Last week I came back from vacation at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was a wonderful time with family and I enjoyed it, but the most surprising delight it brought was when I was on my way home. Towards the end of an 8-hour drive, we stopped to have lunch at a McDonald’s. A fairly ordinary place to eat at.
I sat down and talked with my brothers over a meal as I took in the atmosphere. We would stop at this same McDonald’s many other years when we would drive down to the beach, and the truth is, it’s changed. McDonald’s has changed. Turquoise, green, and blue stained glass, high bistro chairs, no more Ronald with the goofy red-and-white stripes. It almost feels like a coffee shop. However, McDonald’s new-found maturity paled in comparison to what I noticed next.
As someone who loves Japan but can never seem to find those precious pockets of Japanese culture within American society (Either there are very few Japanese in northern Virginia, or else I have absolutely no idea where they hang out at), so I subconsciously always seem to be on the lookout. Anyway, I saw what seemed to be an Asian family sit next to us. I thought it was somewhat atypical for several hours south of D.C., but I didn’t think much of it. Then they spoke.
Japanese has a distinctive sound and pattern to it—though I suppose any language would if you knew it—but as I listened more and more, I became totally convinced that I was sitting just feet away from Japanese. Japanese! In case it isn’t clear enough already, I rarely run into Japanese in Virginia! As it dawned on me, I began to think about talking to them. Complete strangers. And I was going to talk to them?
So I talked to them, after getting up the courage and getting over the they’re-totally-gonna-think-I’m-crazy thoughts, I went over and asked if they were Japanese (just to make sure) and greeted them. We then had a conversation in Japanese which lasted for sometime between 5 minutes and half an hour (I wasn’t really keeping track). I don’t want to go into details out of respect for them, but I ended up sharing some of my story, and how I was hoping to be in Japan by now. It was wonderful to be able to use Japanese and to meet them. Truthfully, I was just thrilled to be with them. I was thrilled to be with complete strangers.
To the two Japanese families I met that day:
Thank you so much allowing me the chance to meet you and talk to you even though I was a complete stranger. It was a delight to be able to practice Japanese and to connect with people from a nation I seem to love. I appreciate it. Also, hopefully I did not come across as rude or intrusive or weird, and perhaps we may meet again someday.