Travel Magazine

Blame It on the Cat

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
The expat life is one of adventure, discovery, glamour, and...  bumbling social ineptitude. So, for the September edition of NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches, our ongoing guest-post project, we four expat bloggers are divulging their most embarrassing expat moments.
Linda of Adventures in Expatland (North) demonstrates that a small vowel can cause big problems. Yours truly, of In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (South), discovers that wherever you are in the world, people enjoy a good laugh at the newbie’s expense. Erica of Expatria, Baby (East) writes on this blog of disastrous first impressions that last and last and last. And finally, Maria, who blogs at I Was an Expat Wife, reveals how her expat mantra of “try new things” led her astray.
I hope that you enjoy this month’s post by Erica called Blame it on the cat, and do check out all of the other posts (I'm over at Linda's site in the Netherlands, There are many, many laughs to be had...
The rules of social engagement in Japan are complex, and my understanding of our civic obligations here are nebulous at best. Consequently, I fear that I am in a continual state of awkward social delinquency, doomed to forever achieve new heights of social shame. Polite but distant greetings from my neighbours have me worried about my latest transgression; how might I have unintentionally caused offense this time? Was it the accidental door slam as I took out the garbage? Or, perhaps the fact that I went to check the mail with a baby clad only in her diaper? Is it that I didn’t join in the Chonai Ka, or neighbourhood association?
Or, maybe the source of my neighbourly shame is our cats. Or, more specifically, Oliver Katz, or special little neurotic feline snowflake, who is perhaps responsible for my (imagined?) position of social pariah.

Blame it on the cat

Oliver Katz, not so innocent

Oliver is a lovely, gentle little sweetheart of a rescue cat. He was found as a tiny kitten, eyes barely open, in a Shanghai garbage bin. His rough start in life has left him understandably terrified, hysterically petrified, of strangers. If some unknown person should happen to cross the threshold of our apartment, he will inevitably spend the next three hours cowering under the blankets on my bed. And should, heaven forbid, the stranger try to actually touch him, then he disintegrates into a quivering pile of neurotic anxiety, from which it takes days to recover. I am not kidding at all. 
So. That’s our Oliver.
Cut to me, 39 weeks pregnant, about to experience one of my most embarrassing moments ever, all at the paws of my sweet boy Oliver. The cats are outside sunning themselves, taking advantage of our first-floor cat-safe balcony (chosen specifically for it’s first floor-idness after an other unfortunate incident wherein our elder feline fur-child, Mr. Finnegan, leapt out of our 20th floor window. He survived. But that’s another story for another day.) So, anyway, I’m washing the dishes, when suddenly I hear an ungodly howl.
I go outside to investigate; I hear Oliver screaming, but I can’t see him. He’s not on the balcony, he’s not in the courtyard. I follow the sound of his level nine red-alert banshee cries, and there he is. On the upstairs neighbour’s balcony. Somehow, in what still remains a mystery to me, he scaled a brick wall,  jumped over a railing, Spider-Man style, and got himself stuck on a strange balcony. Of a strange apartment. That belonged to strangers. Oh Gawd. Horror show.
So, off I went, ready to offer my apologies to my neighbors, and rescue poor Oliver. But alas, the neighbours in question were not home. Of course they weren't. And I had no way of reaching my frantically screaming cat, who’s yowls were now echoing all over the building. I parked my very pregnant self in front of their door, and waited, while a the cat scream symphony continued for a good hour and a half.
When the neighbours finally returned home, I did my best to explain, using mostly sign language, and a handful of Japanese expressions, that my cat was on their balcony, would they mind, I’m so sorry for the intrusion, I’m really embarrassed, very very sorry, if I just ran inside and got him? It will only take a moment. Sorry. Sorry.
(Another thing you need to know about Japan, that I should probably mention here, is that one never ever ever invites people into one’s house. The home is at the heart of the personal sphere, and even very good friends rarely, if ever, get an invitation into the domestic sanctum. Let alone an enormously pregnant, frantic and inarticulate foreign lady.)
Finally the neighbours let me in. And wouldn’t you know it, but the balcony in question is right off their master bedroom (double shame!) They’re in a panic, trying to make the bed before this pregnant barbarian lady barges in and attempts to grab her cat, who is, at this point, totally and utterly insane with agitation.
I grab him. His claws are out. He takes one look at the terrifyingly strange strangers and does a somersault in my arms, scratches me everywhere, and then bolts. Oliver tears through their apartment, jumps up a shelf, knocks down a million knick-knacks, and (I am 100 percent not kidding) runs up a wall. UP A WALL. A vertical gyprock wall. Like almost to the ceiling. For the second time that day.
So let’s recap: I’m hugely pregnant, sweating, in imminent danger of stress-induced labour, and now I’m bleeding profusely from about ten cat scratches all over my arms, neck and belly. Oliver Katz is hurtling around a stranger’s apartment, an apartment that, even under the most congenial of circumstances, I had no right to be in. Sweat, blood and disregard of social conventions: the the perfect trifecta of social humiliation.
Somehow I manage to grab Oliver and chuck him out the neighbours front door and into the hallway before returning to apologize some more, bowing awkwardly while trying not to bleed too much all over the place. After a million sorrys, I hastily make my departure. Then I don some oven mitts and grab my still-screaming cat who was too distraught to figure out that he has been saved from the torment of being in the sightline of strangers, and actually he could walk back into our apartment on his own.
The next day, in a shoddy attempt to save some face, I returned to the scene of my shame bearing a beautifully wrapped home-baked lemon cake. Because nothing says, “I’m sorry that my cat broke into your apartment, ran up to your ceiling and caused me to bleed all over your floor” like lemon cake.
So, yeah. I do think that I’m persona non grata in my building. And Mr Katz may or may not have something to do with that fact.
Have you suffered a particularly embarrassing expat experience? If so, feel free to share it here!

Blame it on the cat

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
Image: digitalart portfolio 2280

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