The Parable of the Foreigner and the six-pack.

I was here for fewer than two weeks, I think, but was already thirsty. At the very start of my first year, I had the Tokyo orientation and the beer-drinking that went along with that. After that came my first couple of days of orientation in my new Japanese home town of Nanayama. My new coworkers took me to our famous British-style pub and I am sure that I had my first taste of Bass there. It was all well and good, this orientation business, but was soon to wind down. Soon, if I were to want some beer, I would have to go to the store and buy some.

Like most people here, I have a small refrigerator. This means frequent trips to the grocery store. In my first couple of weeks in Nanayama, I am sure that I went to the grocery store most every day. On those trips, I bought the usual fare - food, milk, orange juice and other necessities. What I did not buy for some time was alcohol. Mindful of the importance of first impressions, I did not want to come across as a complete lush at the very beginning (I believed that I could nurture that reputation over time). After a couple of weeks, though, I thought I was entitled to, and long overdue for, a six-pack of beer.

And so it was that I headed off to the store one day, loaded up my basket with the usual stuff, and casually dropped a six-pack in with everything else. A bent-over little man walked up to me, stuck his head into my basket, and obviously caught sight of the evil contraband. I waited in line for the counter, trying not to feel paranoid vis a vis the glances from others, and felt sure that the checkout clerk did a double-take upon seeing my beer. Surely I was being overly concerned, however. It was my right as much as anyone else's to buy a six-pack of beer and, besides that, this was my very first purchase of alcohol in Nanayama.

A couple of days later, I heard from a colleague at the town office that the town was abuzz with rumors of my alcoholism. It was said that many were the people who had seen me go to the store every single day to buy beer - and to never buy food. I was neglecting my health, starving myself, drinking myself into oblivion - and people were quite concerned.

So what happened? A few people saw me that day and undoubtedly told their friends. These friends would have told their other friends (who would have already heard the story from a couple of their other friends), and it would not have been long before virtually the entire town had heard of this one episode several times. Thus did what was one episode in fact grow into countless episodes of beer buying in legend.

I like to tell this story not only because it is rather amusing but also because I think it illustrates rather nicely how people react in the beginning to all people who they do not yet know. People will talk about newcomers (especially if the newcomers are foreigners) and will try to look for established patterns of behaviour in order to find out more about the new person. During this process, distortions are bound to occur - often to humorous effect, but all too often to harmful effect. One should note here that I have not used the word, "Japanese", in this paragraph yet. For I am not ultimately talking about Japanese people in particular but of human beings (especially of the rural and racially homogenous kind) in general. Coming from a very racially homogenous and rural background in my own country, I feel well qualified to make such a statement. I cannot excuse the closed-mindedness of a lot of rural folk but I do understand how it comes to be. I suppose the best thing we can do is to be mindful of how we ourselves can misjudge newcomers and to consciously work to not allow ourselves to do this. This, I think, is the lesson of the Parable of the Foreigner and the six-pack.