Friday, May 04, 2007

Jumping to conclusions: A sword that cuts both ways

Conversation between me and clerk upon my leaving Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore, at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan:

Clerk: Domo arigatou gozaimashita.
Me, in English: I'm sorry?
Clerk: In Japanese, Domo arigatou gozaimashita means thank you very much.
Me, in Japanese: Ah, yes it does, doesn't it. Where are you from in Japan?
Clerk, bowing: Domo arigatou gozaimashita.
Me, in Japanese: What I mean to say is, where is your hometown?
Clerk, bowing lower: Yes, thank you.

By this point, I'm thinking that what we have here is one of those ultra-insular Japanese who is so xenophobic that he won't acknowledge that a foreigner is addressing him in his own tongue, even if the grammar is correct and the pronunciation is OK.
Yes, yes, I met quite a few like him during my years in Japan ...

Me, in English, frustrated: Where in Japan is your hometown?
Clerk, sheepishly: Actually, I'm not from Japan. I can't speak Japanese.
Me, sheepishly: Ah, yes, sorry, have a nice weekend.

10 comments:

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Michael, for a thought-provoking post...

The Japanese can be such sheep, can't they?

There again, what kind of bloody fool Japanese-English translator would spend more than 20 years preferring, unthinkingly, the Japanese word Zazen to perfectly good English translations like sitting-zen, sitting-dhyana or sitting-meditation?

Or a Japanese word like o-henro-san instead of, say, Wayfarer?

The Japanese word somehow sounds more authentic, doesn't it? -- to an unenlightened sheep, at any rate!

Michael said...

:)

Mike, it's good to hear from you!

east village idiot said...

That is so funny! Foreigners so often approach me and pose questions in

1. Spanish
2. French
or insist I am Israeli

I can barely speak English properly - maybe that has something to do with it.

Michael said...

It was very amusing, indeed -- in retrospect. Keeping the mind and the imagination in check are often difficult for me to do.

mangadezi said...

I have the same problem--hahaha--
people usually speak Spanish to me-- Thais tend to speak Thai to my wife, who isn't Thai at all!!

Michael said...

Yes, sometimes people's assumptions can be funny.

Kozy said...

Michael-san, I like this story.
When I went to Ho Chi Minh, some people thought I was a Vietnamese. And also I had the same experience in Taiwan. I really enjoyed the situation.
The Kinokuniya clerk should learn Japanese from you;)

Michael said...

Hi, Kozy-san. Thanks for your comment. We think we're different from everyone else, but people are people. Only the language changes.

Zen said...

that was funny!

Michael said...

Yeah, I felt so cocky, but this encounter let the air out of my tires pretty quick.