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.


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.