This conversation took place between me and a student last night in a cafe in Yokohama:
Student: So, I have some news.
Me: What is it?
Student: My company is sending me to New York at the end of August!
Me: Really? That’s great news!
Student: Is it?
Me: Well, yeah. Aren’t you excited?
Student: A little…but I’m worried too.
Me: About English?
Student: Yeah, my English not good.
Me: Don’t worry, half the people in New York are not native speakers.
Me: Maybe more than half. Many can’t speak English at all. So, no one is gonna freak out if you confuse “A” and “The”, don’t worry.
Student: Well, I’m also worried about…eeeto ne…
Student: Well, they give you too much food in America. I am Japanese. In Japan we have small portions but in America everything is so much bigger.
Me: You’re worried about too much food?
Student: Chotto ne (A little)
Me: Well…that’s a simple one too. When you go out, if they give you too much food, then eat til you are full and tell the staff to put the rest in a Doggy Bag.
Student: Doggy Bag?
Me: Yeah…it’s like take away. Everybody does it. You can eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. Or, you can even give it to your dog. You’ll actually be saving money. Too much food is good news.
Student: I see…
Me: Any other concerns? This is fun…
Student: Well, safety. I don’t know which areas are safe and which are dangerous.
Student: Muzukashii deshou? (difficult, right?)
Me: Yes, that’s a difficult one. New York is a totally different environment from Yokohama. Totally. All I can say is you need to learn to be alert without being paranoid, to embrace the risk as part of the experience. If not, you’ll hide in some Japanese enclave in Fort Lee or Cliffside Park New Jersey and it’ll be like you never let Japan.
Me: Like a Japantown.
Student: Ah,sokka. But I don’t know…
Me: Listen, you gonna have to do basically the same thing foreigners here have to do in order to have a fulfilling experience: make friends. Native friends, or at least Japanese who’ve been there a long time and speak English and venture outside of the enclave. If you have trouble meeting people, let me know. I’ll hook you up. I got a bunch of friends in New York who’d probably get a kick outta hanging with you and showing you the ropes.
Student: The ropes?
Me: Like a navigator through life in New York.
Student: Really? You’ll do that for me?
Me: Of course. But, you gotta leave your paranoia and preconceptions here in Japan. Everything you think you know about Americans, or New Yorkers, is probably wrong. So, don’t bring those ideas to New York. Just open your mind and see what there is to see. And I’m sure my friends will dig you.
Me: Try to think of New York as….as a roller coaster. But not like a typical roller coaster where you know that 2 minutes later you’ll be safely back at the exit. More like a roller coaster that sometimes jumps off the track, and sometimes doesn’t go back to the same station, but takes you to another station somewhere on the other side of the Amusement Park, or even outside the amusement park…
Me: New York can be unpredictable, is my point. But, the unpredictability is part of what makes it the most exciting city in the world. You just never know what’s gonna happen. Unless you’re a native like me…we get New York so it’s not so much of an adventure for us anymore. But for you? I envy you!
Me: Yeah, I can never experience New York the way you’re going to experience New York. All wide eyed and bushy tailed, naive and whatnot. You’re gonna have the time of your life, if you let it happen.
Student: You really think so?
Me: I know so! And you’re going the perfect time of year…end of August, you’ll miss the heat wave of summer and be just in time for Fall. Autumn in New York is…
Student: Loco, you ok?
Me: Yeah…I’m cool…I was just thinking about Billie Holiday