Jul 11, 2018

Embracing embarrassment: learning Japanese in Japan

So here I am. 

Three hours in to my shift, and there are only 4 customers. They are all women, sitting, waiting separately for their friends or significant others to come and relieve them from their dreary solitary drink, and whisk them off. It's 10 in the evening. A slow start to a long night.

I work in Tokyo- Roppongi actually. In a bar. Worked there for about 2 months, just part time. 

Why am I working here you may ask? Because, despite being in the land of the rising sun, I don't need to be proficient in the language at all. The people who frequent Roppongi bars tend to be of the foreign persuasion, and that, I can absolutely handle. English is what I am- English, I can do. 

Except for this particular night. Because all four of these ladies just so happen to be Japanese. Ah God, here we go. 

Another woman walks in, and immediately spots her friend. As she wonders over, I hastily grab the drinks menu and follow suit. 

"Would you like anything to drink?" I manage to stutter.

A few silent seconds slip past before the inevitable peels of laughter follow. Yes, I had just asked that in Japanese. And yes, the two mid-twenty-somethings were cracking up at my accent, probably incorrect grammar, and just general shock at my attempt at Japanese. 

I know to expect this now; I've been here for a good nine months. 

But it still is like a kick in the gut. "I'm really bloody trying!" I indignantly yell in my head, while out loud repeating my question.

"Did you want to drink anything?"

Managing to quash their laughter (for they were quite clearly both a little tipsy), they ordered two more margaritas and some nuts. I thanked them, and all but ran back to the bar.

Oh Lordy.

The thing is, I actually love being here. Learning Japanese is something I've dreamed of ever since forever, and I know that I have to practice in order to improve. But I mean come on- full-frontal scoffing in my face? I gotta admit it still stings a little. My pride, my confidence. At this point I'm thinking I need to get some older drunker Japanese punters in so that they can tell me how good my Japanese is (lie), how I'm practically fluent (lie) and how they would hire me in a heartbeat (just sheer politeness).

The thing is, the embarrassing part, that is essential. It teaches you the obvious mistakes that you didn't know about. It helps you navigate the new etiquette, culture and people that you encounter in Japan.

The amount that I have learnt through completely embarrassing myself at random izakayas and bars in Japan, I really wouldn't trade it. Despite what you may think, people are interested to hear your story, and you have to be prepared to make a fool out of yourself to tell those stories.

And who knows, maybe you'll make some friends out of it. You'd be surprised how many people will respect you after talking deeply about comparisons of toilets all over the globe.

At least, I hope that's what they understood.

To be continued.


1 Comment

  • helloalissa

    on Jul 11

    Exactly - making mistakes is how we learned English as kids. It's good motivation to learn what you meant to say at least.


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