Expat Magazine

No Bubble Wrap, Thank You

By Russellvjward @russellvjward

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
It's fast approaching the end of the year which means we have time for just one more Expat Dispatches for 2011. As always, your faithful expat dispatchers from the four corners of the globe are:
North: Linda in The Netherlands (http://www.adventuresinexpatland.com/)
South: Russell in Australia (http://www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com/)
East: Erica in Japan (http://www.expatriababy.com/)
West: Maria in Canada (http://www.iwasanexpatwife.com/)
The December edition of NorthSouthEastWest is something very dear to our hearts. It’s that thing or things that drive us crazy as expats. This month’s theme is therefore an open invitation to have a good ole fashioned rant and is called It’s driving me round the bend!
Here at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, Erica shares her love (or absolute lack of) for packaging in Japan.
At Adventures in Expat Land, I’m wondering why it’s always so flamin’ hard to get any sleep round here;
At I Was an Expat Wife, Linda examines the discomfort of discomfort;
And at Expatria, Baby, Maria is breathing a sigh of relief to be free of the Expat Hierarchy
So sit back, enjoy these four no-holds-barred posts, and have a wonderful festive season wherever in the world you and yours may be!

No Bubble Wrap, Thank You

Image: Naypong / FreeDigitialPhotos.net

I'm slightly nervous about this month's theme. You see, the list of things that drive me ‘round the bend' is long. Very long. I could write a tome entitled, "All Of The Things About Japan That Make Me Totally Bonkers And Also A Bit Stabby." It would meander from the trivial (tiny, sockless baby feet, naked to the winter elements) to the inane (dogs dressed up as elves, or bumble bees, or ballerinas or tiny Von Trap singers being pushed around the park in canine sized strollers) to the annoying (an impenetrable address system that renders me hopelessly and utterly lost about 75 percent of the time), to the serious (a cultural tradition of sexism so entrenched that married women with children have almost no hope of any sort of meaningful career).
But to write such an opus would certainly not be prudent. It would not win me any friends, nor the respect of my blogging comrades and would only serve to kindle my righteous indignation. And I’m really trying to be less righteous . And less indignant. After all, not everything is so doomy.
And so, in the spirit of this season of wrapping paper, presents, and parcels, I give you..da da da da!...PACKAGING!!!! And why it drives me batty.
You see, I was raised with a healthy fear of overflowing landfills and human provoked environmental ruin. As a child, my mother sent me off to school with sandwiches packed in repurposed milk bags and leftovers scooped into old yoghurt containers. Reuse. Reduce. Recycle. As I've moved across the globe, I’ve carried this mantra with me. I may occasionally leave the lights on in the hallway, and take a shower that's a little too hot and a little too long, but I'll always bring my reusable shopping bag to the grocery store.
And so I did, the first time I went grocery shopping in Japan. I passed my shopping bags over to the cashier while I nervously fumbled with my wallet full of unfamiliar currency (so many zeros!!) When I returned home with my provisions, I was vexed to discover that my jars of jam, containers of soy sauce, and bottles of beer were carefully swaddled up in bubble wrap. The French cheese, for which I had combed the city (and paid a small fortune), was bundled first in a layer of saran wrap and them vacuum packed in thick plastic so that it sweated and slimed all it's delicious Frenchness away. My steaks were wrapped in polystyrene trays, then sealed with plastic wrap. A duo of ice packs was added before the whole package was encased in a final layer of plastic. Apples were wrapped individually in Styrofoam mesh lest that they suffer the indecency of a slight bruise. I unpacked my groceries and huffed around, cursing the pointless waste.
Later, as I explored the city on a rainy day, I saw shoppers carefully slide their umbrellas into plastic bags provided at store entrances. And paper bags filled with newly acquired treasures were shrouded in plastic. A disposable raincoat kept the shopping bag, the outer packaging announcing status and luxury, pristinely drip-free. I rolled my eyes and sighed.
It's not just inanimate objects that are packaged just so. People, too, sport a uniform of perfection. Men in perfect dark suits and perfect blue ties. Hipsters clad in perfectly mis-matched patterns and perfectly oversized glasses. Ladies perfectly quaffed with high heals and fake lashes, perfectly attired for a quick trip to the grocery store. And then there’s me, always slightly disheveled and marked with the invariable smear of baby goo. My hair willfully escapes the constricts of it's hair tie, and my eye makeup is slightly smudged. I carry a hit of hint of vagabondery. And in Japan, I am a sore thumb.
And so, it is like this that I show up at the grocery store. Standing in line behind a perfectly manicured woman who pulls out a designer wallet from her designer bag and completes her transaction elegantly and without incident. I follow, rooting through my purse (with its requisite splotch of unknown provenance on the front) to extract my reusable bags. I stretch to hold onto my daughter with one hand at the same time as I try to mime "no bubble wrap" and "hold the ice packs". I decline the prestigious shopping bags emblazoned with fancy grocery store branding and hand over my rumpled eco-bags while I shrink from side-eyes from the my fellow shoppers, real or imagined.
You see, this is just who I am: a slightly disheveled, semi-tree hugging, rebellious, and perpetually disorganized eschewer of convention. And in this way, I'll always be annoyed by the excessive packaging in Japan, just as the Japanese will always be annoyed at my inability to package myself appropriately. Still, with a Christmas gift exchange to shop for this week, you can bet that I’ll be asking for a gift box. And wrapping. And throw on a little plastic shopping bag raincoat to keep everything looking good, arigato gozaimasu.
Tis the season for sharing so why not tell us some of your own gripes, irritations and downright annoyances from life lived abroad. Don't be shy. Let it all out.

No Bubble Wrap, Thank You

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
Image: digitalart portfolio 2280 freedigitalphotos.net

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