Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Watashiwa Nihon-jin dewa arimasen.

When I travel, people frequently mistake me for being Japanese- like the stall owner at the Chiangmai night bazaar who greeted me in Japanese and was surprised I could speak Thai, or the old lady next to Jeff on the MTR in Hong Kong who asked him if I came from Japan.

I guess it is no surprise then that everyone here assumes I am local and speak to me in Japanese.

My first reaction is always "Eh?", followed by a blank stare. But now I try to coin together the little Japanese words I know to communicate, and they immediately realize I am not native from the way I struggle with my speech.

[Situation #1]

A salesman walks up to me inside the Ikebukuro station with brochure featuring SMAP and pitches to me in Japanese.

Me: Gomenasai, I don't speak Japanese.
Him: Anoo... passporto? (draws the shape of a passport with his index fingers)
Me: Do you mean what language I speak?
He nods.
Me: Eigo desu.
Him: Eigo? Aaaa... chotto matte... (runs to get help but his colleague shrugs helplessly, and he runs back to apologize) Sumimasen... kore, interneto.
Me: Interneto? (awkward smile) Hai, wakata. Arigato.

[Situation #2]

I am introduced to P's friend Sayuri who is half-Japanese, half-American. She speaks to him in a mix of the two languages and turns to me.

Sayuri: Do... you... speak... English?
Me: I don't speak Japanese.
Sayuri: Honto? Sorry, I couldn't tell!


Her friend addresses everyone else in English and then turns to me.

Her: Zen zen daijobu desu ka?
Me: Eh... (turns to P for help but he is busy) Hai, daijobu.

[Situation #3]

I am at the counter of Muji buying gifts for the siblings.

Me: Kore, gift wrap kudasai.
Salesgirl: Ishio?
Me: No. Kore, one wrap. Kore, one wrap. No. Iie.
Salesgirl: Oh, betsu? (motions separate)
Me: Hai, betsu. Arigato.

Situations like these repeat themselves day after day. At the convenience store, cafe, restaurants, when I am walking along the street, even random Japanese men trying to pick me up.

I want to speak Japanese. :(

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Female. Singaporean
Traveller. Bookworm.
Coffee Addict.
Amateur Photographer.
Wannabe Fashionista.
Museum Geek.

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