steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

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)...

japanglishb0015 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!"
Tags: books, nippon notes
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