Can submissive and non-submissive women get along?
The cultural clash that ruined a college friendship
When one of my college buddies invited me to her graduation, I was ecstatic. We hadn’t seen each other in years, after I fled a startlingly racist university and she did the same shortly after. We didn’t have mutual friends at that college, but the two of us had always stayed in touch. I was happy to reunite with some of her buddies that I’d seen strolling around campus, wondering if our first college had improved. (Note: It didn’t.) Meanwhile, my homegirl was already plotting on what club we would go to, and I’d strategically packed a few outfits to match the club energy. This was going to be fun!
Although most of her college friends who knew each other already were staying in one apartment, she’d invited me to stay in her own place. I pondered on whether I should book a room at a nearby hotel or inn, primarily because her mother was coming into town. Although I consistently would befriend my friends’ mothers, in this case, I wasn’t quite sure how. Her mother was Japanese and spoke no English. I spoke no Japanese. So all of our conversations would have to be translated.
Her boyfriend, on the other hand, was biracial (Mexican and white). He also spoke no Japanese, so that was another conversation she’d have to juggle with her mom. Still, she insisted that it would be a good time with some of her favorite people, so I packed my bags, booked a plane ticket and headed her way.
The graduation part went smoothly, and we cheered as loud as ever. But soon after, we were having a few cultural clashes and awkward moments that were never apparent when it was just the two of us hanging out.
First, I was all dressed up for one event while several others dressed casually. Second, we went to a Japanese restaurant, and I didn’t know how to use chopsticks but the entire table of 10 to 15 did. Third, while shopping, her mother asked her to ask me if my pants were “comfortable.” (These were some fashionista jeans I bought with hanging loops that swayed from the waist to the back of my knees. They were the type of thing maybe Denise Huxtable would wear, solely because no one else could pull them off.) I smiled and swung the handles around. I loved those goofy pants. They were a conversation starter.
On our way home from shopping, she told me, “I think I’m going to be tired. I’m not going to party.”
I raised an eyebrow. It was barely 3 p.m. — and partying was her idea before I even got to the airport.
“You know you’ll be tired tonight even though it’s only mid-afternoon?” I asked her. “Why not just take a nap?”
She insisted, “No, I’ll be tired. If you stay with us, you can’t go out tonight either.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “If somebody doesn’t want you to go out, then that is a totally different story than what you told me over the phone,” I said, suspiciously eyeing this suddenly subdued woman who was nothing like this the entire time I knew her in college and a few visits hanging with me in Chicago. “But that’s your business. However, what does that have to do with me leaving?”
“You don’t have a key to get back in,” she said.
“Can you let me borrow the key so I can hang out with your friends?” I asked her. “Some of them graduated today too. They still want to hang out.”
“No, I can’t give you the key,” she said. “I think [insert boyfriend’s name] would mind.”
“Then I’ll ask him if he minds if I borrow the key,” I said, hopping up from my seat and heading to the living room.
She blocked me. “No! It would be against my culture for you to ask him that,” she said.
“For a key?” I exclaimed. “For one night? Girl, it may be against Japanese culture, but it definitely is not against black culture. And I know some Mexican folks who wouldn’t care either.”