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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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The Hell that is America
I've been very lucky in the matter of Japanese gifts lately. Not only did I get a pair of hanko (see previous entry), but yesterday the owner of my local restaurant, Yume, gave me a pile of simple books in Japanese for my reading practice. All but one were for small children, and I'm looking forward to getting to them shortly; but the other caught my attention immediately, being an English textbook for Japanese learners, with the title Whatdya say?.

Why deny it? The attraction was the possibility of juicy examples of Japanese English and the mistakes therein, and I didn't have to look further than the cover to find some:


I love the idea of a world in which common English phrases include "Too bright!" and "Become you well". Such examples of Japanglish have the double attraction of a) offering a penetrating insight into the linguistic and cultural differences between Japan and Anglophone countries, and b) being hilarious. (I recommend the Youtube blogger Chris Broad on the subject.) To begin with, I flicked through the book looking for further instances of poor English, and indeed there were quite a few....


There's something slightly creepy about this list of helpful offers, too, if they're to be used by someone who isn't in the caring professions or looking after a very small child:


On occasion the error was cultural rather than linguistic:


While "shikatanaiyo" may be a good catch-all comforter in Japanese, I can think of few English speakers who would thank you for telling them that their being dumped by their bastarding boyfriend "couldn't be helped".

But I had only just begun my descent into the rabbit hole. Soon, I noticed a strangely Beckettian quality to some of the dialogues:


This soon morphed into outright paranoia:


Slowly it dawned on me that the author of the book saw learning English not as a useful life-skill or a way to visit interesting countries and make new friends, but rather as the passport to a sickening dystopia - a dystopia by the name of "America". This was clearest in the series of strip cartoons that were scattered through the book, a veritable rake's progress of life among the gaijin. We begin with the process of "becoming American", which apparently requires nothing more than a year's study of the language:


We might be inclined to congratulate the assiduous cat on lasting the course, but it isn't long before he has reason to regret his determination. America, as he discovers, is a nation of violence...


...of scroungers...


...hustlers (note that tips are not normally expected in Japan)...


...and mendicants:


It lacks the comforts of home, too, both in terms of technology:


...and food (the 'slitty-eyed' depiction of the Chinese is something I've seen elsewhere in Japanese cartoons):


The airline staff are rude ("some airline services are suck", to be exact):


But alternative modes of transport are highly unreliable...


...and unpleasant:


Americans lack self-control...


...and are unhygienic...




...and basically dishonest and entitled:


Living conditions with the host family are rudimentary...


... not least because they've been exploiting the wealthy foreign visitor (when not practising miscegenation, another minus point apparently)...


...as much as they exploit the poor ones:


Luckily, you can escape to Canada (though even that has its downsides)...


...or possibly to Mexico:


The moral of our tale - and it's an unusual one for a language text book - appears to be, "Don't leave Japan!"

I'm sure you have seen this, another not quite useful English lesson:


Yes, I have seen it, but I'm grateful to you for reminding me!

Fascinating. How accurate is the English as a translation of the Japanese text?

Pretty accurate, as far as I can tell, allowing for the fact that the book's English is a bit awkward anyway. There are a few bodges: e.g. on the page where everyone is cadging cigarettes, "すぐ知らない人に声をかけられる。" is translated as "Some people ask me to spare them a cigarette", where I (perhaps equally inaccurately) would translate it as "I am assailed by the voices of people I do not recognise", or less literally, "Strangers accost me in the street". At any rate, there's no mention of tobacco in that particular caption - but I wouldn't say it mangles the sense too far out of whack.

Edited at 2015-10-23 06:58 am (UTC)

It veers oddly between slightly overliteral to highly idomatic, but generally accurate within those bounds.


I'm stuck on the title. I can't decide if it's meant to say "What'd you say?" or "What do you say?"

I used to have a German text called Warum Nicht Auf Deutsch?, which, though an unlikely thing to say (it always reminded me of those terribly unconvincing ads saying brightly, "Why not try our toothpaste?"), seemed at least grammatically possible as far as I could tell.

I suppose if I discovered you reading Kant in translation I might ask "Warum nicht auf Deutsch?" just to be snotty, but it doesn't seem likely to be a very common phrase.

I've only just noticed how much "Warum" sounds like a car being tested for emissions.

I actually DID have a high school teacher who asked me why I wasn't reading The Magic Mountain in German. It was tough enough going in English at the time. (A friend who had moved away had suggested we read a book together and discuss it by letter -- it was her choice of book. About two-thirds of the way through she couldn't stand it any longer. I think I finished it myself, but am not sure.) However, he was the sort who could learn a new language in six weeks or so (less if he had a new girlfriend who spoke it -- okay, I exaggerate slightly).