Yesterday I walked to a small grocery store right below our place...It's a small 'organic' food place I knew would most likely be expensive, but wanted to give it a try since neither Chris nor I have gone inside yet. I grabbed a basket, was greeted by the cashier in Japanese--I smiled and gave a slight nod (not being very sure at that moment what to say), and proceeded to look around the small store. Not being able to read anything in Japanese, I rely on sight...so I went for things that looked familiar to me (e.g. I picked up macaroni noodles and Italian spaghetti). I also picked up some eggs, some unknown crackers, frozen pot stickers, oatmeal, and a couple other items. I take my basket of things to the counter and am greeted with 'arigatou gozimasu' (thank you), which I respond with 'arigatou gozimasu' because I can't think of anything else to say in that moment. Then the cashier asks me something in Japanese, and all I can do is give him a blank stare and shrug my shoulders hopefully indicating I can't speak Japanese. He finally understands, thinks for a moment, and says "ice" which I then realize (from the previous grocery store experience) that the cashiers will give little ice packs with frozen items for items that need to stay cold. I quickly shake my head and say 'no, not necessary' which he soon understands. I pay, repeat 'arigatou gozimasu' and head out the door to home.
After getting into the door of our place, it just hits me...that we will be here for awhile and I will encounter many many of the same situations where I will give Japanese people blank stares because I have no idea what they are saying. That afternoon I spend a little time learning Japanese--I realize now that it is stressful not being able to speak to people you come into contact with every day. No wonder many people from other countries who don't speak English and come to the U.S. live in areas surrounded by people who speak their language. A part of me suddenly wished I was surrounded in an area of "gaijin" (i.e. foreigners who primarily speak English). Who wants to be "immersed" in stress anyway? Being surrounded by Japanese and quite a few frustrating encounters just may be my motivation to learn Japanese.