After no more than a few weeks of living in Japan, I began to hear the question:
So, would you say you’re pretty much adjusted by now?
Despite the well-meant intent of the friends and family members checking in with me, for the longest time I found this question annoying. It elicited from me the desired (and imagined) response:
“NO. I HAVE NOT ADJUSTED YET. AND I MIGHT NEVER, OK??!!”
Since, you’d be proud… I’ve been working on the anger thing.
Additionally, I’ve discovered that there is a difference between adjusting and feeling settled.
I think that “adjusted” is a bit of a misnomer–in a completely new culture and environment, I don’t believe one is ever fully adjusted, but instead always in a constant state of adjustment.
“Just adjust” was the catchphrase of my study abroad trip to Hyderabad, India in the summer of 2005, and out of necessity I’ve carried this advice with me over several Asian oceans. I’m always–I repeat, always–adjusting here. I go to the store to find cornstarch and can’t find it; I adjust by finding a substitute. The clerk at the register asks me something I don’t understand; I adjust to the situation, whether it means staring blankly like an idiot while silently trying to figure it out, or opting to say “it’s ok” so that I’m left alone. I go home, open my mailbox, and have no fucking clue why my phone bill costs over 80 bucks this month; I adjust by swallowing the bitter expensive pill and later asking a native speaker to explain to me in English the unbelievable charge.
Always feeling like things are a little harder than they should be. Always adjusting.
Feeling settled, however, is a point you reach when, in spite of the perpetual flux of big and little adjustments to life there are to be made in a new place, it all begins to feel somewhat routine. Like, you just accept that even though you have laundry to do (here where dryers don’t exist which means hanging everything out on your balcony), during rainy season the weather simply will not cooperate, leaving you with clothes even more drenched than to begin with. And you’ve resolved yourself to the fact that the majority of your hygienic item staples–like facial cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or dental floss that does not counterproductively tear into shreds between your teeth–are not available; you use what is.
And for the life of me, on most days I still don’t know what the supermarket attendant is saying. But I’m no longer shamed for looking like an idiot because they’re used to seeing me.
And so, while I’ll never fully pick up this language that I am learning much slower than I had hoped for, nor will I ever fully understand why a country so obsessed with preventing the spread of germs fails to place hand soap in 3/4 of its bathrooms, I believe that all of my daily just adjusting has at long last yielded me the conviction to say it:
I feel settled here.
It did take four months. But finally, things are *somewhat* comfy, in a regularly-occurring sort of way.