When in Rome (27 June 2014)

Our values and beliefs, key parts to how we think and act, are usually developed in a particular cultural context. They get influenced when we experience different cultures, such as when we travel, but generally we develop them – our core values, our prejudices, our stance on various moral and political issues – in our home culture.

I write this in a northern Japanese town called Morioka, the home of my wife’s parents. We decided to bring our twins boys Apollo and Cosmo to see their grandparents before they reached two years old and we needed to buy them a separate seat each. Note to any parents, prospective or actual: think twice before taking Terrible Twos on long flights, and if you do it, develop a thick skin…….

Non-Japanese are thin on the ground in Morioka – it is a small city, with not much to draw foreigners here, though Japanese tourists (mainly older) come for the hot springs and the views of Mount Iwate.
I have ventured out on my own a few times, on foot and by bike, and have also pushed the twins around in their buggy; or, since they now prefer to walk, more often followed with the buggy while trying to stop them throwing themselves into rivers and in front of vehicles. I don’t speak more than very basic Japanese, and have met only a few English speakers; so have had to cope with the non-linguistic communication employed by people who don’t speak each other’s language.

Japan is a very symbolic, gesture-driven society; nods, bows, hand gestures. Trouble is, these are very different to those in London. Smiles can mean lots of things; usually No! Trying to understand what people are saying, and their motives and intentions, is hard enough in your own culture, but in a different culture? The basis of your own values and beliefs suddenly becomes less true.

Gut Instinct has helped me, and it could work for you, too; try it if you find yourself similarly adrift, trying to respond positively when faced with unrecognised signals
• Tap into your intuition
• Pause and take a few deep breaths
• Ask yourself what’s best
• Receive your answer.
• Act

Hopefully, you’ll make friends and have a happy time; as I am doing so far! (I think…….)



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