Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do foreigners share a knowing nod?

I lived for a year in a small town in the south of Japan, where I appeared to be the only non-Asian. People stared at me as I walked into town. Children gasped and giggled, two little girls saw me once, hesitated, panicked, and fled in terror.

But when I went to the local city, Nagasaki, there was also the chance of seeing other white tourists or workers, and I found this oddly uncomfortable. One reason was because I knew a few of the foreign teachers who worked in Nagasaki so, statistically speaking, there was a pretty good chance that any white person I saw was someone I had already met and should, therefore, greet and chat with. So I ended up double-taking and staring at white people.

But there was another very, very strange sensation. On one occasion while walking down a street in Nagasaki I passed a middle-aged white man walking in the opposite direction. Just before I passed he smiled and gave me a knowing nod! I had no idea who this guy was but I was completely amused and somehow knew what he meant. That nod was a sort of acknowledgement that both of us were clearly outsiders here, and that gave us some tiny thing in common.

Odd! I wondered then do Asians or Africans in Ireland feel like that if they see someone from the same continent? Especially in the smaller towns, still quite monoethnic, do Chinese immigrants share a surprised nod as they pass one another on the street?

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