Swine flu has now landed in Osaka. This has resulted in a fair amount of panic. Yesterday, the homestay family went to visit grandparents and I was originally planning to go into Osaka, but my plans got cancelled. So I was sitting at home, watching downloaded TV shows on my laptop when I got a cellphone email: "Please put the mask in Osaka. Watch a news program". I think I let out an audible sigh, lucky I was by myself. Apparently they are selling or sold out of masks now. Of course I was told to wear mine on the train this morning. About 25-30% of the people, I'd say, were wearing them. My language teacher told me the other day that when Japanese people went to Canada and came back (I heard Canada is where a couple of the people up in Tokyo got swine flu) they were being asked (on TV?) why didn't you wear the mask??? I told her that Japanese people wearing masks in Canada may reinforce unflattering stereotypes of the Japanese. On the other hand, a friend I bumped into today on the bus, when I asked her about wearing a mask, she laughed and said no, and don't I think it's a little bit crazy? Yeah, a bit. 7000-8000 people have been infected in the world, and what? 70 people have died? And aren't all those people in the Americas, and most of them because they were old or ill otherwise? kawai [scary]?... I'm more scared of second-hand smoke in the bars.
Anyway, so I can't help, again, to feel a bit of, well, contempt for the hysteric. But then I was reminded of something someone said to me about a year ago. He was a PhD student in philosophy, but supervised by an anthropologist. Anyway, he told me, after we had been discussing something which I no longer remember, that I need to work on my "ethnography face" because I have a tendency to give away, in my expression, that I think what people are telling me is sort of idiotic. Like it's in my eyes, mouth, this look of "what you are saying is complete bullshit". He said, really, this is not good for an ethnographer and that his supervisor, for example, has the correct anthropologist's expression mastered. He can just sit there, with a straight and agreeable face, nodding along, while people tell him the most absurd things. At the time this struck me that perhaps he has a bit of a point. He's right, I think, that if you look at people like they are stupid, they're not going to want to talk to you!
So I feel a bit guilty thinking that everyone wearing these masks are acting paranoid. And really trying to bite my tongue. Like I guess its ethnocentric or something. For me, discussions in anthropology about ethnocentricity tend to be more multiculturalist platitude than actual thinking. But is there any thing to do other than just keep telling yourself, a bit stupidly, "when in Rome..."?