Posting Date: September 17, 2003
WebWord Comment -- I met an American who served in the U.S. Navy for about 25 years, with most of his time spent in Japan. After getting out, he landed a job in Japan for about 5 years. He is now working as a civil servant of the Japanese government, although he is still an American citizen. So, if you add this all up, he's spent the better part of 35 years living and working in Japan. If you talked to this guy and he didn't tell you all of this, you would never know it. He's even married to a Japanese woman. Despite this exposure, he has no accent, mannerisms, or attitudes that would make you think he has lived and worked in Japan for that long. Do we really become so "frozen" when we are young? (Research seems to says yes, unfortunately.)
It helps that the country in question is extremely nativist and xenophobic, and has been so for centuries.
It also helps that the US military is nativist and xenophobic. They rarely venture off bases that are mostly isolated, and habitually use only dollars. This means the ex-serviceman was well into his forties by the time he was on the outside. Hidebound as an Eagles fan.
After ten years in Japan, I was falsely presumed to be American by my fellow Briits and Australian by Americans! The Australians thought I was from N. Zealand.
Now I live in Denmark, very few people pigeon-hole me at all.
I'm an American living abroad for 6 years. I'm 28. I can tell you, without a doubt, that it's very hard to change.
I think it depends how much you want to expose yourself to the culture you are living in. I know many expats living in HK who really have not made any attempt to understand local thinking or just frequent the same places that are predominantly western. On the other hand there are people who make an effort to learn the language, enjoy the foods and conduct themselves in a way that locals understand. It took me about 2 years to begin to understand the differences in HK and of course, I am still learning. I think thats the key, being open to learn and try something new.
"it depends how much you want to expose yourself to the culture"
And how much the culture is willing to let you be a part of it...
This is true. Its probably easier for me as my girlfriend is Chinese and fortunately I have been invited with open arms into the family. Perhaps its my love of Chinese food ;)
I don't understand why we ought to judge this person. Aren't we talking about one's identity? Can't one be comfortable with one's own culture, who one is? John's comment didn't say the guy was a bad guy.
I don't think you can generalise - people and situations vary too much.
Some people seem to be more plastic than others. A famous example - Henry Kissinger always spoke with a German accent but his brother sounded totally American.
The man John Rhodes is talking about had 25 years to practice remaining American while living in Japan. He was probably hired by the Japanese civil service because he was an American so it's probably to his advantage in career terms to remain visibly American.