So you would think by now we would have this 'living in another country' thing down... I mean after almost 11 years of being away from our 'home' country, shouldn't we have at least a small amount of expertise? Well, of course not... we still make mistakes frequently (sometimes it feels like every day) and will always be learning... and I'm here to tell you that culture shock can hit in the seemingly very normal experiences of life... most recently for me (Julie) - a trip to the Dentist.
It's important to preface this story with a bit of my personal teeth history... not that you really care. Just suffice it to say I have always rather enjoyed going to the Dentist. My Mom made sure we took very good care of our teeth, and so it was common to hear glowing reports at the end of our Dentist appointments when we were kids. I did have the unfortunate experience of braces in high school, but after that the Dentist even complimented me more about how great my teeth looked and how well I took care of them. So, obviously, I have a bit of a pride issue going on, but it is relevant to the story.
After we moved to Japan and got settled in with regular doctors (a must since Noah was born 6 months after we moved here), we decided we needed to find a Dentist for our family. At this point we were still like babies with our Japanese language abilities, so we looked for a Dentist that had some English ability also. We found a great one, near our house, and I think our first appointment with him was for Justin when he was about 4 years old... that's another story, but it was a HUGE disaster. Justin is quite fearful of anything new, so he screamed... a lot... and the Dentist never got to look inside his mouth. But after 2 years of praying and some mild bribery, Justin now loves going to the Dentist. :)
So soon after Justin's first fiasco, Brian and I decided we should get back into this 'normal' part of life in our new home and we made appointments to have our teeth cleaned. We are blessed to have Japanese national insurance that covers visits to the Dentist, but there is one interesting aspect to this coverage... when you get your teeth cleaned, you can't do it all in one appointment. In order for the government insurance to cover it, you get your top teeth cleaned at one appointment and your bottom teeth at another appointment... think about that for a minute. I think it's all psychological, but I guarantee after that first appointment when only your top teeth have been cleaned, suddenly your bottom teeth feel almost toxic and you can't wait for that second appointment so you can have some balance back in your mouth again.
So that's the first 'different' thing about going to the dentist in Japan. But, I'm thankful for our insurance, so I can get past it. When I went in for my first appointment, I was pleasantly surprised. Japanese people are overwhelmingly considerate and thoughtful and this is made evident at the Dentist. You are given a small blanket to put on your lap so you don't feel cold during your appointment. They offer you a small towel to put over your eyes so the glaring light doesn't bother you. And, in typical polite Japanese style, they announce when they will start each phase of your cleaning by telling you what they are about to do, followed with 'start'. :) It really is a pleasant experience....
Until they pulled out a bottle with pink liquid in it... it says 'Plaque Checker' (in English!) on the label. I had never before experienced this at a Dentist.... they put this 'strawberry flavored' plaque checker (of course, they informed me it was strawberry flavored) on my teeth and then told me to rinse. Okay, no big deal. Then the sweet dental assistant proceeded to hand me a mirror and inform me that every spot on my teeth that still had this pink liquid on it was plaque... and this was very, very bad. I remember I tried to laugh it off and make jokes (never a good idea when you're not speaking the same language), and this caused the sweet dental assistant to bring out the large model of teeth with a large toothbrush and show me how to brush my teeth... because apparently I didn't know after thirty-something years of doing it. (Note: they did not do this for Brian at his appointment - I guess he knows how to brush his teeth) They also gave me a kind of report about my visit to the dentist which included a diagram of teeth and they colored red marks on all the teeth that had plaque... let's just say I was quite embarrassed. I obviously had been a little too prideful of my teeth before coming to Japan, and I was greatly humbled. So humbled, that it took me longer than normal to schedule my next annual cleaning.
But I went today, and even though I was dreading the two separate appointments (because yes, my bottom teeth do feel particularly 'unclean' as I write this) and the inevitable humbling lesson in how to brush my teeth, God helped me change my attitude during my appointment. First of all, it's such a great feeling to feel like you're living normal life even in a place that can many times still feel so foreign. I am overwhelmingly grateful how God has helped our family adjust to the different countries we've lived in... I am so thankful that things seem so normal now, although I'll probably make a huge cultural mistake tomorrow - it's almost guaranteed. :) We're just living life, and even though the Dentist is still a 'different' experience, we're figuring out the system. I'm thankful for insurance, I'm thankful for our growing Japanese language abilities, I'm thankful that Justin now loves the Dentist (he was jealous I got to go twice) and I'm really thankful that God helps us laugh... because even though they didn't pull out the large toothbrush and model today, this was one of the papers they sent home with me....
Thank you God for adventures, for humbling lessons, for the amazing people I get to spend my day with, and the opportunity to join you in your work in Japan... I am truly overwhelmed. :)