One of the quirks of living and working overseas is that the newness of being overseas eventually wears off. At first you’re seeking out exotic foods (whoa, they totally don’t cook their fish here; they eat their rice PLAIN; rotting beans are totally a breakfast staple) and you make “you know you’ve been in ______ to long when” lists along the lines of “you know you’ve been in Japan too long when you apologize to the ATM for having to disturb it” or “you know you’ve been in Japan too long when the thought of eating cooked fish makes you sick to your stomach”.
After a few months, that joy of the exotic wears off and you begin eating at places you wouldn’t eat back home (McDonald’s and Starbucks) and Old El Paso Taco Kits and Red Vines become as valuable as gold. I’m convinced that if Yum! Brands (it’s real name) ever opens a Taco Bell in Tokyo, there will be blood as foreigners scramble for Doritos Locos Taco Supremes and Gorditas.
After having lived in Japan way too long I find I can now spot fresh foreigners as easily as I used to spot fresh students at university. When I worked as a trainer for my company I would usually announce lunch by explaining where the different options were. I’d add that I was going to Denny’s and it was certain that any trainee that joined me had lived in Japan for at least a year.
A few years back the Lively clan headed down to Chiba to raid a Costco for cookies, cookie mix, pancake mix, flour tortillas and coffee, lots of coffee. After conspicuously consuming, we were waiting for the shuttle bus back to the station when I overheard a couple foreign men talking about working for Fluor, a management contractor my father had worked for in the 80’s.
After the usual round of “small worlds” with the appropriate nods and “yep, sure is, sure iss” the older of the gentlemen, radiating the diaphanous glow of the exotic and the new, asked me where we ate when we came down “this way”. I said that we usually ate the pizza, hot dogs and chicken wraps at Costco. He looked at me, wide-eyed and confused, as if that concept were alien to him or had never occurred to him. He muttered something about how they’d found a little noodle place and that’s where they were heading.
To be courteous, I lied and said we’d have to check it out next time we came down “this way” but his brain was clearly still trying to process and grasp the notion of eating pizza in Japan at an American big-box store. (Shopping at an American big-box store in Japan was apparently normal, though.)
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, even before I married a Japanese woman, I’d had my fill of soba, udon, somen, and ramen, cooked in ways varying from fried, to deep fried, to boiled, and had eaten more rice than I’d ever imagined I’d ever want. Sushi was basically fast food and could be had at any grocery store (including, it should be mentioned, Costco) for only a few dollars.
I eventually coaxed out that he’d been in Japan only a couple months and was going to be there for another year. I wished him the best of luck while secretly thinking “your time is coming. Your time is coming.”
I never saw him again, but I’m sure if I’d seen him a few months later he’d have been stuffing his face with pizza, hot dogs and chicken wraps while saving his Red Vines for dessert.