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by Tlx
Rated: E · Essay · Experience · #1813443
My feeble attempt at a foreign language in a foreign country and how it all went wrong
A few years back I spent almost 18 days traveling Japan with my younger sister on a whirlwind excursion which took us to I believe 12 major cities and towns filled with historic Buddhist monasteries, temples, castles, emperors palaces, treasured museums, and spectacular garden arboretums - just to name a few of the types of places that currently fill two large 3 ring binders of things from the wonders we explored.  I came away with just under 4500 photographs, which sounds like a lot, but they do not contain even a quarter of the things we saw because within the museums and temples, you couldn’t take photographs.

The whole trip I was so far outside of my comfort zone around people that I just froze when presented with engaging in conversations with anyone because of the language barrier.  This awkward feeling pervaded me so much so that in Japanese there is a word "hi" which is used as a greeting, like we do, or is used as a word meaning "yes" and even this simple, comfortable, and familiar English sounding word confounded me to my core whenever I even contemplated using it.  To someone who loves words and marvels at engaging in conversations, my logic seemed to just “check out” and left me quite literally speechless.

For nearly 18 days I couldn't bring myself to say this simple word in conversations and my sister kept telling me "it's not like you don't know or have never used the word before", which I logically understood, yet each time an opportunity presented itself I just froze and just couldn't do it and ended up just smiling and nodding.

Then on my last day in Japan and in the last shop buying the last gift for someone to bring back home, the opportunity presented itself yet once again.  I knew what the man in the shop was asking before my sister had the chance to translate.  He wanted to make sure that was the color of the doll I wanted - and my mind prepared itself - I was going to do it - I was going to say a Japanese word right then and there.  In slow motion my conscious mind worked on the problem at hand and seconds seemed to stretch as I ran the word through my thoughts and verified to myself that ‘yes’ I knew the answer to this question. ‘Hi’ – I pondered and practiced to myself in that very instant.  I was now ready and knew exactly what to say to the man.  I then looked at the two them, my sister and this man, and quite comely declared and uttered "Si."

I could just tell by the look on their bewildered and confused faces as Time sped back up for me, that it had come out all wrong.  Then, all at once, my mind caught up with the reality of what had just happened.  My two years of Spanish classes decided for me that I was in a foreign country, that I was needing to go native to answer a question and abruptly overruled my previous decision and answered the question for me.  Unfortunately I was in the wrong country and my sister could tell by the deflated look on my face that I had tried.  She giggled all the way to the airport almost 3 hours away. Poor me.  She still giggles to this day about it.

‘Si’ -- at least I got one of the two letters right… Someday I’ll try again.

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