There’s a kind of direct bluntness to this culture that can be offputting to someone like myself who grew up in a very indirect culture, and which, when mixed with the callowness of youth, as it were, can be downright disastrous.
Example: When Bestie was getting married, she gained all of five pounds from the stress of it, and felt horribly self-conscious. Someone in our group was dating this young little thing at the time, all of 22 years old, and about as big as my finger, and that horrible combination of being young, cute, and knowing exactly just how hot she is. One night when we were all sitting around this monster looked Bestie up and down and said, “You’re getting fat!” And THEN, ladies, as though that weren’t enough, she proceeded to PINCH BESTIE’S UPPER ARM FAT. Where, I ask rhetorically, does a woman least want her fat pinched? All the yabancis at the table got real quiet real fast and we waited for some kind of explosion.
“What? It’s not a bad thing!” The little monster insisted. “I just noticed you’re gaining weight, that’s all!”
We all shook our heads.
But the thing is, it kind of is okay to talk about weight here in a way that it’s not in the states. Little monster was beyond the pale, sure, but students will notice if you pack on a few pounds, and comment on it as casually as we might comment on weight loss. It’s been the hardest thing for me to get used to actually, is this culture of constant noticing and constant commentary, which to me feels rude.
“You must be cold. Why aren’t you wearing a sweater?” (heard 5-6 times a week) Um, I’ve been dressing myself for nearly 30 years, now. Thank you for your concern.
“Oh, you bought water! You must be thirsty!” Yup. Good one.
“Why didn’t you collate those papers? It would save you a lot of work.” So it would. Clearly I forgot to hit the sort button.
“Oh, no, canim, you have to eat your soup FIRST.” Um, it’s too hot and I don’t want to.
“Why aren’t you eating bread?” I don’t want to.
“The pocket on your purse is unzipped! Someone can steal something!” Yep, I am aware of it. Any enterprising thief is welcome to my kleenex.
Or the all-purpose:
“You should do X like Y, instead of the way you’re doing it now.” Well, I’m clearly a dumbfuck.
I find it wearying, but then I grew up surrounded by eccentricity and was taught early that it was rude to comment. Some days I have more patience than others, though, and I have been working very long, very hard hours recently, and am extraordinarily stressed out about the volume of CASH that moving to my own apartment is going to cost, and I may have a wee bit less patience than normal, at the moment.
Tim was walking into the canteen with a student as I was leaving, and I stopped to exchange pleasantries. Tim moved on to the counter, but the student, who was all of 22 years old, maybe, stood there with a look of great concern on his face and said, “Are you sick?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“You look really, really tired.”
I fixed him with my best steely teacher look, which is fearsome, any student of mine will tell you, and said,
“Never say that to a woman.”
“Never. Say. THAT. To a woman.”
And then I walked away.