The importance of considering why the unfamiliarity arises

I have been staying in Switzerland for almost eight months. Recently, I have become completely accustomed to life in Switzerland and feel almost none of the difficulties I felt at first. I don’t get lost or have trouble shopping. This is probably because the fact that life here is so different from Japan has become more natural and I no longer feel stressed. There are several things that were unfamiliar to me at first that I have become accustomed to, and two of them are particularly impressive.

The first is the way of thinking about food. Since coming to Switzerland, I have met many vegetarians and vegans. I was deeply surprised at first, because I have lived in Japan for more than 20 years so far and had never met such people in Japan. But now I’m well familiar with this. The first time I eat a meal with someone, I make sure if they are a vegetarian or not.

Secondly, many people speak three or more languages as a matter of course. In particular, Switzerland is a multilingual country, and many Swiss people I have met speak three languages normally and are in the process of learning several more. This is very different from Japan, where Japanese people yearn to speak two languages, Japanese and English, and even consider it impossible to speak more than three languages. At first, I was just overwhelmed by the people here who speak several languages fluently, but seeing the people here with their eyes shining when it comes to language learning has encouraged me to try harder.

I think the reason these two unfamiliar things became familiar to me is because I have come to understand the kind of thinking that makes these differences. For example, the reason why vegetarians and vegans are unfamiliar to us Japanese is, of course, the difference in awareness of environmental protection and animal welfare, but I believe that what we look forward to in life also makes a difference. The Japanese place considerable importance on food in terms of daily happiness. In Japan, many people regard visiting restaurants with good reputations as one of their hobbies, and food seems to be quite high on their priority list. Another reason why vegetarians and vegans are not familiar with Japanese food is that most Japanese dishes use dashi, which means that animal products cannot be excluded. Also in language learning, it seemed to me that Europeans are proficient in several languages because speaking several languages gives them that many opportunities. In Japan, too, speaking English and other languages is an advantage in career development, but it is not essential for getting a job. If you live only in Japan, not being able to speak any language other than Japanese does not hinder you in any way, and opportunities are not lost to that extent. This is probably largely due to the fact that Japan is an island nation.

In this way, the seemingly unfamiliar became familiar by learning in the real voices of the local people what kind of ideas they have. In this process, I learned about their values and at the same time reflected on why I was unfamiliar with them and what I value. This leads me to believe that even if differences are unfamiliar at first, it is important when understanding different cultures to consider the backgrounds that give rise to such differences, and in so doing, to truly respect the other person. This is also useful and important not only when interacting with people from other countries, but also when working and talking with people in Japan who have a different way of thinking.

Minori Okomoto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: