talking about is “very famous,” and that she has a real reputation for doing stuff very similar to what she’s been doing in my class. (To refresh your memory, she always comes in around 30 minutes late, bowing and grinning and apologizing like crazy, then sits there and falls asleep. Or if she isn’t asleep, and we try to include her in an activity, she continues to bow and grin that stupid grin as she apologizes for not being able to speak English. In an ENGLISH CONVERSATION CLASS. Granted, it’s my own fault for not talking to her earlier, but it took me a while to get over the “elder hierarchy” thing, since my eikaiwa students range from being 1 year older to 50 years older than I am, and I only belated realized that I was their teacher and I had the final say this time. This woman also consistently plays the pity card and blames her own “obaachan” illnesses on never being there and never being able to study outside of class. I would normally be sympathetic, except that she lays it on so thick that it’s just way, way too much.) The BOE staffer also tells me that as a result of doing stuff like this everywhere, she isn’t much liked in general, and it turns out that nearly all the other BOE staffers know (of) her and share the same sentiments. She earnestly wishes me good luck in dealing with her, ahd suggests that I pull the community center staffer out to help me because the sleeping woman and I aren’t going to be able to understand each other; she can’t understand my Japanese, and I certainly can’t understand hers. Any time I try to ask her to speak slowly, she says the first 2 words slowly and then rushes through the rest, and she just babbles on and on in excruciating detail about her medical issues and everything else, and the local dialect makes it difficult for me to follow as well.
I don’t remember if I ever mentioned this in here…right after the new year, at our first eikaiwa class, sleeping woman showed up–at 11:47, three minutes before the end of class. She then came right up to me and asked me to translate a letter into English for her. She freaking treated me as if I were nothing but a human dictionary! I would have no problem helping out my students with the same endeavor, because I know that they work hard and they would have tried to do it on their own and just consulted me if they were having problems. This woman did no such thing–she was certainly not my student, and she badgered me about doing the translation, repeating herself insistently and bossily when I asked her to slow down or when I tried to explain that some phrases, like “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” don’t really have a good English translation. Anyway–combine this with hearing the BOE staffer tell me this, and any regret or worry I had about the situation was gone. My nerves of steel were settling in, and I knew I had it in me to just shove through this meeting.
Right at 1:30, there was a knock on the BOE door, and in comes the woman, with that same all-purpose grin on her face that she always wears, bowing and bowing and apologizing for intruding, and asking if she could speak to the English teacher (despite the fact that I’m the first person she’ll see when she looks into the room). I actually find myself muttering a curse under my breath as I stand up, and I notice the other staffers giving me really meaningful looks as I go outside.
As soon as we step outside, she immediately starts off with her usual long-winded barrage of going on and on and on and on about her medical issues. She even refuses to let me jump in–she just flashes me that same all-purpose grin and continues to chatter on about how her leg gives out on her, about how difficult it is for her to eat what she wants and how she has problems going to the bathroom and so much other stuff that I’m grateful I didn’t pick up on. (The BOE staffer actually steps outside about a minute after I get out there, to smile and say hello to this woman, who just smiles back and tells her everything’s okay…so the BOE staffer, having no other real reason for lingering outside, is forced to go back inside.)
Anyway, it keeps going, and finally she comes around to the class. By this point, she’s referring to me as “gaikokujin-san,”/”gaikokujin-sensei,” or “Miss Foreigner.” Apparently it’s meant as a term of endearment, but she does it several dozen times through this whole conversation. Lately I’ve been getting particularly tired of the “gaikokujin no hito!” whispers I get from people I pass on the street–I’ve been living here for 8 months and this isn’t really a huge city; you’d think that a lot of these people would have seen me already!–but this was too much. Think about what would happen if you referred to someone back home as “Miss Hispanic Girl” or “Miss Black Girl” or somethin, and how insulting that would be. That’s essentially what this was.
Anyway, I know that she obviously suspects something about why she isn’t in the class, and that all this chattering about her problems was just her way of playing the pity card with the hope that we’ll feel sorry for her and let her in–but I have no intention of giving in. I’m finally able to get the conversation around to the class, and I ask her several polite but point-blank questions: if she comes to the class, will she come on time? And will she come for the full 50 minutes? And will she speak English? She responds evasively to all of them, falling back on her medical issues and how the pain in her leg makes her forget to come to class on time (every single Friday?), and when I tell her that these classes are for people who can use and study English, she just gives me that stupid grin again and says, “Well, then, please teach me English!”
Right as I’m beginning to lose my patience with this whole thing and actually start snapping at her (she starts pulling crap like saying, “I’m a grandmother! Do you know what it’s like to be a little old obaachan and be so ill?” I told her, at two different points, “Yes, actually, because I have two grandmothers myself!”), I notice my boss (well, now my former boss; she’s received a promotion and one of the new BOE employees is now taking care of the ALTs) come out of the office and give me a really worried look, obviously as she sees that I’m Really Not Happy. A couple of minutes later, she passes us again to reenter the office…and behind her is the community center staffer, who’s come out to join our conversation. (THANK YOU.)
I’ll spare you the play-by-play…but 25 minutes later (we came outside at 1:30 and I glanced at my watch to see 1:55 near the end), we were finally able to get away from her. Some other highlights of this conversation were:
- She faked crying. She actually faked crying. Her face screwed up as if she were crying, and she started blinking rapidly, but I was watching her face carefully and there were no tears in her eyes. At all. But she’d go rapidly between this fake-crying thing and then smiling again a minute later, and then back again…freaking huge act.
- Pretty early on, while I was telling her, still politely but in a point-blank fashion, that her coming in late was disrupting the class and that she never used English and that this class was for people who could and would speak English in class, she gave me that same stupid grin and said something I didn’t quite get, but I got enough to know that she was saying, “So this really blunt and rude way of talking to me is how all you Americans act, huh?” I actually froze, stared at her, and blurted, kind of stammering, “Nani? Nan desu ka? Mo ikkai, onegaishimasu!” (What? What was that? Please say that once more!) and she did indeed.
- She brought up the letter translating incident! She said something about how kind I was as an English-speaker and teacher and said that I’d helped her out with that new years letter, and then I interrupted her and made sure she was referring to that incident, and then just flat-out told her that I was really surprised, because she came in right at the end of class and just asked me to translate that letter into English with no preamble, and that I thought she had been very rude. I also told her that yes, I am an English teacher, but I’m also a person, and I’m not a dictionary. (That felt awesome.)
- The entire time this was going on, I was just so stunned by how selfish she was. Her entire argument was just, “Hi, I have a bunch of physical ailments, which is why I never come to class on time and why I always fall asleep and why I never ever ever feel the need to study or practice English. But I’m an obaachan, so your schedule should revolve around me, since you’re a gaijin and that’s what you’re here for, to teach ME English. So why aren’t you letting me into your class?”, again and again and again. She was so fixated on her own medical problems, and how she felt that she was so worthy of pity that she should be able to get whatever she wants and treat it as she will because she’s an “obaachan” and therefore superior in society (she didn’t say it, but for god’s sake, why would she try to force herself into an intermediate eikaiwa, which includes people who can speak enough English that they can get by quite well when traveling to foreign countries, when she, by her own admission, can’t say much past words like “apple” and “orange,” and when she keeps making excuses for not being able/willing to study the language at all? Does she think that coming to class and dozing off will make her a better speaker? Is this like learning via sleep-osmosis or something?), that she just stubbornly refused to even consider that, hello, other people in the world have problems, and maybe her behavior is making issues for other people. I flat-out told her, “Look, it makes me really happy that you want to study English. And I do understand that you have these problems. But you aren’t the only one–I’m sure the other students have problems, the community center staffers have problems, I have problems…” I mean–I, as a mere 24-year-old, found out that my good friend Adam died and then went to teach a class 3 hours later and get through 2 subsequent days of rehearsals and performances for our musical. I did break down several times in the process, but I did it, because it had to be done and it was the rational and mature thing to do. You would think that she, as a grandmother, would have the maturity to see the ramifications of her actions and to not let them happen to begin with.
We finally agreed that yes, the classes are full, so she can’t come to them. But when the new eikaiwa classes start in May when Chalice starts up Lindsay’s old ones, if any slots open up in mine, we’ll call her. (After this outburst, I really doubt that we actually will.)
And then the woman left, and the community center staffer and I just looked at each other and simultaneously heaved huge sighs and started to laugh wearily. I thanked her several times–she had essentially ended up moderating our discussion, serving as a more rational voice for my frustrations (and I was extremely frustrated and letting it show, because this woman just didn’t get it–repeating how weak her leg is and how she has such problems eating whatever she likes is not going to make me let her into the class if she can’t prove that she’ll be a good student!) and getting us all through to the end. She told me that she’s had run-ins with this woman before, and that she’s always like this, and that there are some mental issues as well, but that she completely understands that those don’t really make these run-ins with this lady any less frustrating.
I got back into my office, where the BOE ladies were waiting expectantly, with lots and lots of sympathy at hand. I was obviously really exasperated, and as I kept venting, I got genuinely angry, and then actually lost my composure just from the shock of it all. The weight of the news I received this week was still there, as was the weight of the homesickness from yesterday–speaking of problems, did that lady ever look at me and think, “Wow, her family and friends live so far away!” the way every single one of my other eikaiwa students has, instead of just, “Wow, a non-Japanese English speaker who I’ll bug to translate all my English stuff for me because that’s all she’s good to me for!”–and I just needed a minute to pull myself together, but was all right after that. I was actually trembling and my chest was really tight with tension. It’s been so long since I’ve been so furious at anybody. It definitely helped that the staffers began swapping stories about how unbelievable she is, so I knew I wasn’t alone, and that they all had had their own run-ins with her.
All in all, it was absolutely ridiculous and a huge stress inducer. The evening was a lot better, though–okonomiyaki with Lindsay and Hannah, then a picnic at the park behind our house (we got given a bunch of extra alcohol from the neighboring enkai–I now have 4 cans of beer to give Rory and Elliott to thank them for giving me a ride tomorrow), then off to Chantez for 2 hours of karaoke goodness. And now I’m here, and still not completely packed. I hope I can sleep in the car…