Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rube... Yokel... I need a new word

I went out to lunch today with a few other faculty members here, to a find restaurant in the ancient capital. It was a marvelous lunch, which took us about three hours, with wonderful food, interesting conversation, pretty much all you could hope for in a lunch. (Well, except the cherry blossoms, since we were inside.)

One of the faculty members is headed to one of the great European capitals in early summer for a couple weeks to teach a course, and the other folks had spent a good deal of time there, and so they reminisced, as people only can about this specific capital, talking about the neighborhoods where they'd lived at various times, favorite spots, restaurants, and so forth. I nodded and made appropriate oohs and aahs. I've never been there.

And then another talked about having lived in an amazing world capital, and they talked earnestly about things there, and their experiences there.

And then there was discussion of growing up in the City like No Other (to borrow Jo(e)'s term, I think), and summers in the hither and yon, studies abroad, honeymoon trips here and there.

I did a lot of nodding and oohing and aahing, and enjoyed hearing about all their adventures. But I also felt quite the rube, or yokel, or something. The thing is, if you grow up really in the country, you have a certain cachet; you grew up doing this, or that, running here and there, getting into certain kinds of troubles or not. And if you grew up in the City like No Other, you have another kind of cachet.

If you grew up in the suburbs, as I did, you don't have much cachet. Parents choose to raise their kids in the suburbs because it seems safe and easier, and so on. But if you grew up where and when I did, you could ride your bike here and there, but not get into much trouble. But to go anywhere interesting, you needed to drive.

I need a word to express the lack of ... of having grown up in the suburbs.

(And while I've lived abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer, trust me, where I lived has all the cachet of Barstow; even in that country, most people have heard of it, but wouldn't consider going there. I mostly loved it there, however.)

Yeah, and I also couldn't read the menu at lunch, because while it was written in two languages, neither was a language I've got. Happily, my colleagues translated what I needed for me, and were (as I would expect from them) pleasant and wonderful. Still, I'm such a .... I need a word!

After lunch, I split from the others (who were heading home to relax) to take myself back to one of the places I visited when I first got here, the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion) and the Philosopher's Walk (because I'm still trying to pack in all sorts of sight-seeing). The Ginkakuji was the home of a shogun, and then turned into a temple, with an incredible garden; the philosopher's walk is a walk along a (now paved) stream starting nearby and going south a couple kilometers. The sakura (cherry blossoms) are almost done, but the Philosopher's Walk is one of the most famous viewing areas, full of blossoms still today, and equally full of people viewing the blossoms.

I had a really nice walk, and revisited a small shrine with mice guardian figures (I'm not sure of the name, but I think of it as the Mouse Shrine) a block or so off the Philosopher's Walk. There's a small building thing with traditional sake barrels; my basic understanding is that the mice are guarding them, and through them the rice that sake's made from. The shrine is very small, and doesn't have an entrance fee, but I did buy a couple of the wooden pieces you're supposed to write on to leave at the shrine. The pieces have pictures of mice on them; I think in this case the idea is that the mice will take your message (a prayer or entreaty) to the gods (you can see them behind the guardian mouse in the picture). There are also a few fox, monkey, and bird guardians around.

Afterwards, I walked to the end of the Philosopher's Walk, and then turned back down towards the Kamagawa, the main river that runs north and south through the city, which I use as my navigational landmark ( along with the eastern mountains). As I was walking, I overheard some folks with American accents complaining about all the tourists. It's sort of weird, isn't it, tourists complaining about tourists? From what I overheard, they sounded like they thought they were missing the authentic Japanese experience. And I was thinking, "But Dude! It's sakura season, walking along a stream with a ton of cherry blossoms and loads of other people is about as authentic an experience as you're going to get." But I kept my mouth shut and took some pictures of the blossoms.

As I walked, I kept thinking about how much more familiar the city felt to me now than it did just a few short weeks ago, and I found my way back to my train line without really being concerned (and since I get lost easily, I spend a lot of time being concerned about being lost, usually).


  1. I know how you feel. I, too, grew up in the 'burbs, and actually never even flew on a plane till I was 22 yrs old. Pitiful rube.

    I'm trying to make up for it now, and so, it seems, are you. I'd say 6 months in Japan and a stint ot the peace corps is pretty darned international of you.

  2. The best word I can think of is naïf. To my ear, it is less pejorative than rube or yokel. (And according to dictionary dot com, it has a specific connotation among jewelers of a stone that "has a true natural luster without being cut." That's you!

  3. I hear you. I grew up in a suburb in a rural part of the country (if you can have a suburb in a town of 13,000). When I moved to Urban Metropolis for my undergraduate work, I was blown away by the whole experience (operas! shopping! restaurants! art galleries!).

    And now I feel equally comfortable in tiny rural towns and The City Like No Other, but for a long time I felt almost apologetic about my unsophisticated roots.

    Now I see those roots as almost...exotic. I grew up in a part of the country that people dream of visiting. My suburbia-childhood is one that city folks find fascinating. I think it actually makes me different in a good way.

    There is something to be said, after all, for knowing how to survive a blizzard, how to drive on country roads in an ice storm, and how to do without big city luxuries.

    Even if it means I can't name drop about my favorite NYC boutique.

  4. ack. i grew up in the san fernando valley, of "valley girls" fame. or whatever you call that. but in the post WWII, cheap housing for vets, not a good address part.

    my year in japan was my only time out of the US. ever. i might make it into canada next year. you'd think that growing up in southern california, i'd have been to mexico, but no. guess i'm a total rube.

  5. TBTAM, Thanks, but it doesn't really have the cachet, and I stupidly want some cachet. Oh well, guess I'll muddle on!

    Meansomething, Hmmm, naif sounds a little close to "naive," doesn't it? And that's not quite what I'm after. There's a difference between being naive and not having lived in Paris for a couple years.

    Terminal, Oh, that sounds like it's worked out well. And knowing how to drive in a blizzard can be a useful skill!

    Kathy A, but you can probably do whole swatches of the song!

  6. go ahead, embarass me more.

    glad you have some great students lining up for next fall!

  7. I feel you. Grew up in the dullest part of Metairie, outside of New Orleans (New Orleans itself is semi-cool, if dirt-poor, but I almost never got into the city)and then moved here, to Pork Smith, Arkansas, even rub-ier, even poorer. I've been to New York and SF, so I know what cities are, and I've read a ton of books: enough to know what I don't know: what's missing from me. It's the net that's made it clearest, for me, though, reading blogs of people who are in those places, the world they take as natural.