Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 Lost in Translation
A couple of weeks ago, we needed an ingredient for an unusual dinner I was making. So Trash sent me next door to see if I could borrow some.
I walked across the driveway to the neighbors' back porch. These are the neighbors who have lived here since before we did, whose college-freshman son was M. Edium's age when we first met them, the ones who used to come over and give Strat his insulin shots when we were out of town. I knew they'd come through for us. If they were home, that is; it was more late afternoon than early evening, and neither of their cars were in the driveway. But I gave it a shot and knocked on their back door.
Their dogs went apefuck, of course, but it was a long moment before I saw a shadowy human figure moving around slowly inside. I leaned around awkwardly to show it was just me, but the person didn't move any faster. When he opened the door, I finally understood why.
It was a middle-aged Japanese man.
This was startling, but not entirely unexpected. Our neighbors had mentioned that they were expecting a houseguest from the Land of the Rising Sun. This, then, obviously, was he. And he clearly did not speak or understand a great deal of English.
Which still wouldn't have been so bad, because I studied Japanese in college. Didn't know that, did you? Of course, I've forgotten most of it, and when confronted with an actual, confused-if-not-suspicious-looking Japanese person, what little was left fled my brain. I couldn't even muster up a simple "Konban wa. Sumimasen. Nihongo dekimasen. Eego dekimasu ka?"
He understood enough English that I think I was able to communicate that I lived next door and was a friend of the neighbors, and would be happy to come back later. I would have been happy to let it go and sumimasen for bothering him. But he insisted I let him try to help me. So I reluctantly asked:
"Could we borrow some Worcestershire sauce?"
Which is not a question I would feel comfortable asking most native English speakers, up to and including many close friends and relatives, yet here I was trying to request it from a guy I'd just met. Plus, I've been recapping The Amazing Race all season, so I was used to watching people traveling around the world and running into language barriers. And here I was facing one, twenty feet from where I'm sitting in my house writing this.
"Sauce?...To eat?" this poor patient man asked me. "Hai, tabemasu," I failed to confirm. He shrugged and vaguely suggested I come back later. I considered explaining, "In America, it is customary for neighbors to allow each other to rummage through their kitchen cabinets when they're not at home," but I wasn't sure I'd be able to get the concept across. So I agreed to come back later. And then went to the store.
I saw him a couple of times after that during his visit. His English had improved. My Japanese never did. posted by M. Giant 8:32 PM 6 comments
Wait - Worcestershire sauce is considered an unusual ingredient? Huh. That's one of our fridge staples. I use it probably at least monthly.... It always goes in meatloaf or hamburgers, for example.
Our neighbor is awesome - I stopped by one weekend to get an egg from him - and walked back in the house with an egg, a bottle of wine and a 6-pack of regional microbrew!
I have to second Heather that Worcestershire sauce is a key ingredient around our house!! But I guess you wrote "unusual dinner," not unusual ingredient!!
Read the clue: "we needed an ingredient for an unusual dinner" not an unusual ingredient.
So, cool borrowing from neighbor story.
Read the post immediately above yours, Teresa: NGS made the same point and managed to do so without being nasty to another commenter.