blahI have no idea how to banter anymore.  But apparently everywhere I go, people want to engage me in some sort of conversation.  I’m just trying to buy a quart of ice-cream and some coffee grounds.  Why, supermarket lady, does this exchange require you know about my Christmas plans?

Japan can really jade you in this way.  People don’t actually talk to other people unless they know them.  If they do, this is a sure sign they are a crazy person.  At times this is awesome.  Though I knew quite a few foreigners in Tokyo who hated this.  I remember walking down the street with a newly arrived friend from Edmonton, Canada.  I had my street face on.  This entails not making eye contact with anyone or even acknowledging that hundreds of people are using the same sidewalk as you.  They are just a herd of faceless humanity.  Bart, from Edmonton however endearingly sweet a guy as he was, nodded and said “Hello” to everyone who passed.  We got about three blocks before…


“What the hell is wrong with these people? Everyone is so unfriendly.”

I explained, “No, they just think you are a crazy person and I am probably a social worker taking you out for your daily walk.”

In truth, Japanese people are incredibly friendly.  Particularly if you get a few drinks in them.  But for a multitude of reasons

people don’t acknowledge other people they don’t know.  This is true to a lesser extent in most large cities across the globe, but I’d wager nowhere else are so many people able to be in such close quarters with such deafening silence.
On the flip side however, there is a certain charm to the almost aggressive friendliness of the typical American.  I remember on one of my early visits back to the US stopping in a Starbucks for a coffee during my layover in Newark.  I was served by a giant woman strapped into her green apron like a pork roast that had been tied with string and a name tag that read like an emptied bag of random scrabble tiles.

Her: What *unintelligible question*?

Me: A tall black coffee.

Her: That works for me.

Me: Ok?

Her: $2.50.

Me: Here you go.  Thanks.

Her: You’re welcome baby.

Baby?  I don’t think in all my years anyone in Tokyo has called me “Baby.”  At least not in any story I’m willing to share right now. But my confusion and surprise gave way to a smile.  Ahhhhhhmerica.  The miles of flight melted away and I felt very much back at home.  In a good way.

The fact remains… I’m not sure how one is supposed to respond to “You’re welcome baby.”

Any tips on how one is supposed to banter?  I think I need a refresher course.