One of my favorite things about living in Japan is Engrish. It is a constant reminder of why we are here teaching. Plus, I find it absolutely hilarious. Not in the sense of teasing or making fun, but in the sense of amusement, encouragement and delight in how hard the speakers are trying to communicate.
English and Japanese are completely different in just about every way. I realized a long time ago that I had to stop trying to learn Japanese literally. I needed to start approaching Japanese as the language-not the individual words. And get over the fact that there just isn’t a Japanese preposition list for me to memorize. Sigh. (Seriously, learning German was a snap compared to this.)
There are so many things about Japanese that simply do not exist in English and vice versa. When literally translated, Japanese and English hardly make any sense at all.
But the results can be hilarious.
A few of my favorite examples with explained context:
Recently at a teacher’s party, Karl and I were talking to one of our Japanese friends. He has a reasonable grasp of the English language. I can’t remember the exact context, but it was about Karl somehow or another. The sentence that made us both laugh so hard was, “Mr. Karl, your husband points are very minus.”
Another time the same Japanese friend was driving Karl home and they were late. Karl wanted to hurry. It was raining do our friend said, “But Mr. Karl, car action is very danger!”
A few weeks ago we were at a party with all of Karl’s Junior High School coworkers. This same friend was there. The restaurant we were at was the traditional Japanese style. We were all sitting on cushions on the floor at a short table. While this can be fun, it does get uncomfortable. People are constantly shifting. Our friend suddenly said to us, “Excuse me, but my leg is very vibrate.” Then he got up and cautiously walked around for a few minutes. Our best guess was that his leg had fallen asleep.
Karl and I both love talking to this friend of ours. He is so funny and good-natured. We love that he tries so hard. Our conversations are a fun mixture of Japanese and English. I am sure Karl and I sound just as funny to him when we speak Japanese. I am positive, in fact.
Unfortunately, Engrish is not funny all the time. Sometimes it is downright frustrating.
Getting any kind of driving permit in this country is a nightmare. ( We know people who have Really. We have our one-year international driving permits, but no car with which to use them. We do have an old (and I mean old) scooter that the Board of Education bought for Karl’s predecessor and is now Karl’s to use. Unfortunately (Or fortunately, as I see it. I really don’t trust that scooter.) the international drivers permit is not valid with the scooter.
Karl went to take the scooter test a few months ago. This was a written test. In Engrish.
He explained that the test was multiple choice. There was no reason he should have failed…he had studied hard and knew the answers. The problem was that he couldn't decipher the questions most of the time. So it really wasn’t his fault that he failed.
Most of my conversations these days are mixtures of Japanese and English. I have also become really good at body language and describing things is countless ways.
Communication is the goal. There are many, many different ways to achieve that goal. Sometimes the process is frustrating, sometimes hilarious and nothing if not fascinating.