Looking through the archives of this little blog, specifically the archives from our first few months here, I am surprised at how much culture-shocking we did. So many things were strange, we missed home so much, and it was difficult to cope, at times, with even simple nuisances in Japan.
This year, I feel that we are so much better adjusted to where we are and what we are doing. We have learned so much language and how to navigate our way through the many cultural differences that we experience. It is rare, now, that either of us have complete and total meltdown, I-hate-Japan days. Which is good, I think.
That is why it surprises me so much when I happen upon something that totally, completely bugs me about Japan. Something that I don’t think I could ever get used to or accept, no matter how long I lived or worked in this country.
And that thing is a little phenomenon that I call the Gargle Hack.
It’s cold and flu season here in Japan. Everyone’s least favorite time of year, especially teachers. Because this is the time of year where we are exposed to hundreds of young people each day, all eager to share their germs simply because of the situation we all find ourselves in (small classrooms with 40+ students, lots of contact and interaction). Teachers, and students alike, are trying to avoid getting hit by one of the bugs swirling through the hallways and have a number of defenses they try.
Here, one of the main strategies of attack is the gargle hack.
(Quick Side note: The staff room, in Japanese high schools, is a large-ish room with desks stacked right next to each other without cubicles or other separators, one for each teacher. This is where teachers spend all their preparation and free periods outside of the classroom. The one at Gifu Kita holds about 50 teachers. It is the primary place of work for teachers and students come and go freely to turn in assignments, chat, ask for advice, etc.)
When teachers return to the staff room, they do any number of things. But now that the season has changed and we are firmly planted in sickness-season, there is always a long line of people at the sink which, conveniently or inconveniently depending on your point of view, is located right beside my desk.
When they get to the head of the line, they give their chalk-covered hands a quick swirl under the frigidly cold water (we don’t have any water heaters at the school) sans soap, and then, with both hands, take a large scoop of water and put it to their mouths. They proceed to gargle and swish the water around for several seconds before spitting it back into the sink and repeating the entire process.
Some teachers, charming creatures that they are, incorporate a little hack into the process. They gargle, swish, spit, and then hack up any loogies they had hanging around back there. It is one thing to do this in the privacy of ones home, it is another thing to do it in the washroom, both of those places seem acceptable and reasonable. I do, however, have a huge problem with people doing it in public, mere feet away from other peoples workspace and eating area (all teachers eat lunch at their desks in the staff room as well).
And I don’t even want to get into how ineffective a practice this is, putting a mouthful of water from their ridiculously dirty and presumably germ covered hands directly into the orifice that they are trying to wash out? Gross.
It doesn’t make an sense, it drives me entirely crazy, and I can, with confidence, say that this is one thing that I will never, ever get used to or accept about Japan. I just can’t do it.