Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Japanese, English, Korean-- we have it all!

I speak no Japanese, unless you count the ten or so phrases I keep handy for those rare moments when I encounter a Japanese man or woman. Barely two hours ago, I went to the local "super," basically a mom-and-pop mini-store, and was about to buy my usual twelve liters of bottled water when I peered inside the store and saw a cluster of Japanese girls, standing around looking confused. Smoo has plenty of international students, and many of them are Japanese, so this in itself wasn't a novelty. What made this situation a bit different was that these girls apparently couldn't speak Korean, which is a rarity here in the Smoo neighborhood. Most of the local Japanese I've met have been able to speak passable to excellent Korean.

The ajumma who runs the store called me inside and asked me to speak with the students, who were apparently planning to cook ddeok-bokkgi for ten. On the counter was a single bag of ddeok that might have served three, and the ajumma wanted me to tell them that she didn't have any more ddeok than that single bag (it's a very small store), and that the girls should try a larger store.

I said to the girls, in broken Japanese, that I didn't speak any Japanese (what I actually said was "Nihongo wakarimasen," which I think means something more along the lines of "I don't understand Japanese"-- probably grammatically incorrect to boot), then switched to slow, clear English to explain the situation to them. They filed out of the store, presumably to go to the larger grocer down the street.

The funniest thing about this incident was the shopkeeper's friend-- a bent, toothless old woman who looked to be in her eighties or nineties. She kept cackling, "What country are they from? What country are they from?" "Japan," I finally said, hoping to stop her from repeating the question for the tenth time. I suspect she was fully aware what country the girls were from.

So-- that was my bit of linguistic heroism for the day: using so-so Korean and shit-level Japanese, along with slowly spoken English, to negotiate a non-deal between a group of Japanese girlies and an old Korean shopkeeper.


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