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How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting (Or, the Japanese Made Me Do It)
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One of those quirky health/science stories reported today indicates that fidgeting may actually be good for you, in terms of burning excess calories.

The most detailed study ever conducted of mundane bodily movements found that obese people tend to be much less fidgety than lean people and spend at least two hours more each day just sitting still. The extra motion by lean people is enough to burn about 350 extra calories a day, which could add up to 10 to 30 pounds a year, the researchers found.

Now, I could stand to lose some weight, and I've always blamed it on my love for cheeseburgers and Tex-Mex, but now I can safely and securely blame the Japanese.

You see, I moved to Japan in 1997, as part of my early midlife crisis. I found a job teaching English conversation in a British school and lived the next two years in a tiny straw-mat apartment in Kakamigahara (in central mainland Japan).

I had always fidgeted, especially when I was concentrating on something, but much of the time just in general. Mostly this took the form of moving one leg up and down quickly as if tapping the heel, but not actually making contact with the ground. I had never been particularly aware or self-conscious about doing this.

About two months into teaching, I finished a private session with a middle-aged Japanese woman. I thought the session went reasonably well. But the next day I was called into the office by the owner's wife, herself Japanese.

She said something like, "Keiko is very upset about your lesson yesterday."

Huh? I thought. I was told that she got the impression that I was rushing the session, that I was irritated, and that I reminded Keiko of her old boss, someone she despised. Turns out this had absolutely zero to do with the actual content of the lesson or the conversation.

I had been moving my leg.

So I had to learn to stop fidgeting, and I didn't realize how much I used to fidget until I had to make myself stop. It took a good two months of being aware of it, and stopping it. But Keiko wasn't the only one who was made uncomfortable by any sort of fidgeting. Many of my Japanese students were. If you're making any sort of repetitive gesture with your hands (e.g., twirling hair, tapping fingers, etc.), that is rude. Many Japanese, especially the older ones, see fidgeting as not only rude, but a character flaw, an inability to control oneself and maintain self-discipline.

So, every since then, my fidgeting has become virtually non-existent. And I've got love handles to prove it.

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