One night we were walking down the street in Tokyo when a group of Japanese teenagers passed by. They looked like proper enough young lads, dressed in jeans and button down shirts. They were carrying backpacks and school books and I suspected that they were on their way home from a long night of group study. Then Steve and Sebastien started laughing uncontrollably. At first I couldn’t understand why. But then I noticed the hat that one of the lads was wearing, which read EAT SHIT! across the front. The poor kid didn’t even have a clue.
That’s the thing with Japan. The country is rife with horrible, horrible English translations. A young girl we passed in a train station was wearing a hat that read I ❤ Haters, another woman carried a bag that said Tits & Co. in the style of Tiffany & Co. If there’s a vulgar English word, you better believe it has been stitched onto a t-shirt or backpack or baseball cap in Japan. There are probably factories throughout the country mass-producing Valentine’s Day gifts with the words Cunt or Jackass printed across the top just so a young Japanese man can show his special someone that he really cares, in English. Or maybe the Japanese just don’t understand the significance of having a word or phrase plastered across your chest. Americans sure do and they wear their words with pride.
When we were boarding the subway in Osaka I made eye contact with a big black man. When you’re in a foreign country, its comforting to see someone who looks familiar, and most people get really excited. On several occasions Sebastien and I were greeted with a nod from a white or black person, desperate to speak and share in the common bond of not having taken a normal shit in a week.
This man was no different. Once I acknowledged his presence he began shaking his head uncontrollably. Words spewed out of his mouth like a volcano erupting. “Hi, how are you, how do you like it here?” He continued to ask questions without giving us a moment to answer. “Where are you guys from?” he said. Before I could respond he answered for us. “Texas?”
“No,” I said. The only reason he could have thought that was because of my sweater, which said Texas. I bought it because I was cold while waiting for a plane in Lubbock a few years ago. It’s the only sweater I own and I don’t understand why people automatically assume I come from there just because I wear it. Who wears a sweater from the place they are from anyway, except for Canadian backpackers? Most people don’t even like the place where they were born. When I was a kid growing up in Florida I lied and told people I was born in California because I didn’t want to be from there. And no offense Texas, but the sweater doesn’t really attract the right caliber of people.
As we made our way through the country and I kept getting the nod from fellow foreigners, I thought about turning the sweater inside out. I have nothing wrong with the place, I just didn’t want to be mislabeled like the boy who had pussy written on his t-shirt.
One night when we were back in New York, we were having dinner with our neighbors, Mike and Tammy. Mike was wearing his Tennessee t-shirt. He told us how he ran into a man at Whole Foods Market who saw his shirt and stopped him because he also went to Tennessee State University. The two chatted for a while and knowing Mike and his kindness, they probably made plans to barbecue together.
“I run into people who went to Tennessee State all the time in this city,” he said with pride.
“I have a Texas sweater and bums are the only people that stop me on the street,” I said.