The bottom line on language mistakes19 september 2011, 13:23
My new friend Darkhan loves humor.
He also likes my funny blogs, which means that either I’m doing a good job with humor or a good job of making him think so.
The other day he ran up to me with a big grin on his face and told me he had a funny story for me.
It was about a Japanese ambassador to a nearby country who gave a farewell speech to the diplomatic community before heading for a new post.
The ambassador had enjoyed his posting, and became emotional during his speech, Darkhan said.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the warmth I’ve received here,” the ambassador said. He paused, then added: “And from my wife’s bottom.”
When I heard the punch line, of course, I cracked up.
Let me say here and now that I wasn’t laughing at the ambassador. I was laughing with him. I’m sympathetic with those who make language mistakes because my American friends and I have mangled the language of many countries we’ve lived in.
A case in point is my friend John, who lived in Tokyo many years. He developed a close friendship with a married Japanese man. When John called him, and his wife answered the phone, John thought he was asking the wife in Japanese: “May I speak to your husband?”
But he was using the wrong word. What he was actually asking was: “May I speak to your prisoner?”
John made the mistake many times, but the gracious husband and wife didn’t want to embarrass him by telling him. Finally, though, the husband – very apologetically and very graciously – set John straight.
I lived in Japan nine years, so I have a lot of funny language stories. Some involved mistakes that Japanese made with English. Others involve mistakes that expats made with Japanese.
Here’s the best one:
When I first arrived in the country, my Japanese was non-existent and I my girlfriend Sachiko was still learning English.
One day she called me at work in a panic.
“There’s a moss in the house!” she screamed.
I should have realized she was trying to say “mouse,” but I didn’t.
“A what?” I asked.
“A moss! A moss!”
“Calm down,” I said. “Spell it for me.”
She knew how to spell mouse – M-O-U-S-E – but she was too scared because at the time the mouse was running around the stool she was standing on.
So she yelled out: “Ooooh, you know Tom and Jerry?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You know Tom’s a cat?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Jerrrrrry’s in the house!”
At that point I began laughing so hard that I almost fell off my chair.
“You never help me when I need you!” she said angrily – and slammed the phone down into the receiver.
A few days later she could see the humor in the situation. And, in fact, she laughed when I told friends the story.
One of my Japanese friends who heard it said: “Your girlfriend did a good job of thinking on her feet. She’s a very clever girl.”
“A lot more clever than her boyfriend,” Sachiko smiled.
That’s when I knew her language problems were behind her.