My Regrettable Negligence

Of all the things I have done wrong, it seems there is one odd infraction, unintentionally committed, that haunts my memory the most.

It was during our eighteen days of spectacular fun in Japan. We were in Okinawa, Japan, to be more specific. On New Year's Day we attended a festival, which is a big thing there. As far as we could see, we were the only foreigners among the considerable crowd. Everything was colorful and our senses were saturated. As is their custom, the people were extremely courteous.

We wandered around and took in the many sights, sounds, and smells. The event was a lot of fun even for me. I don't normally enjoy big crowds or festivals. By our stature, clothes, and hair color, we stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Oddly, many people wanted to get a selfie with the family of Americans. We stopped and posed with anyone we noticed doing the selfie alignment. I started to feel like a rock star. It was kind of fun, although I wouldn't want the pressure of being conspicuous all the time.

A few young people tried out their limited English on us. It was clearly textbook English. We reciprocated with equally amusing attempts at Japanese. At least we all got a good laugh out of the deal.

Eventually, we found the food alley and, naturally, there were too many choices to pick from. Nothing was in English, so we had to go by the pictures or the food offerings themselves. Somehow, when I pointed at the spicy chicken on a kabob-looking stick, the oblique angle of my indication was also construed as a selection of a drumstick meal. There were nine of us ordering in a foreign language and the confusion was abundant.

When the orders were meted out, I found myself in the awkward position of being handed two meals. I was perplexed. The Japanese man with the drumstick meal and the Japanese lady with the kabob chicken did not understand this American with a communication problem. After several minutes of muddled gestures and head nodding, I was able to establish which of the meals I had actually intended to purchase. The lady passed it to me and the man returned the drumstick to the grill.

Way later it occurred to me, that in that honor driven society, I had probably insulted the man. I am such a dolt at times, maybe most times. I should have purchased both meals. It would have only been an extra ten bucks or so. It certainly would not have been the first time I have overeaten. Besides that, my college-aged son and two sons-in-law were there, so I could have passed the extra meal off to one of them.

Unfortunately, without considering the cultural context, I simply tried to resolve the communication breakdown. As a result, I have this weird sense of unresolved guilt. I wish I could return and make an apology. But I have no way of even knowing who the young man was. That really bothers me. I have done so much worse to others, but have at least been able to return and apologize.

In the big scheme of things, it is fairly minor, but the unresolvable nature of it leaves me, well, unresolved. So I offer here my apology, from the far side of the earth, to the very polite young man at the food booth among the dozens of food booths. And I hope he did not take that personally.

To my readers, I have a piece of advice for you: If you have a reason to apologize to someone, do it quickly before the window of opportunity closes.