... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Block Chop 95: Sumimasen and Danke Schoen

If only I spoke another language I could use it to type up today’s blog post.  String together a bunch of nonsense in another tongue and any other English monoglots could easily be fooled that I was composing wonderfully nay masterfully in a distant dialect.  Of course I don’t actually need to be multilingual in order to pretend to write foreign, but the fact is I’ve already declared I don’t have a second or third language, and it’s too late to go back and delete that first sentence.

I am a master of Morse code and a grandmaster of Pitman shorthand.  I can effortless weave the two entwined into one beautiful melange of dots, dashes and squiggles.  Together they are more expressive and poetic than either of them individually.  Merging Morse and Pitman as they’ve never merged before is the achievement I will be remembered for.  I’d let some stream of conscious poetry flow in glorious PitMorse, but you probably don’t have the right font to read it; you know IPA, Unicode and all that stuff.  Let me try:######## ### ##### ##### #######.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Is the sole reason that I have never learnt a foreign language (except the afore mentioned imaginary PitMorse) simple laziness?  Is it a more ingrained form of idiocy?  Perhaps it is laziness, but not individually; It could be the cultural laziness of the English speaking world.  I need not go on about our dumb insistence that wherever we may roam we communicate in English; the only concession to our foreign friends being speaking English loudly and slowly.  With pointing. And repetition: “Hair-drier.  No, no, HAIR DRIER. H-air, Duh-ruh-aye-errr.”

So it’s not my fault.  It’s my culture’s fault.  Just don’t ask why I can’t speak a word of Japanese, despite living in Japan for seven months.  That is clearly my fault.  I’m clearly a lazy, dumb drunken idiot.  Yes my time in Japan was mostly spent pointing at weird looking fish on the pages of picture menus, then in response to the Japanese I couldn’t understand, saying hai and nodding a bit.  Then when the mystery food was plonked before me I said arigato, or if I was feeling particularly stupid, danke schön.  If I wanted to call a waiter over, or scoot past a fat person bending over into a 7-Eleven fridge, I’d call out sumimasen in a nasal whine (as is the Osaka accent).  When in an elevator with a neighbour I’d doff my cap with konnichiwa or konbanwa depending on the time of day.

Fortunately for my infantile language-hobbled brain the two most important words – toilet and beer – are basically the same in Japanese as they are in English.  Toilet is toire and beer is birru.  And Japanese, which in many ways seems so complicated, gifts the luddite speaker with the simple tool of des-ka.  This brilliant pair of sounds turns any word or statement into an instant question.  So instead of using intonation to make a question it is basically the same as actually saying the words ‘question mark’ at the end of a sentence.  Beer question mark.  Toilet question mark.  Illiterate foreigner question mark.  Hai.

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