Instead of a wedding ceremony, my wife and I took her parents over to Britain to meet my family. It would be a sort of celebratory dinner and honeymoon all in one. Albeit a honeymoon in which the in-laws come along. My wife’s parents were quite excited about the trip. They had never set foot outside Japan before. In fact, my mother-in-law had barely left the town she grew up in. My father-in-law went out and bought a video camera and ever since then I have felt as though I were in The Truman Show. We were filmed at the airport, we were filmed dozing off as we waited to board the plane, we were filmed sitting on the plane reading, and other slumbering passengers would awake with a start to find a man leaning across them to film a few clouds from their window. He filmed the safety demonstration, the food arriving, us eating the food, and even the little blue TV screen on the back of the seat in front, which was showing information such as,
Time at local destination: 06:42.
Distance to local destination: 1743km.
My wife and I laughed, pleased that he seemed so happy with his new toy, but at the time wondering who on earth he was going to show it to. We found out soon after we had arrived in the UK and made our way to my parents’ house. I had popped out of the room to make a phone call and when I came back into the living room, the television had become a bigger version of that screen on the back of the aeroplane seat and my mother, with admirable feigned enthusiasm, was saying to my father, ‘Oh, will you look at that? Outside air temperature minus 24 degrees!’
Actually, the whole trip went rather well and I was pleased that both sets of parents got on so well considering that they could not speak directly to each other. Everything had to be channeled through my wife or me. That was probably a good thing, though, because we could gloss over anything embarrassing or insulting one side or the other said. There were times when my father-in-law spoke for quite some time and when I asked what he had said, my wife would say, ‘Nothing important. It doesn’t make sense,’ and likewise I could cover up for any gaffes my own dad might make. Don’t get me wrong, my father has many commendable attributes, but I feel confident in saying that tact is not one of them. By way of example allow me to tell you a short story about when I was at school.
If I may be permitted a small boast, let me say that I was quite good at Fench at school. In fact I got the school prize in fifth year, and it was easily my favourite subject. The teacher was a talented and dedicated man by the name of Mr Woodcroft, who I liked very much. He was pleased with my progress in the language, and at a parents’ night talked extremely enthusiastically about my talents to my mother and father. He urged them to encourage me to continue with my studies in French at university, stating that I had an exceptionally good feel for the language.
Naturally my parents were pleased at the report and, when they came home, happily told me kind Mr Woodcroft’s thoughts. It made for a pleasant evening until my dad said, ‘I think I may have upset him a bit, though.’
I was almost too afraid to ask what he had done. ‘What did you say?’ I whimpered with trepidation. My father laughed and boldly stated, ‘Oh, it was nothing really. He just squirmed in his seat a bit!’
‘But why,’ I asked, ‘why did he squirm?’
‘Och,’ continued my dad, ‘it was just when he was going on about wanting you to study French at university.’
‘Why? What did you say?’
‘I just said that, you know, studying French was all very well, but ultimately where was it going to get you?’ And then I said, ‘I mean, I’d hate him to become a bloody French teacher or something Godawful like that!’
Fraser Ritchie got the prize the next year.
Anyway, with everything passing through a filter before it reached my in-laws ears, I could forget about my father’s propensity for putting his foot in it, and it was nice to see our respective fathers communicating so well through the medium of drink. They would both pour more wine, knock it back and smile and laugh to each other. ‘I can tell you’re all right,’ they seemed to be saying, ‘because you’re a piss-head too!’ That’s all my dad needs in a friend – someone who never thinks it’s not a good time for a drink, and in my wife’s father he had found one.
Our mums also got on well enough with the help of my wife’s tireless interpreting. I filled in for the moments when she was in the loo but, basically, she did all the work. One night, however, she felt ill and went to bed before dinner. I did my best as the evening’s translator but there was nobody to hold the fort when I disappeared to take a phone call from a friend. I kept it short knowing that the two sets of parents had absolutely no chance of being able to communicate with each other, and expected to come back to find everyone sitting smiling silently at each other. Instead I found the dads happily lifting drinks to their mouths and laughing, much as they had been doing all through dinner and my mother attempting to use body language to make small talk with my wife’s mum. She was standing in the middle of the room and, watched by a bemused old Japanese woman with raised eyebrows and an open mouth, was making such desperately elaborate hand gestures that for a moment I thought she was voguing. But at least I knew nobody had said anything embarrassing or offensive.