It’s been bit of a quiet night. Big M is out with an old friend; the girls are home and busy doing whatever it is they’re up to on the “girl’s floor” – the top floor of the BH homestead where males (i.e. me) are banned unless there’s a cockroach that needs sorting out. All’s right with the world and, frankly, there is no justification for this post whatsoever other than being a bit bored. And slightly pissed.
Hmm…what to write about? I had a haircut today from my little mate around the corner. I’ve gone to the same barber every since I arrived here, and aside from being great at teasing what’s left of the BH barnet into something resembling smart, he’s an excellent benchmark for my progress with learning Japanese. My first visit was like being a 5 year-old again; After being told to plonk myself into the chair, Big M engaged the barber in a long conversation about what was required – out came the styling books; bald spots were discussed and cover-up strategies formulated. My role in the whole thing was just to sit still and not say anything.
There is a special relationship between a chap and his barber. I guess it’s a bit like taxi drivers, the awkward silence often proves a bit too much to endure and sooner or later, either the barber or the, er… barbee will attempt to strike up a conversation. Here in Japan, of course, this tradition has been given a wholly new dynamic by the fact that myself and the barber speak two different languages. The first sheering of the BH bonce was thus a very one-sided affair, with my dear barber trying to resurrect what he could from English lessons at school to break the ice. With, I have to say, considerable success. He’s a great guy and we both share a love of jazz, that he always has playing in the shop.
In the months that have followed, there has been a subtle and gradual shift in the mode of conversation from English to Japanese. Today, I’d estimate that probably about 80% of our conversation was in Japanese. I feel really good about that. I get very depressed sometimes about my pitiful command of the language, when every other foreigner I meet seems to be able to speak perfect Japanese. But when I have a day like today – a day when I’ve managed to engage in an enjoyable conversation with someone outside the family, I feel great.
I desperately want to have a second language. Like many of my compatriots, I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed by the fact that wherever you go in the world, everyone speaks English. In my current situation, I feel this pressure acutely; It is my responsibility to fit in to my host society, not the other way around. But on days like today, I feel I am making progress.