Sometimes it's the smallest things that throw you for a loop and make you realize you really are living in a foreign culture. You get used to the big things, like not being able to read most of the signs, and understanding only a few words that people speak.
One day last spring I said to Nick, "Sam really likes that gum that comes with the free post-its."
"Free post-its?" he asked quizzically. "Which gum is that? I haven't seen any free post-its."
"It's the cube gum," I answered. "I don't know why you get free post-its with the gum." It did seem like a very odd combination, free office supplies with your gum.
But I had already seen some odd giveaway combos, like the Miffy phone charm with the new flavor of fruit juice. And someone is always handing you a pack of tissues with advertisements from health clubs, gentlemen's clubs, restaurants and plastic surgeons. So while the combination was odd, it wasn't completely out of the question.
We were in a gum sampling mode last spring - all the different flavors here in Japan! No plain old bubblegum flavor, but exotic things like citrus soda! Grapefruit! Grape-cassis! And the very scary looking "black mint" gum where the gum really does look rather gray, resembling a pepper flavored Jelly Belly jellybean. And then we had the cube gum, with the free tiny post-its.
I finally caught on one day when Sam announced that his gum had lost its flavor and he wanted to throw it away. There I was, standing on the sidewalk, fishing through my handbag looking for a scrap of paper - an atm or grocery receipt, a used tissue, anything. The bell finally rang in my head - Aha! That's what those post-its are for!
You see, the cube gum comes in a box and there are no individual wrappers for each piece of gum. So what is a person to do when they need to dispose of the chewed gum? A very tidy, neat Japanese solution. You provide the disposal papers with the gum. They are also very handy for marking pages in books, so I keep a few extra "post-its" with my book group books. And since I used most of my used tissues to toss the chewed gum away, I have a very good supply of the tiny post-its.