Dad e-mailed me yesterday to ask what I wanted for my birthday. I thought about it for a while, then wrote back and told him what I really wanted:
IBC root beer.
Every time I tell someone out here about root beer, I have to spend four minutes explaining that, no, it's not beer, no, it doesn't even taste like beer, and no, I don't know why they call it root beer. Except for Joe's theory, that it used to be called "herbal tea," but in order to increase manly man sales they changed the name to something more "masculine."
No, I don't know who they are, either.
So if Dad mails the root beer on Monday like he said he would, I'll be able to bring them to eikaiwa a week later on my birthday. Woo! Nothin' like kickin' back on a chilly late-winter evening in your local community center with some cold ones and watching your eikaiwa students politely sip on their non-beer carbonated beverages just to be polite.
I'm sure that's exactly what's going to happen, cos most of the Japanese I know are such picky eaters that one marvels at how long they've maintained their member-in-good-standing status within the international community.
Mabel and I have discussed this several times. I think my problem in understanding this pickiness is that, to me, Japanese food is exotic and, well, the Japanese eat lots of Japanese food, so they must like exotic food. I never consciously thought this, but after being surprised several times to see Japanese people turn away food that I thought was delicious, I realized that's exactly the presumption I'd been operating on all along.
In November or December, I attended one of my first Japanese classes, at the invitation of the traveling school councelor at Yokota JHS who is one of the volunteers for the group. Some of them (including the aforementioned Ueda-sensei) had just returned from a trip to Thailand, and in true Japanese fashion had brought gifts of Thai desserts to share with the group. There were these lovely, little sandwich-type cookies, very light and with lovely flavors like pineapple and coconut. Wegmans sells things like this, and when I worked there I used to hork some of the broken ones from the freezer. Yum! But not for everyone else there that night. These things aren't very large, but they broke them up into smaller pieces and nibbled at them. "Oishii, yo!" I said, popping a whole one in my mouth. But they could not be swayed.
I'd told my eikaiwa class about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ("PeaNUT butter!") in December, so when I was in New York during the holidays, I picked up a box of peanut butter cups at Sam's and included it in the packages I mailed myself. After the packages arrived, I brought some peanut butter cups to the next eikaiwa. "These are Reese's Peanut Butter Cups," I proudly proclaimed. Mabel was there, too, and she'd never had them before, either, so this was a new experience for everybody. I distributed the peanut butter and chocolate orange goodness... and everyone ate exactly one cup. No one touched the second one in their package. Except for me, of course. But even I had become accustomed to the Japanese diet, and said, "Wow, these really are sweet." When I was in high school, I would buy packages of minis when they were on sale (especially after holidays when CVS was trying to dump the holiday-themed packages) and eat them like I was going for the world record. But no longer. I'd also bought a 44oz bag of the peanut butter cup minis and small KitKat bars, which I keep by my computer desk and do not share with anyone; after two months, I'm about three-quarters of the way through.
But I digress. It didn't bother me so much that no one thought the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were oishii, but that, as Mabel told me later, one of the guys had made a yuck face after eating his. She didn't tell me who it was, and I didn't see it myself, so I'm glad I don't know who it was. But we agreed that we have three words for any Japanese who turn their nose up at Western food:
Raw. Horse. Meat.
Mabel went to an enkai with her teachers where they tried to get her to eat this stuff. She vehemently refused. Gag me with a spoon. I think raw fish is delicious, but keep me away from uncooked mammals, thank you. Or birds. Or amphibians. In fact, let's just stick to the fish.
And earlier this week the Yokota school lunch included a large helping of natto salad. Natto doesn't make the school menu here nearly as often as it does in other places, but that's okay cos it's a taste I don't feel any pressing need to acquire. Natto is slimy slimy, and tastes like vomit. So the teachers kind of chuckled when I finished the rest of my lunch and returned to the lunch table to dispose of my natto salad, virtually untouched. Watanabe-sensei proclaimed, "I like natto very much."
"Do you want this?"
She paused. "Really?"
"Yeah, I'm just going to throw it out."
"Ah, thank you!"
Cool. Got rid of my natto salad, and didn't feel like a loser for chucking it.
So I think I'll just bring one or two bottles of IBC to eikaiwa with some paper cups. If they really like it, I'll bring more the next week.