First post and explanation
DON'T PANIC! DON'T PANIC!
Last night, with the aid of a magnetic erasable white-board to write things on and a dictionary, I was able to carry on a forty-five minute conversation with my host father.
It spanned the religious beliefs of the Japanese, reincarnation, his personal views on superstition in Japanese society, Aum Shinrikyou and the subway attack, home visits that Japanese teachers pay to their students' families, similarities and differences between the Japanese and American civil servant systems, the polarization of Japanese and American society into increasingly rich and poor, the concurrent polarization of the education system, and the fact that 'fifths' is an unreasonably difficult word in English.
You're damn right I'm proud of myself.
I've finally started to become comfortable with my family. They've noticed the change. I joke more, I participate in the dinner conversation, I don't mind asking them to clarify words I don't understand (which is an enormous number most of the time, unfortunately, but they show saintly patience), and I know what I can help with around the house and what I can't.
I'm still a little distant around Kouichro, I admit because I don't want him getting familiar enough with me that he starts smacking me without provocation like he regularly does to his mother and father, and I don't talk much with Sakiko, though she seems to like me, but at the very least I can now tell my parents honestly when I've had a bad day and explain to them in detail why.
Up to the conversation with my host father, yesterday was a bad day, by the way.
Class didn't go badly at all, luckily. Advanced seems to be exactly the right level for me. Sometimes I can't answer the teacher's questions very well, but other times I know what she wants and I can give it to her, albeit slowly and with a textbook's worth of terrible grammatical errors. She hasn't yet had to elicit further detail from me in my answers like she sometimes has to pry from the other students.
When I told my family I'd placed into advanced level, they'd seemed surprised. I was disappointed, since I interpreted this to mean that they thought I should've been at a lower level, but later I finally made out that they thought I'd been placed too low. That was gratifying. The people who placed into High Advanced could talk circles around me even hungover, sleep-derpived, and with piranhas gnawing at their ankles, though, so I'm glad my host parents' expectations weren't fulfilled.
Anyway, class went fine, but after class things fell apart. I ate a good lunch with friends from the program and felt like walking a bit, so I followed Lauren to her home a few blocks from the school (I'm a good hour's bike ride away. Urayamashii yo.) Unfortunately, what I'd hoped wouldn't happen, did.
See, we were told in our homestay guides not to go over to other students' host homes unexpectedly, since this would put a sudden burden on the host family. They have to welcome the guests, they have to stop everything to make introductions, it's all very not-American in its formality. So I was just going to see Lauren off at the corner. But just as we arrived, the host mother walked out of the home and beckoned all of us over.
Here's the problem. I would've been able to function in this situation under normal circumstances. But I was surprised and I got nervous, my nervousness interfered with my speaking, my inability to speak compounded my nervousness, and I ended up stammering incoherently and looking like a monumental idiot in front of Lauren's host mother and father.
They invited us in very nicely, but I was about ready to have a heart attack from anxiety, so I mumbled out a really lame excuse that I had to go home since I lived far away in what I am absolutely positive is the worst Japanese I've spoken since I arrived here. It was humiliating. I was infuriated with myself. Even worse, I could've given them the real excuse that I'd promised friends I'd come back right away to meet them in front of the HIF center, but I was so distracted with my own awkwardness that I didn't remember.
From there on, mild annoyances piled up to stress me out. The internet connection crashed while I was trying to talk with people over E2 and on OkCupid, cutting me out mid-conversation and before I'd checked all the sites I'd wanted to. The friends who'd said they'd wait for me didn't (I ran into them downtown later). I got lost on my way home.
The straw that broke the izu's back was something that normally doesn't bother me. There really aren't any foreigners here in Hakodate. The only non-Japanese people I've seen in the city are either teachers at the Russian consulate we share our building with, or HIF students. So a lot of people stare at me, a very tall white man with light brown hair, as I walk by or ride my bike. The adults do so discreetly, probably assuring themselves I don't notice. The children do so blatantly. They point me out to each other and watch me pass, sometimes with their jaws dropping. I'm like the walking, not-very-well-talking spectacle of the century.
Often, especially if they're middle schoolers, they'll yell something out in English to me. Like "Herooou," or "How aru youuuuu!" or "Bai bai!" I'll say something simple in English back to them and they'll burst into fits of giggling. It's usually cute. But yesterday it wasn't. Yesterday I just sort of wanted to not stick out like a ulcerous thumb ready to shrivel up and die for, like, maybe five minutes.
So the kids would yell stuff at me in English as I passed and I just hunched my shoulders and biked faster. I can't tell if they're mocking me or not, but I know they don't mean any harm. Still, yesterday it stung a little. I felt homesick and lonely for the first time, not really because I wanted to go home, but because I wanted that feeling of not being a total and obvious foreigner that so pervades my life back in America.
Everything's alright though. After I took a nap and had the conversation with my father, I felt comfortable again and the homesickness dissipated. If I happen to be over at Lauren's again, I'll keep myself relaxed and make proper introductions. There's nothing I'll ever be able to do about being a foreigner, so I might as well just focus on being myself.