Hint #328192 that maybe the people "improving security" in the country aren't quite as smart as they should be: just in time for warnings about more air-based terrorist attacks.
Kelly noticed at some point that I bow to people all the time. It's true. I like it. I do it almost always when meeting people, and often enough when I'm thanking them. I try to avoid the obsessive bowing of Japan, but I like the gesture of respect. I also find that it eliminates a lot of awkwardness on my part: I don't want to look at the floor, and neither I nor those around me are always comfortable with my looking them in the eyes, so a bow handily sidesteps that. And I still haven't figured out how to comfortably receive gifts and compliments, so this is the best I've come up with.
In Buddhism there is a movement called gassho, physically equivalent to the yogic namaste (come to think of it, Shinto and probably every other religion on earth uses it). It is the ubiquitous pose of standing with your palms together, fingers pointing upward. It's used as a greeting, a parting, and a thank-you. The hands together symbolize unity, and the unity and wholeness and identity that we have in each other: you are Buddha, I bow. I am Buddha, you bow. Gassho to your food, which supports you in your practice to realize your true nature.
So I spent a weekend gassho-ing at Doshinji, which all felt like I'd done it in several past lives, and then came back to realize that while the majority of Westerners can cope reasonably with a simple Japanese-style bow, they are flustered by seeing the hands in what they perceive to be a position of prayer. And they think it's very important to respond in kind (it's not, particularly), and it's a wholly unnatural position for them, and it's terribly awkward and takes up some time.
About this time it occurred to me: You have to talk to people in a language they understand.
My junior high school was 74% Hispanic, 12% black, and 11% white. It was a magnet school, so the white minority was largely smart-ass nerds sent across the city to promote diversity (and probably racial harmony, which at the time didn't work terribly well but has likely succeeded over the long term). There were a variety of things that made me a perfect target: white, geeky, glasses that made me look geekier, I grew up taught that violence is unacceptable and that's the end of the story, and I was a jerk. So one of my tormentors was George Cruz, a smaller kid, who would just throw shit or push me or just make me look really bad (that school was more heavily status-based than any environment I've ever seen). The school day had various points where we were all just stuck together waiting for something, and finally, waiting for lunch one day in the locker room after gym, George started winging some little plastic figurine at me. Being not just nonviolent but nonconfrontational--confrontation in that society led to violence--I gave him back the figurine. So he threw it at me again.
This happened a couple times until finally I felt my adrenaline surge as I refused to give it back. He walked over and said, "Give it back." I said, "No", and he made a grab for it in my closed hand. I clamped my hand tight on it, and finally stood up and punched him in the stomach. When he doubled over, I punched him twice in the back.
He stood up. We looked at each other. I handed him the figurine and said, "Now you can have it back."
My remaining months in that school were remarkably peaceful. It wasn't that George was a bad kid, because I don't think he was; it was just that the only language he understood, where I was concerned, was violence.
I often wonder how my life might have turned out if I'd only learned to hit people sooner, instead of taking endless quantities of shit from them.