Ever been in one of those situations where you’re not quite sure how to respond, but you have to make a decision in that moment? Those situations are definitely compounded cross culturally.
We went camping Monday and Tuesday with our friends. We drove out to the boonies of Japan, where on the GPS, we were asked to turn onto roads we weren’t quite sure were actual roads. We made it though, somewhat close to Mt. Fuji, a beautiful forest area with a stream-like river flowing over rocks and many levels of man-made waterfalls.
On arrival, my friend was helping guide us through the check-in process. There was a very genki (happy, energetic) older grandma lady (obaasan) who owned and ran the place with her husband. We call little old grandpas “ojiisan”.
Well, Ojiisan was a very genki gentleman too. He was very tan and wrinkly, with shaved white whiskers, a toothy grin and a lime-green tshirt and cargo pants. When I walked into the hut-like office to fill out the paperwork, his eyes got very huge. He had a great big smile on his face as he quickly got up to walk to me. He grabbed my bare upper arm (as I was wearing two tank tops) and said, “SUGOI! Ookii ne! Sugoi!”
“Wow, that’s a huge arm you have there! Wow!”
He did it with such a happy expression that there was no way I could be offended, American as I may be. I was totally unprepared for how to answer him though. I’ve been working on losing weight– not only for my own health and “happiness”, but also for the purpose of being a good steward of what God has given me. And on a practical side, in Japan everything is small. Small clothes. Small seats, apartments, etc. I’m not sure what the Japanese’ opinion is on overweight foreigners, but I’d like to be as credible in their eyes as possible. So, many reasons.
Ojiisan proceeded to show me his arm and how “scrawny” it was (and it was), and then grabbed my arm again to express his amazement at having such a big arm.
I just smiled and mumbled out, yeah, it’s big huh. Yup, a bit fat…. what else do you say??
A few minutes later when I was with Vicente and Rosalyn, he came over and started talking to Vicente about how big my arm was too, especially when compared with his. Vicente chuckled but graciously redirected the conversation.
I was amused. Mortified, but very amused.