This title just shouts Cosmo or Redbook, right? I feel like I could be dressed in short cut-offs, gingham top, knotted just above my waste, red-lipstick playing up flirty eyes. How do you like your men? This is the question my fourteen-year-old Japanese student asks me at the end of class, with all of the girls’ parents present, neat and prim in navy suits. My face flushes pink, bewildered at how to answer such a bold question! The room is suddenly uncomfortably hot. Why did I wear my hair down? I move my hair to the side. Every movement buys time.
Is she trying to trip me up? Catch me as starry-eyed American boy-crazy chic, though in my mid-thirties (yikes)? With parents there? What the heck? How do I like my men? “Well, like my husband, that’s how I like my men”, I could answer, putting a marriage first emphasis, a naturally innocent, joyful take! I could be honest—I like men who respect women, are faithful to their children, to doing dishes, changing poopy dipes! Men who go to museums, even when they really couldn’t care less, and don’t use art to define their personal views and take on the world.
Men who will be kind and honest, considerate of your character. This is quickly escalating to sex-talk banter, in my head, while visiting fathers criss-cross their legs, and some of the mothers glance at their daughters’ postures. What.to.say. “How do I like my men??” What place does that even have in the classroom?
This is an upstanding Christian schooI. Surely, parents can’t think I always facilitate such discussion! This is a prestigious, very expensive English program, you know. They will think I teach subject verb agreement to the tune of Sex in the City!
My student, Mizuki san, waits patiently, twirling bangs off of her forehead. Her Rikkuma pencil pouch and Frozen eraser mirror the playful girl; they are so curious to know me and see my sameness and differences. I cut to Airplane and the little sophisticate who, when asked how she takes her coffee, replies, “I take it black, like my men.”
Is this what my student wants to hear? The skin color I’m most comfortable with? There may be no way to answer this that isn’t weird and just a bit sexual, sensual, or straight-up ridiculous.
Thinking back, I did invite the junior high students to ask me a couple of questions at the end of class three weeks ago, but that was more like, “Where do you like to go in Japan? Do you have any sisters or brothers?” Innocuous stuff. Besides, here we are on Parents’ Day and I get this?! No way.
Like Jessica Day on Who’s that Girl, I needed to “Shut it Down.” Fast. A stern-looking dad cleared his throat. Oh my gosh. (What does she want to hear? Brawny, muscular, a bit slow upstairs, but underwear model? Or that I go for lanky, allergic to milk, repairers of lawnmowers? I need my men to collect Spiderman and One Piece comics, and make luxury meals with only tortilla chips and canned tomatoes? Someone who serenades me with Korean love songs? Or saunters, stag-like on the beach, white mutton-down mostly unbuttoned? Why are parents here??
Stall for time with a question. “What (in Sam Hill) do you mean?” I asked.
“You know“, Mizuki says, now twisting a stray section of glossy hair. Surely my blank, scared looks gives it away. I do not know or I really know. I don’t know which! It’s like a game of chicken and she will not look away!
“Umm, I have not idea. How about a hint?”
“You knowwww–ra-men, tsukenmen, somen, katamen“.
“OH, NOODLES!! You mean, noodles! Relief washes over me and the flirty farmer’s daughter image is gone. She is a young girl again and I am no loner reading a Cosmo quiz. This is gloriously funny. Do I favor the curly ramen for late nights, the thinner, put-together somen, perfect crisp and cold for summer; do I crave the hard noodle, the matchismo katamen, or the tsukemen, a bit thicker than ramen, served cold, and dipped into a terrific sauce? She cares about my noodle preference. I no longer avert my eyes from the parents.
It is everyone’s joke once I explain it. Not everyone gets it. “Men means noodles!” So simple! So profound! Isn’t language learning fun? I proudly share my answer.
Ramen, obviously. Sometimes tomato ramen. Sometimes the cold summer noodles when no one can be bothered with heat. Wait–katamen is different; it is hard and doesn’t get so mushy. For difference reasons, I like all men.
She’s a good kid and she’s satisfied. Meanwhile, I’m left wanting noodles.
For another example of me trying to figure out culture & sexuality here, grab a look at this post on Playboy.