Sapporo’s mood that day was damp and gray—the kind that sent a chill to your bones, but wasn’t kind enough to give you pretty snowflakes. The clouds made me want soup, so after work I stopped at the market to buy ingredients. My energy level was surprisingly high, considering I had just been asked to explain what a gerund phrase was to a woman who spoke very little English.
Back in our traditional Japanese apartment, I was ready to start dinner when Gabriel came home. He coaxed me to the couch, as he so often did, to talk about the day. Halfway through the conversation, I realized I didn’t want to move for the rest of the night as the soft fleece blanket draped over us melted what fleeting motivation I had left to cook.
So when he whispered in my ear the words, “want to try Pizza Hut delivery tonight?” I didn’t miss a beat before answering with an affirmative “yes.”
I ventured into the cold air that lay heavy, outside of our blanket fort on the couch. As I reached for my laptop, I indulged in a daydream.
In it, I pictured the pizza man arriving at our door with his large square bag. A wave of roasted garlic, marinara and peppers would slowly waft its way under our doorstep. The doorbell would ring and Gabriel would tell me not to move, that he would grab it. He’d pay the man and would return with a box radiating heat from our precious pizza, nestled inside.
He’d place the box within arms’ reach of me, as I would still be sitting cozy on the couch. From the fridge, he’d retrieve a Coke Zero. The only movement I would be required to make for the remainder of the evening would be that of my jaws as I devoured mound after mound of cheesy goodness.
Yes. Yes. YES. I wanted Pizza Hut delivery.
I ignored the fact that I hate Pizza Hut in the States, and that it would never compare to my favorite local pizza joint in NC, Sticks & Stones. I just wanted a pizza delivered to my doorstep. I didn’t care what it tasted like, as long as it was American.
As I opened my laptop and searched for the nearest location, I sent up a prayer that we were in a delivery area. The website came up and I stared in dismay at the kanji that littered its pages. The 46 katakana and 46 hiragana Japanese characters I had memorized would be useless in this endeavor, since I couldn’t read kanji.
And because it was the year of our Lord 2013, and because the stereotype that Japan = forward-thinking in all things technology is woefully unfounded, the website was flash-based. Why was that a problem? Because it meant that Google Translate was no help, either.
Over twenty frustration-filled minutes later, I finally found a separate website that some blessed expat (with too much time on their hands) created. It provided step by step instructions on how to order a pizza online when you cannot read kanji.
But even with assistance, another thirty minutes passed before I was able to successfully navigate the store locator, enter our address (which required more than simply typing a few lines, as there are no road names in Sapporo, only wards and numbered blocks), and select the pizza we wanted.
As tempting as the Super Korean Purukogi (covered with spicy pork and half a jar of mayonnaise), the Seafood Medley (fast food quality octopus tentacles on pizza? No, thank you), and the Idaho Special (naturally, covered in potatoes) looked, we stuck with a simple Canadian bacon and mushroom (also because there was no pepperoni option).
I was highly irritated with how long it was taking to place our order. Nearly an hour had passed from the time we had decided to get pizza. But a sense of calm washed over me as I prepared to hit the “submit” button.
Finally, I thought. Our pizza is on its way to being made and delivered.
No sooner had the thought entered my mind, red lights flashed over the 23 steps on the order screen. After a few minutes of trial and error (changing a few of the steps and re-submitting the order again and again), I discovered the website wanted me to use katakana instead of romaji, the roman alphabet. Of course.
If I didn’t love my laptop so much, it would have been catapulted through the window. All I wanted was a freaking pizza. Why did everything have to be so difficult?
Gabriel, who had been working on something for school, sensed my mounting anger. One look at my face and he told me not to worry about the pizza, that we could eat something else for dinner.
For a moment, I entertained the idea of giving up on the website. After all, I bought the ingredients to make crab chowder. But giving up now meant more than giving up on the idea of pizza for dinner. It meant letting this website—this system—defeat me.
My swelling rage at everything that has happened in recent weeks—an aunt’s diagnosis of cancer, being away from home, applying for new jobs, trying to survive in a foreign culture that we knew nothing about—pointed at Japan for taking the simplest of tasks and making it so difficult to accomplish. Even if we were in an English speaking country, what pizza chain uses a 23 step application that requires two confirmation emails to be opened and replied to, before a lump of frozen dough can be decorated and thrown into an oven?
I glared at Gabriel and told him no, we were going to have pizza. I hadn’t wasted half of my evening, my good mood, and an hour of my life on figuring out the encrypted website, only to eat soup. Even if it would have tasted spectacular.
In response to my harsh tone, he slide next to me and switched my keyboard over to katakana, so I could finish the order. When the submit button was hit and all of the red, flashing boxes were extinguished, I sat back and sighed.
“Did the order go through OK?”
“We’ll find out if a pizza arrives before midnight.”
I was no longer in the mood for pizza. But when one fortunately did arrive, 30 minutes later, I didn’t turn it away.
Not unlike my previous daydream, Gabriel went to the door to retrieve it. He brought it to the kotatsu and grabbed a Coke Zero for me, from the fridge. I attempted to wait for him to sit down before I shoved a piece into my mouth.
The pizza tasted differently than it did at home. The meat was strange and the mushrooms were very Japanese. But perhaps what changed its flavor most was an additional ingredient I had never tasted on an American pizza: victory.
I had successfully ordered a pizza, despite the obstacles that stood in my path. The feat seemed so small and insignificant. But as I devoured those slices, I knew something had been unlocked inside of me.
Nothing would defeat me in this new culture. Perhaps it was stubbornness speaking, or liquid-courage (in the form of Coke Zero and pizza), and not a new, inner strength. Either way, as I finished the meal, I silently challenged the Japanese way, prepared to bulldoze anything that stood between myself and what I wanted—even if it was something as small as a mediocre pizza delivered to my door.
It would be months later before I would realize my naiveté and understand I wasn’t frustrated at Japan. I had simply been pushed into Stage 2 of culture shock by a dang pizza.