When I was out with Vida and Vicky I found a dual-language book called “Do as Americans Do” which is essentially a culture-shock/adjustment book for Japanese traveling to America. It has a number of real gems in it… don’t attempt to make commentary about a woman’s breasts with her, chopping your hands will not communicate to the people around you that you’re trying to get through, nor will waving your hand in front of your face communicate ‘no’, if you wait for americans to ask you three times if you would like food you will go hungry, bringing new neighbors soap is a little weird, when people ask about the size of your family they’re not asking about three generations, and smiling while apologizing will be misinterpreted.
What’s interesting about the book is that it’s a very Japanese take on the important parts of American culture. In other words, it’s all about how to be polite, how to decipher social hierarchy, etc. Some of it seems a little excessive to me (they detail how to properly introduce someone by introducing the lower ranking to the higher ranking person, which is something we only just learned in that state department etiquette course), but some of it is quite true, unspoken rules of social interaction in the states. For example:
“Contrary to the proper seating arrangement in Japan, in the United States the front seat of a private car next to the driver is considered the most comfortable seat and is therefor offered to the most senior member of a group…If three persons are traveling in the back seat, the middle seat should be taken by the youngest or junior member of the party. Unless the front-seat rider is elderly or physically disabled, he or she should offer to switch seats with those riding in the back seat from time to time. In America, when two couples are in riding together in a car, one couple rides in front and the other in back.”
I can just imagine some poor Japanese exchange-student diligently remembering these details, then being confounded by a child screaming “Shotgun!”