Yesterday, when we met for lunch, we chatted about many different things – from how palm trees lift up your mood, how body aware Brazilians are, and to how shamefully expensive fruits are at Japanese supermarkets.
We talked about our everyday lives in Japan and because we both sounded like we miss things back home I couldn’t help but ask the annoying question I ask anyone, who comes from a place with a mild climate and palm trees all over: “What … on earth … are you doing here? Why don’t you just go back?”
When I get asked that question it makes me feel uncomfortable, sometimes even angry because I feel thrown out into a dark cold forest and my brain freezes for a second.
Because these harmless looking questions are not as harmless as they seem.
Deep down they are the real deal! Besides the fact that they make you feel like you have to defend your choices in life, they leave you know choice but to look closely at yourself and your life.
And we all know how good we are at fooling ourselves day in and day out, how well we distract ourselves with going to work, coming back home, doing meaningless things in our free time and making plans for the future just to avoid thinking about what it is that we want from our lives in order to feel truly happy.
It’s not easy to give an answer to “What do I want to do with my life?”, “Am I happy where I am?”
And when something is not easy, it’s damn easy not to confront yourself with it.
… Until you live in Japan for a decade and someone asks you that twisted cursed question: “What makes you stay here?”
I’m aware that not everyone feels this way but a lot of us would say back “ … because it’s a convenient country”.
That is indeed an undeniable fact about Japan.
Japan is one of the most convenient countries you can think of.
You feel terribly hot in the summer or cold in the winter and Abracadabra you’ll see a vending machine right in front of you. At every corner you’ll find a convenient store that's to your service 24/7. Department stores are open all year round! And when you are a white foreigner at the tax office and you don’t speak the language then officials usually fill in documents for you or help you file your tax because the faster they are done with you the less they have to torture themselves with speaking in English.
At home in Germany department stores and shopping sites are closed on Sundays. If you run out of food on Saturday evening you are followed by a feeling of unease because you know you have no choice but to run to the supermarket if you want food on your table for Sunday. Officials are often in a bad mood and expect you to know as much about their work as they do. And if you don’t speak proper German get ready to live in a world of constant insult and humiliation.
For all the reasons above and more one can definitely say that convenience is a blessing.
But is it really? Is convenience truly a blessing?
What price are we paying for this so-called convenience?
Besides the fact that eating sweets especially late at night is not good for your health, in order for me to be able to shush my craving for ice cream at 1 am in the morning by going to the convenience store, there is probably a single mother working late at 7/11 to make sure her kids have a roof over their heads.
In a country that never rests, you’ll find it hard to arrange a get-together with friends unless you inform them 2-3 months in advance because everyone works on different days, and some people even work on Sundays.
· BECAUSE I live in a convenient country that’s famous for its fabulous service my husbands gets called at 11 pm at night by customers, has to work late hours every day, and is not able to take five days off for his wedding and honeymoon without having to deal with his boss' nasty comments later on.
Naturally, if WE receive good service from someone, someone else receives good service from us.
It’s undeniable that service in Germany could be better, and that supermarkets are closed on Sundays.
But at least – without wanting to generalize things - our weekends are there to spend it with our loved ones. Our evenings are for us and not duty-trips to the bar with co-workers. And when we want to travel to the other side of the world, we usually get more than five days off, so that the trip doesn't feel like having spent it mainly on a plane.
Having more time to ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t avoid thinking about what makes us truly happy and how to follow our dreams. Not at all. We all get caught up in in our hectic lives and barely take the time to question our lifestyle.
But it just makes me wonder how much convenience we can actually bear without falling apart or going insane?
On the bright side though … Without this crazy lifestyle here it might have taken me much much longer to realise that I need to get out of this circle of "constant matrix performance" if I want to discover what's out there for me and my life.