An Introvert in Canada is an Extrovert in Japan

How do we understand the spectrum if the samples are only taken in North America?

Sitting across from a complete stranger in the cafe, I introduced myself first. This would be a familiar scene for frequent MeetUp users. At this English-Japanese language exchange event, the English-speaking Canadians usually lead the conversations…

Me: What do you enjoy most about the Canadian life? *earnest*

He: Umm, I don’t know. Actually, I don’t really like living here. I think I will go back to Japan soon. *attempting to fan his long bang away from his eyes*

Me: Oh, really? Why is that? *surprised*

He: Just… umm, Canadians are very hyper all the time. I feel like I can’t fit in. They talk a lot and don’t take breaks. I don’t know when I can speak so I just listen. It’s hard for me to make friends. *voice subdued*

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Having lived in Toronto throughout most of my adult life, I forgot how cultural shock goes beyond the weather and food.

All of a sudden, I became very self-aware with my speech.

They are not quiet; you just don’t give them a chance to speak.

Before arriving in the designated country, most participants in the Working Holiday programs expect to be living side by side with the locals. The truth is many are unable to blend in and resort to mingle with those from their own country.

Thinking about this, I walked to my work best friend’s cubicle…

Me: Hey, do you mind if I invite that Japanese friend I told you about to our dinner? *poked my head in*

She: No, of course not. That’s cool with me. *looked up and smiled*

Phone in my hand; I texted my invite.

He: Today!!? In three hours!? Dinner??? *shocked emoji*

Me: Yes? Why? Do you have plans already?

He: No, I don’t. Just it’s very sudden. This doesn’t usually happen in Japan, but I think it’s a good opportunity to push myself. Thank you for inviting me. I will try to be mentally ready. Meeting new people makes me nervous.

Photo by Jay Clark on Unsplash

This time, the cultural shock is on my end.

Failure to view things from the other’s perspective, I recognize what our culture promotes may force the introverts to be less themselves.

Western values such as agility, adaptability, casualness, multitasking and sociability are contrary to Asian society’s emphasis on harmony, loyalty, patience and stability.

Devouring our rice dish, I thought to ask the question I’ve been curious about…

Me: Hey, do you consider yourself an introvert?

She: Yeah, I think so. I’m not like shy around people but I do need alone time from time to time after hanging out or partying with friends downtown. *without hesitation*

Me: What do you think? *glancing to my left*

He: Wow, you don’t seem like an introvert to me. With the way you carry yourself and how fast you talk… in Japan, people would definitely think you are an extrovert. *eyes wide*

She: And would I be shunned for that?

He: I don’t think so. These days, we worship the western culture and value extroversion. But in Japan, I can spot introverts immediately. Not in Canada, here, my shyness and nervousness are amplified.

As if rehearsed, we all pulled our drinks closer to suck on the tapioca. Both of our straws made a loud noise but not his.

Photo by Stefan Lehner on Unsplash

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