I’d like to relay an experience I go through every time I visit an elementary school (usually twice a week). Now, I understand that interacting with a foreigner must be a pretty interesting experience for them and the attention they lavish on me can be a solid ego massage, but occasionally their enthusiasm borders on the absurd. Take lunchtime. Long ago I gave up paying for the school lunch, primarily due to dietary restrictions but also because it occasionally made me kinda gaggy, and started packing my own lunch. Since that time here’s a pretty typical conversation I have with the little sprats. I have, of course, translated it for everyone to enjoy.
Student 1: What’s that!?!
Me: It’s a sandwich.
Student 1: A sandwich!! AMAZING!
Student 2: Did you make it yourself?
Me: Yep, sure did?
Students: AMAZING! GREG-SENSEI IS AMAZING!
Thinking to myself: Yes, truly perfecting the art of layering sliced bread and cold cuts was a daunting task. Learning how to portion mustard to bread cost me nearly a year of your life. Don’t go down this road kids. It’s not worth it.
Student 3: What are those?
Me: They’re plums.
At this time a crowd usually begins to form around me. Often this culminates in kids lifting the top off of my Tupperware and peaking in. I’d say my favorite thing is when the kids touch my food. Awesome….just awesome.
Students: PLUMS!?!?! You’re so lucky! I want to eat plums for lunch!
Thinking to myself: You know you can get a dozen of them for about 4 bucks this time of year. They’re practically giving them away. Go tell Mom and Pop.
A little later-
Student 4: Is your food delicious?
Me: Yes…yes it is.
This is when I congratulate myself for packing food I like instead of utter crap.
Now, in their defense, sandwiches and even fruits are relatively uncommon foods to have for lunch, so I suppose a little surprise isn’t unwarranted. Oddly enough, the truly esoteric items (e.g. cous cous) usually leave them so nonplussed that they don’t know whether they should be covetous or not. (They should’ve been…it was delicious) What’s truly baffling is when I elicit this reaction with Japanese food. Take soba (buckwheat noodles) for example. I’ve had the exact same interaction as above with soba even though you could close your eyes and run into a soba shop here. They also point out how delicious soba is and how they wish they were eating it instead of their lousy school lunch. I can’t help but wonder why though. As good as soba is, it’s certainly not a unique flavor savored only on special occasions. While good, in the Japanese milieu I’d say soba is fairly pedestrian. I often wonder if I took the school lunch from the day before and repacked it into Tupperware containers if they would be as amazed and envious. I suppose the grass is always greener.