Intercultural Presence of a Refrigerator 冷蔵庫の異文化間存在 Posted by on Sep 12, 2020 in Culture

I have been in charge of homestay programs for Japanese university partners in the ESL section of a U.S. university. Japanese universities want their students to immerse themselves in English and learn the local culture by staying with local families.  The most important thing that I tell students at an online pre-departure orientation is “please open the refrigerator (冷蔵庫 れいぞうこ) if your host family tells you to help yourself (遠慮しないで), and take out what you want to drink (飲む) or eat (食べる).”  In general ( 一般に), it is very difficult for the Japanese to open a refrigerator or a kitchen pantry at someone else’s home.

I tell homestay students “I understand that you feel awkward ( 気まずい) opening someone else’s fridge.  But if you wait for the host family to bring something for you, they may think that they have to take care of (世話をする) you.”  And I tell host families “the reason why your student may not want to open the fridge to get something to drink is that the student is simply feeling awkward to do so.  It is not that the student wants you to cater him/her.”  Host families usually laugh to find out what an intercultural problem t a fridge can pose!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

It is not a joke ( 冗談), really.  A few years ago, a homestay student talked to me while I was speaking to the group. “Meals(食事)are terrible.  Because I am Japanese, she serves rice all the time.  But that is it. I am starving (お腹がペコペコだ、餓死する).”  To make a long story short, her host mom bought so many special foods for the student as she had allergies and stored them in the fridge and in the pantry, telling her to help herself.  So the misunderstanding ( 誤解) was cleared.  Guess I will have to continue to talk about the fridge at orientations.

So what do you think if the situation (状況) is reversed, meaning a foreign visitor stays at a Japanese host family in Japan? I searched on the internet.  When a Japanese host family told a foreign visitor “Please eat as much as you want”, the host family said that the foreign guest did not read between the lines (空気を読む) and ate as much as he wanted.

I am not saying that the host family is telling a lie ( 嘘をつく). But I think the host family generalized their experience. I can only talk about the Americans, but when we go to a party or dinner, we rarely see people eating the last piece on a shared plate without any hesitation (ためらい). People always say something like “They need to take the plate away. Can anybody eat the last piece?” or “Is it OK if I eat the last piece?”

What do you think??

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  1. Angela Daly:

    How does an American family sign up to sponsor a student from Japan in your homestay program? We would love to be a host family!

    • eriko1:

      @Angela Daly Hi Angela

      Many times universities in the US have homestay programs. You should contact universities in your area to see if they have such programs. There are also homestay companies. Due to COVID-19, some Japanese universities have already cancelled 2021 Spring programs. So sad!!