Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ugly Americans

In the summer of 1990, I traveled to Japan as part of a homestay program in Shizuoka Prefecture. (That's me, floating down the Tenryu River. Was I a twink or what?) Posted by Picasa

Anyway, inspired by Glen (who is most definitely not an ugly American, woof!) and Barbara's comment below, I had to share a classic memory from this trip.

I was in a Daimaru department store in Tokyo strolling around having a wonderful time, when I chanced upon another American tourist at a watch counter. Now, if you've ever been shopping in Japan, you know that customer service is a little more formal than it is in America. Anyway, so this guy, with a belt buckle the size of my head, saunters up to the counter and the sweet faced young girl bows politely and squeaks, "Irrasshaimase!"

The man says, in a thick southern accent, "Hey, show me that purty one there, honey."

The girl blushes and says softly, "Excuse, no English."

The man sighs and pulls out a Berlitz book. "Okay, lemme see here..."

Now, I was relatively skilled at Japanese, and I considered helping him out. The phrase "Please show me that" is Kore o misete kudasai. For whatever reason, I decided just to watch.

"Um, ko-ray oh muhsetty cooter-sah," says the man.

The girl blinks and blushes. Gomen nasai, wakarimasen.

The man tries again, a little louder, "KO-ray oh MUHSETTY cooter-SAH!" Nothing.

"Christ, woman!" he says. "Don't you speak yer own gol'darn language?"


Jade said...

My boss at the studio told me about a trip to Texas she had taken... at a Mexcian restaurant a guy ordered "fa-jee-ters" and got upset when the waitress didn't understand her own language.

Hey, if you're ever reminded of a funny story about Guys and Dolls let me know, I have pictures of you in costume after the show.

Andy said...

Hmm, are they flattering? I can't recall any Guys & Dolls stories off the top of my head. But Andy loves a good stroll down memory lane.

Quinn said...

Good Guys and Dolls stories? Well, there's the famous Banana rehearsal. There's the famous "Why can't.... be a human being?!?" lyric edit. Shall I go on?

Man, vantage was good from the Pit!

Jean F. said...

I loved it when you worked in the shops at the Metropolitan Opera and your coworkers found out you spoke Japanese -- all Asian-looking people were immediately referred to "that blonde guy over there..."

Jeff said...

I can't believe you've never told me you were in Japan. You know I lived there for three years, right?

Anthony said...

If stereotypes are to be believed, the English abroad are even worse: when abroad, the rule of thumb is "if they [the natives] don't understand you first time round, say the same thing again, only louder".

Except the original remark tends to be in English anyway.

Jade said...

AAAAHHH! The banana rehearsal! With the horse for the Ascott race thing. Oh man, what a memory!

"Dear me, Eliza, but have you developed a stutter?"

I was crying in the theater on that one.

I have a black and white that Faith took & it's very flattering. Most of the snapshots I took backstage were odd moments where you were talking to someone else (there was a lot going on, everyone wanted to shake your hand) I also have a nice shot of you in the hallway on a random school day, I think it was close to the end of the year.

Barbara said...

let me tell you another story. once a guy i know told me this: "one thing i noticed about americans is that we are arrogant. but we must be like that, because if we weren't convinced we are number one in the world we wouldn't actually be number one in the world". he was probably right. scratch that. he IS right. but one can't use this belief to justify one's behavior anyway... i know people aren't all the same. i'm glad to see there is somebody to whom you CAN actually talk and be sure they got the message.
i would like to add something to tony's rule of thumb about people abroad (not only english-speaking people): if the natives don't get you, speak louder and, most of all, SLOWER. (so by the time you have finished they have been on a course and are able to understand every single word you said... sorry. italian humor. hope it makes sense!)
hey andy, your italian isn't that bad either!

Andy said...

Quinn, those are all My Fair Lady stories...I don't really remember anything good from Guys & Dolls. (Remember, "you're up against that wall again!"? oy...)

Jeff: We've talked about Japan, you were just too drunk to remember it.

Quinn said...

Apologies, Andy. I'm confusing my shows. As for Guys and Dolls, the only thing I remember was the 3 Dancing Daves in the practice rooms before the show one night.

Anthony said...

Louder, slower and in some extreme cases, with the local accent. Because a Frenchman (say) cannot fail to understand English spoken in a French accent.


David in KC said...

My missionary parents were fluent in Chinese. When we traveled through Europe in 1956, they would occasionally revert to Chinese out of frustration when they couldn't get the locals to understand their requests.