Sunday, January 20, 2008

A bit of humor

Today is the 2nd anniversary of my sister's passing. She passed away in a freak car accident 2 years ago today in Louisiana (screw that state). So the best thing that you can do when remembering the past is think of something funny because the real heavy stuff in your head weighs you down.

So let me share a story about foreigners in Japan. This story features a friend of mine, and I tell the story with the utmost respect for his pain and chagrin on this fateful early day of his life in Japan.

I'm going to tell it like it was me though.

I got off the plane in Japan, green as a freshly chopped bundle of asparagus, thirsty. The only Japanese I knew was 'Nippon' because it was printed on the in-flight emergency brochure. The only recognizable aspect of this new foreign landscape? McDonalds.

So there I am, standing at the front of the McDonald's line, ready for the challenge of hurdling the language barrier.

All I want is a glass of water.

I order. 'Water'. Simple. Straight to the point. And completely freaking lost on cashier judging by the utterly blank expression on her face.

'Water. Water please. Water please? Wa-TER.' I start gesturing frantically. I make drinking motions throwing my head back with the satisfactory pleasure of taking down a tall glass of water on a hut summer's day. I punctuate the tall glass of imaginary water with a smiling 'Ahhhhhhhh'. Surely she gets the point.

Nope. Blank stare. I pause for a second. Is she still alive?



Ok - this isn't working. Let's take it to a _Universal_ level.

What distinguishes water equally in every country? Chemistry.

H2O. That's it. I'll lay it out to her with Chemistry.

I enunciate so there's absolutely no confusion.


'2' (I throw up the peace sign. I gesture to her and me to indicate 2 people).

'O' (I throw up the 'ok' hand sign to emphasize the O).

She screams and runs for the back of the store.

Before I know it, the manager has stormed up to the front counter with an aggressive yet cautious expression on his face.

'What want?' he says in perfect Japanese-English.

'Water' I reply. 'H2O'.

The metamorphosis of his face from 'angry manager' to 'poker player' should have been featured on a Discovery Channel short program.

’水’ he says to the employee (I know the kanji character now!)

'はい’ she responds, tiredly.

I get my glass of water, and drink it without the look of satisfaction I had been gesticulating only minutes earlier. I'm confused.


Months later, relating this story to a bilingual Japanese friend of mine, I was informed that in Japan:

H - means Hentai or えっち (sex!)

2 - is clearly 2 people (especially when emphasizing with pointing)

O - for 'ok?'

Leaves the clerk with the impression that I'm saying:

How about the 2 of us have sex? Ok?

I tripped on the language barrier and broke my jaw without even knowing it.

This language thing is trickier than I thought.

No comments: