Zen Bastard (jimbojones) wrote,
Zen Bastard

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And they said learning Japanese wouldn't ever do me any good

I get all sorts of strange phone calls on a pretty regular basis, since I run a business and have my number in a yellow pages ad. But today was something a little unusual, even so. My phone rang a little after lunch; it was a young woman, whose voice I didn't recognize, and I was having a lot of trouble understanding her. After the third or fourth "excuse me?" she said "Sorry, I am Japanese," and tried to repeat whatever or whoever she was asking for again. I figured it was probably a wrong number, but it was hard to say - after all, I do run a business, and for that matter there was an outside chance that perhaps Baba-sensei had asked this young lady to call me for computer help or something... and she seemed rather distressed, and making a real effort to make herself understood, rather than just "oh whatever, not what I meant to call" and hanging up.

She did hang up after another "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you?" soon after declaring that she was Japanese, though. And suddenly I realized that whatever it was she was saying that I confusedly had been hearing as "Jean Nate" was actually the -te form of some verb. And I felt bad about not trying to speak to her in my limited Japanese, since she was having trouble in English.

So I thought about it for a minute, then shrugged and thought "oh what the hell" and called her back. She picked up on the first ring, and I said "Hi, you just called me... sumimasen, watashi wa nihongo o sukoshi wakarimasu kara, moo ichido motto yukkuri itte kudasai...?" (Excuse me, I understand a little Japanese, so try one more time and speak more slowly please?)

There was a shocked pause on the other end, and then she burst into delighted, squealing giggles. I mean overjoyed. "It was a wrong number! But thank you so much for calling back. Thank you!" I explained that I had just taken a Japanese class, and I hadn't been completely sure that she wasn't a friend of my instructor trying to call me or something, and we both laughed some more. "Thank you for your kindness!" We went over what my phone number was versus what she'd meant to call (hai, watashi no denwa-bangoo o...) - she had accidentally called the Columbia area code instead of the Charleston area code, so she got me instead of whoever she'd meant to call - and wished each other a good day. She was still giggling delightedly when we hung up. That totally made my day.

And you know, the funny thing is - the effort on my part to speak her language immediately made her English ten times better. She had gone from stumbling and saying a lot of "eeto... eeto..." (what Japanese people say where Westerners would say "uhhh...") to limited, but comfortable and proficient English. I can certainly empathize with that - I can't tell you how many times I'd get frustrated and embarassed when I'd "freeze up" when put on the spot in Japanese class! Sometimes, it wasn't that I didn't know what to say so much as I was just too stressed out to be able to say it. And that made me start thinking of how difficult it must be, to be dropped into a place where you not only can't speak to anyone, but the very culture makes everyone seem to be frightfully rude to the point of outright, aggressive insult.

It really humbled me to think how hard it would be for me to deal with that in her place, and to wonder if I even could deal with it. And it felt really good to think that, even just for a little while, even just in such a small way, maybe, for her, I'd made our world a little bit less scary of a place.

Tags: vignette

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